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New Year, New Round of Attacks on Abortion Rights, Emboldened by the Supreme Court

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Welcome to The Week in Reproductive Justice, a weekly recap of all news related to the hot-button issue of what lawmakers are allowing women to do with their bodies!

In the first full week of 2019, anti-abortion lawmakers and activists didn’t miss a beat in introducing dangerous, extremist legislation. From bills that would further stigmatize and obstruct abortion access, to a slew of bills that would ban or criminalize abortion outright, state legislatures across the nation have made it clear that the current political climate has emboldened a new wave of extremism.

Restrictions on abortion and reproductive health care access have been on the rise in many parts of the country in recent years, with more than a third of all anti-choice laws passed since Roe v. Wade enacted in the last seven years alone. Research has consistently shown the steep public health consequences of this, disproportionately harming low-income women and women of color, yet clearly, this hasn’t discouraged anti-choice lawmakers who still have the gall to pretend their agenda is about protecting life.

Based on this past week alone, it looks like their approach in 2019 will be just as aggressive.

Several states introduce sweeping abortion bans

On the heels of an Oklahoma bill that would recognize and treat abortion as “homicide,” this week, state lawmakers in Kentucky and Indiana both introduced bills to ban abortion.

In Indiana, a bill that has been repeatedly introduced by a Republican state legislator in the last three years is making a comeback. The “Protection at Conception” bill has previously been rejected even by leaders within the state Republican Party, failing to make it out of committee or receive a hearing, but state Rep. Curt Nisly, the architect of the bill, reintroduced and expressed optimism about it in the wake of the events of 2018, the Indy Star reports.

While, once again, the bill isn’t expected to be successful, it’s concerning that historic gains by the anti-choice movement in 2018 have heartened anti-choice, extremist lawmakers to continue and escalate their fight.

The Indiana bill is also not an isolated incident. In Kentucky, in the wake of several court decisions striking down extremist anti-choice legislation, state lawmakers in the House and Senate will consider bills that would essentially ban all abortions, by banning abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Because a heartbeat is typically detected at about six weeks, before many women even realize they’re pregnant, experts and advocates point out that fetal heartbeat bans equate to sweeping abortion bans.

Of course, terrifyingly enough, bills like this have become relatively common in the last year or so, met with varying degrees of success in states like Iowa and Ohio. The reality that such laws put women’s lives in danger—that fetuses are not the same as born, living human children who are continually neglected or actively harmed by anti-choice lawmakers’ policies—has clearly done little to make anti-choice lawmakers reconsider their agenda.

Despite the mounting prevalence of such laws, Robert Goforth, the Kentucky state lawmaker responsible for the bill, managed to add a fresh dimension of repulsiveness to the conversation, saying of SB 9, “I think it’s making people be more responsible. If they’re going to engage in activity that’s going to end up in conception, they just need to be more responsible with their actions.”

This quote speaks for itself, really, but it’s worth considering in context with the anti-choice movement’s broad attempts to represent itself as compassionate, and frequent anti-choice talking points about how the movement does not believe in punishing women. Also worth considering is that the majority of abortions involve pregnancies conceived while some form of contraception was being used. At the end of the day, who has abortions and who doesn’t has never been about “responsibility,” but access to resources and education, and of course, biology.

U.S. Senate debates abortion coverage policy

This week, senators across party lines debated a proposed Health and Human Services Department policy that would bill individuals for abortion coverage via two separate bills, which has been widely criticized as inconvenient and political in nature, with the goal of stigmatizing and obstructing abortion access. Democratic and Republican senators submitted separate letters, with opposite goals, to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar following the recent end of the comment period for the policy.

In their letter, Democrats wrote, “The proposed rule is clearly intended to make it harder for women to access abortion care and to prevent insurers from offering abortion coverage.” The letter also called it “the latest administrative action in a long line of attacks by the Trump-Pence administration to undermine access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care, particularly abortion, and to sabotage the health care system.”

According to Roll Call, in light of the divided Congress, it’s unlikely that lawmakers will be able to pass legislation affecting abortion and reproductive health policy, although House Democrats have suggested they would introduce bills to counteract the Trump administration’s stringent, anti-choice policies.

At this time, while different states maintain different policies on abortion coverage, the Hyde amendment has banned federal funding of elective abortions since 1976, although that law could be scrapped at any time if enough pro-choice representatives were elected to Congress. The Hyde amendment has served to transform abortion from a fundamental human right to a privilege, at the cost of women’s health, safety, and in the case of the one in four low-income women forced to give birth as a result of the law, their autonomy.

Wyoming introduces stigmatizing abortion reporting bill

This week, Republicans in the Wyoming state legislature introduced a bill to require abortion providers to report abortions to the state. The bill, HB 103, similar to laws in Arizona, would fine abortion providers $1,000 for failing to report an abortion within 30 days, while those who fail to report an abortion within six months would be required to submit a form to the board of medicine. The bill could also result in abortion providers facing prison time if they “falsify an abortion form.”

HB 103 would also compile statistics about the identities of those who have abortions in the state.

While the bill may not appear to significantly obstruct abortion access on the surface, it’s rooted in stigma that differentiates abortion from equally legal, equally safe health care services, and certainly impacts abortion access by inconveniencing and threatening abortion providers.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon has been perfectly clear about his anti-choice agenda, meaning HB 103 could soon rank among the numerous restrictive, dangerous laws governing reproductive rights that already exist in the state.

New York is poised to add abortion rights to the state Constitution

In response to grave concerns about the future of abortion rights in a post-Roe v. Wade world, following the confirmation of the anti-choice, alleged sexual abuser Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, New York is poised to join other states in enshrining abortion rights in the state’s Constitution.

New York lawmakers are expected to pass a bill that would accomplish this later this month, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Monday that he would actively support such efforts.

In a bygone era, such bills were perceived as redundant because of the existence of Roe v. Wade, but in light of the Supreme Court composition, the reality is that protecting abortion rights on the state-level has never been more important. Certainly, the anti-choice movement takes state-level strategy seriously, and about 20 states have measures that would immediately ban abortion in the event of Roe being overturned. The best way to fight back is to pass similar but inverted legislation and codify abortion rights into state Constitutions—and, certainly, to pay attention to state-level politics and participate in state-level elections.

Tune in next week to see what lawmakers will try next in their never-ending mission to derail reproductive justice!

(image: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Kylie Cheung writes about feminism and politics, with a focus on reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kylietcheung, or learn more about her writing at www.kyliecheung.tumblr.com.

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