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Language Around the “Born Alive” Bill Could Get Abortion Providers Killed

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!

On Monday, Senate Democrats roundly rejected a Republican, anti-choice bill called the Born Alive Survivors Protection Act, which would require doctors to do everything they could to save the lives of babies “born alive” during an attempted abortion. This is, of course, simply not a thing that happens, and the bill introduced by Sen. Ben Sasse was transparently about stigmatizing later abortion, and using a morbid, dangerous lie to sweepingly equate later abortions with infanticide.

Later abortion has been a particularly salient issue among leading, anti-choice Republican politicians since last month, when bills in Virginia and New York to protect the right to later abortion caught the attention of the president. After the Senate rejected the bill this week, President Trump weighed in yet again, blasting off an especially dangerous tweet that said Democrats “don’t mind executing babies after birth.”

At this point, hopefully we all know that later abortion is an exceedingly rare but still important procedure that often arises in extremely complicated and highly personal medical situations. Later abortion is also protected by Roe v. Wade, which permits abortions after the point of viability—or if the fetus never becomes viable—in cases involving extreme medical circumstances, with the support of doctors.

As many pro-choice advocates have pointed out, the morbid language used by Trump and anti-choice Republicans—including to go so far as introducing a junk science bill to “save the lives” of “babies” victimized by abortions—is more than words. It’s dangerous in a cultural context in which violence and threats of violence against abortion providers have consistently been on the rise since the beginning of Trump’s presidency.

Words have real impact, and calling abortion providers murderers is certain to invite potentially violent retaliation. Amid a seemingly endless flurry of anti-abortion bills and rabidly dishonest rhetoric about abortion, we can’t forget the clearance this atmosphere gives to violent extremists, who are being told by their representatives that women’s health care providers are murderers who need to be brought to justice.

Trump administration introduces anti-abortion Title X policy, and California sues

Last Friday, the Trump administration formally introduced a policy known as the “domestic gag rule,” which would withhold Title X funding from organizations that offer abortion care or abortion referrals and counseling. Certainly, this would include Planned Parenthood, which serves more than 40 percent of the some 4 million patients who rely on Title X to access health care. The new policy could more than restrict abortion, but prevent untold numbers of women from knowing safe, legal abortion care is even an option for them.

Core to the domestic gag rule is the notion that abortion is somehow different from other health care—that abortion is not health care at all, and should therefore be treated differently. This is the power of cultural stigma around abortion, to shape the policies that govern abortion access and prevent women from accessing basic health care they need to have autonomy over their bodies.

And, of course, policies that target funding for reproductive health care carry disparate impact for low-income women, who rely on Title X funding for health care like contraception, STI tests, breast cancer screenings, and other services and resources that often help prevent the unwanted pregnancies that lead to the need for abortion care.

It’s also worth noting that the Hyde amendment, a federal law that prohibits federal taxpayer funding from paying for elective abortion, already precludes organizations like Planned Parenthood from covering elective abortion services with federal funding. In other words, where preventing federal funding from paying for abortion is concerned, this new policy especially useless, and really just political theater designed to achieve its other harmful goals.

Fortunately, in its 47th lawsuit against the Trump administration California filed yet another lawsuit challenging the domestic gag rule this week. California receives the largest share of Title X funds in the country, funding about 7 percent of the state’s $286.5 million program. The attorneys general of Washington and New York have also stated their intent to join the lawsuit.

More states move forward on fetal heartbeat bill, and you’ll be shocked by the gender of their authors

Another week, more states advancing bills that would essentially ban all abortions by banning abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detectable. This is typically at six weeks into a pregnancy, which is before most women realize they’re pregnant, and most abortion providers are able to offer abortion care.

This week, bills like this moved forward in state legislatures in Texas, where a fetal heartbeat bill now has 57 lawmakers signed on, and Tennessee, where a similar bill moved out of committee and could soon receive a vote in the state House of Representatives.

At this stage, unfortunately, this is neither surprising nor monumental. Bills that portray fetuses as born, living humans, and capitalize on pseudoscience to strip women of basic human rights and bodily autonomy, have become a relatively everyday occurrence in the Trump era, but one Texas Observer report is particularly notable, pointing out that of the 57 lawmakers who have signed onto the fetal heartbeat ban bill in Texas, 54 are men.

That men are responsible for most anti-abortion bills is a pretty natural consequence of how state legislatures and Congress itself are about 75 percent male, and despite how women like Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds are often champions of anti-abortion policies themselves, we can never forget the gender power dynamics inherent to the War on Women.

No amount of anti-abortion women will ever erase the real, lived toll that anti-abortion policies have on women’s health, safety, and ability to participate in public life. That’s because whether it’s men or women who are enacting anti-abortion policies, these policies are rooted in advancing patriarchy and male dominance, and denying women control over their lives and bodies.

So, it’s no surprise that, more often than not, anti-abortion policies are championed by men.

Missouri House passes airtight anti-abortion bill

This week, Missouri’s Republican-controlled state House passed a terrifyingly efficient anti-abortion bill that would automatically ban abortions in the state if and when Roe v. Wade is reversed, and until such time, impose a fetal heartbeat ban. Similar efforts to create a “trigger” ban on abortion, now that the Supreme Court comprises a conservative majority, are already underway in Florida, Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina, and Tennessee, and several states already have trigger bans in place.

But Missouri’s new bill goes beyond this, imposing restrictive, dangerous anti-abortion policies effective with or without Roe. True, all fetal heartbeat bans that have previously been signed into law have been struck down in court, but it’s far from impossible for one of these fetal heartbeat ban lawsuits to make it to the Supreme Court, potentially trigger a reversal of Roe v. Wade, and lead to all abortion being banned in Missouri and many other places across the country.

As is, Missouri has some of the most restrictive laws around abortion in the nation, including a 72-hour waiting period, and has just one abortion clinic to serve the whole state. So, really, even with technical abortion legality in place, the right to abortion has already been merely theoretical for many Missouri women, for some time. Today, in addition to fighting for Roe’s survival, we have our work cut out for us in fighting to make the rights enshrined in Roe accessible.

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

(image: Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com)

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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