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There’s a Double Standard in Who’s Treated as Extreme on Abortion Rights

Abortion rights protest sign

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!

Among many criticisms of proposed bills to protect the right to later abortion, some have argued that such bills defiantly add new abortion rights that are not already enshrined in Roe v. Wade. That, of course, is plainly false: Just as Roe protects the right to safe, legal abortion access, without undue burden, until fetal viability, it also explicitly protects exceptions to this, such as extreme medical circumstances, including the reality that some fetuses never become viable at all.

In this sense, these bills meant to explicitly codify protections already created by Roe into state law, in the event Roe is reversed, are hardly radical or extreme. Yet, these bills have drawn nearly all attention in the last few weeks, rather than actually radical, extreme bills, like one signed into law in Arkansas this week that would automatically ban abortions if and when Roe is reversed.

Laws like this are known as “trigger laws,” and several states already have them on the books, or lack laws specifically protecting abortion in the absence of Roe. In West Virginia and Alabama, ballot initiatives to add trigger laws to the states’ Constitutions were successful last November.

If we want to talk about bills that are actively changing the protections of Roe, you’d think it would make sense to start by talking about the bills meant to erase Roe altogether. Instead, media focus on bills meant to codify protection of later abortion speak to an underlying bias in coverage of abortion rights that represents support for abortion rights as inherently more extreme than attempts to ban and severely restrict abortion.

Arizona state House forces debate on controversial abortion bill

In some complicated news from Arizona, Republican legislators forced a committee debate on a bill meant to repeal a dangerous, 2017 amendment to an anti-abortion law from 1975.

The 1975 state law in question required doctors to use all means to save the life of a baby “delivered alive” during an abortion, but did not explicitly define what being “delivered alive” meant. The 2017 law in question broadly defines “delivered alive” as showing one or more of these signs of life: breathing, a heartbeat, umbilical cord pulsation, or definite movement of voluntary muscles.

Historically, medical experts have said the lack of explicit definition accorded them flexibility to do everything possible to save the life of the fetus only if they believe it has a chance of surviving. The 2017 law is substantially more restrictive, and part of a broad trend of anti-choice lawmakers trying to humanize fetuses at the expense of pregnant women, and misrepresent all abortions as taking place so late in the pregnancy that a fetus could somehow be born alive during an abortion.

The Arizona lawmaker who introduced the bill asked the Republican chair of the House Committee on Judiciary to hold the bill, as she says that it misrepresents her intent to solely repeal the 2017 law, but her request was denied.

That said, neither the 1975 nor the 2017 law make sense or serve any real purpose beyond stigmatizing abortion and making pro-choice lawmakers, who would dare try to repeal laws that purport to save babies’ lives, come off as extremists.

Debate about the bill drew hundreds of anti-abortion protesters to the state House.

Oklahoma lawmakers move forward sweeping ban on abortion

This week, a bill that would revoke the medical licenses of doctors who performed abortions was successfully moved out of committee by Oklahoma state lawmakers. The bill would prohibit doctors from providing abortion care except in “emergency situations,” per the AP, which basically equates to a ban on elective abortion.

State Rep. Jim Olsen, who introduced the bill, says it could “save thousands of lives,” but we know he isn’t referring to the lives of women in a country where more restrictions on abortion are correlated with higher maternal death rates on the state level, and a country with a not-so-distant history of women dying from unsafe, illegal abortions in the decades prior to Roe.

Oklahoma state lawmakers also proposed a bill that would prohibit doctors from performing abortions after the mother has been told the sex of the fetus. This bill also moved out of committee on Tuesday and could potentially severely restrict access to later abortion, or demonize and deny parents autonomy in making a highly personal decision.

Iowa won’t appeal ruling that struck down fetal heartbeat bill

You’ll recall that, last May, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law the most extreme anti-abortion bill in the country, enacting a ban on nearly all abortions. The bill prohibits abortion once the fetus develops a heartbeat, at about six weeks into pregnancy, which is prior to when many women know they’re pregnant, and most doctors are able to offer abortion services.

This week, Reynolds announced the state won’t appeal a court’s ruling that struck down the fetal heartbeat last month.

Reynolds said in a statement this was an “extremely difficult decision,” but it’s good news for the rest of us, and certainly for Iowa women who would lose basic health care and the right to bodily autonomy if the law were allowed to take effect.

That said, this is hardly the last we’re going to see of dangerous abortion bans like this, as fetal heartbeat bills have nearly swept the nation in the last year since Reynolds signed Iowa’s into law. State lawmakers in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, and others are all currently considering similar legislation, and each of their respective governors have expressed support for these bills.

The good news is that fetal heartbeat bans are transparently unconstitutional, which means, if and when enacted, each of these bills would likely be challenged and overturned in court; the bad news—other than the obvious—is that these legal challenges could likely someday reach the Supreme Court and create the opportunity for the conservative-majority bench to strike at the heart of abortion rights, or even overturn Roe v. Wade altogether.

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

(image: Rena Schild /

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

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