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Lawmakers on Both Sides Preparing for Abortion Rights Battle With Supreme Court Change

Handmaids of Handmaid's Tale

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 aftermath of President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, lawmakers on every level of government have been on the move, laying the groundwork to either protect or dismantle reproductive rights across the country. Kavanaugh’s nomination marks an unmistakable threat to human rights in general, but also to safe, legal abortion and even access to birth control, arguably more than anything. His record offers every indicator that Kavanaugh would be the fifth vote on the high court to undo Roe v. Wade, or at the very least, gut all of its key protections.

The cases that could effectively end Roe—a fetal heartbeat abortion ban from Iowa, a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi—are already in the courts. Our human rights to privacy and bodily autonomy now face a nearly unprecedented challenge. Our lawmakers on every level now face the ultimate test of whether they have our safety and best interests in mind.

Massachusetts state legislature passes bill repealing old abortion laws

Following in the footsteps of other states that have taken proactive steps to protect abortion in the absence of Roe, the Massachusetts Legislature this week sent the NASTY Women Act to Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk. According to Mass Live, the bill repeals a whole bunch of fun laws that have been in place as early as the 1600s, some of which include: “punishing adultery and fornication; criminalizing abortion and distributing information about abortion; requiring abortions be performed in a hospital; and prohibiting doctors from prescribing contraception to unmarried women.”

“The changing dynamic of the Supreme Court is a real and legitimate concern,” state Rep. Claire Cronin, chairwoman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, said.

Without Roe, it’s no exaggeration to say that, in states where abortion would be made illegal, people would die. In the United States throughout the 1960s, 200,000 women died every year from unsafe abortions. While women in states with abortion bans could travel to states where abortion is legal or purchase medication abortion online, low-income women and women of color would almost certainly take the brunt of the impact, many of whom already struggle to access reproductive health care across the country, and the movement for reproductive rights can’t leave anyone behind.

Four states have trigger laws that would make abortion immediately illegal if Roe were reversed, while 17 states have laws explicitly protecting abortion rights. Find where your state stands here.

Alabama and West Virginia prepare ballot measures to ban abortion

Some states have taken the opposite approach. This week, Politico reported that Alabama and West Virginia have each successfully added ballot measures that, if successful, would add an amendment to their respective state constitutions to effectively ban abortion if Roe is reversed. Of course, neither ballot measure would be able to fully ban abortion in the state as long as Roe remains protected. The organized efforts to get these measures on the ballot took place months before the new Supreme Court vacancy and Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination.

It’s too late now for other states to get similar measures on their November 2018 ballots, but we’re likely to see even more of these come 2020. We’re also likely to see red state legislatures pass bills with similar effects, which means state-level races are arguably more important than ever in this midterm election season.

A big week in court for Planned Parenthood

On Monday, a federal judge sided with the Trump administration in a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood against a new Health and Human Services Department policy that favors organizations promoting “natural family planning” and abstinence-only approaches as Title X funding recipients. Notably, Planned Parenthood serves 40 percent of Title X patients, who are often low-income people.

Considering the objective ineffectiveness of abstinence-only and “natural family planning” programs at preventing pregnancy and STI contraction, taking away funding from Planned Parenthood (and other women’s health providers that similarly face discrimination for providing abortion services) could spur a national public health crisis. Unwanted pregnancy rates—and with them, abortion rates—would almost certainly spike, and as we’ve seen in counties that have lost women’s health clinics due to states defunding Planned Parenthood, STI rates would, too.

The federal judge who made the decision was notably appointed by President Trump, and argued that courts couldn’t force agencies like the HHS to go through a formal rule-making process to change its Title X policy, which had been the premise of Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit.

This same week, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against an Idaho law that requires abortion providers to report any “complications” after performing abortions, as well as personal information about patients who have abortions, such as race, age, and number of times they’ve had abortions, among other things. Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit points out that this policy is aimed to stigmatize abortion, and also argues against its constitutionality.

The policy is, after all, predicated on the fearmongering and objectively false myth that abortion is dangerous. Some of the “complications” that doctors must report include breast cancer and depression, which have no documented association whatsoever with abortion. Not to mention, the personal facts abortion providers are asked to report are transparently meant to enforce stereotypes about women who have abortions.

Idaho is one of 27 states with similar reporting laws, according to Guttmacher Institute.

Even with Roe in place, abortion access has faced myriad challenges on the state level for years, especially more recently. Between 2011 and 2016 alone, a quarter of the nearly 1,200 restrictions on abortion enacted since Roe were passed.

Organizations like Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the ACLU have been fighting to protect abortion rights from needless, dangerous restrictions for years, and now, with everything at stake, our support for them matters more than ever.

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

(image: Daniel X. O’Neil)

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