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How Many Women Will Die Because Lawmakers Don’t Understand Basic Sex Education?

Woman holding sign that says, "Ugh, where do I even start?"

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!

This week, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law a bill that would ban abortion after a woman’s period is just two weeks late. Of course, you wouldn’t get this from most headlines covering the so-called “fetal heartbeat ban,” which bans abortions once fetal cardiac activity can be detected at about six weeks of pregnancy. The bill goes further, even, than just prohibiting abortion access at or after six weeks: Those in violation of the restrictive, life-endangering law could face life in prison and potentially be prosecuted even if they travel out-of-state to have their abortion.

HB 481, signed into law this week but still yet to take effect, is shocking and terrifying in its cruelty, but in the context of the United States’ awful sex education and the horrific impact this has on drafting of bills like this, what more could we expect? HB 481 and the “fetal heartbeat” abortion bans routinely popping up in state legislatures across the country each week are the products of ignorance almost as much as they are of misogyny and cruelty.

These laws directly contradict the most basic facts about conception and pregnancy, or the realities that laws like this kill women in the U.S. and around the world. Even slightly less extreme iterations of the six-week bans currently in place in some states are already being connected with disproportionately higher maternal death rates, and now, as a direct result of this ignorance, women could be jailed for life for not just their abortions, but frankly any speculation into the end of a pregnancy, like miscarriages.

Despite the danger their laws pose, the anti-abortion Republican lawmakers behind these bills hardly seem interested in learning fact from fiction, even when it means the death or punishment of women as collateral damage for their ignorance. Just on Wednesday, anti-choice lawmakers in Ohio introduced a wide-ranging bill that would all at once ban insurance coverage of abortion, prohibit access to pretty much all birth control, and institute a misguided measure regarding ectopic or tubal pregnancies involving conception outside the womb.

Per the bill’s male writer, abortions for these ectopic pregnancies would be prohibited because the embryo could be “removed from the fallopian tube and [reinserted] it in the uterus,” wholly ignoring women as human beings beyond their reproductive systems. For one thing, as experts have pointed out, this imagined health procedure just … doesn’t exist, and for another, following the same anti-science reasoning, the bill would also prohibit birth control methods like pills, IUDs, and other hormonal contraception by equating any birth control that could act to stop a fertilized egg from implanting to the uterus with abortion.

All of this is just about as anti-science as it gets. Women’s lives and our access to life-saving health care that we need for basic autonomy and survival are threatened every day that willfully ignorant, willfully sexist men like this are allowed to remain in office and legislate their ideologies and ignorance onto our bodies. Voting them out is a good starting point, but what’s become increasingly clear is that a longer-term, more durable solution has to be effective, accurate, accessible sexual health education—not just in some states, and not just for some people, but for everyone.

Nebraska bill would require mandated, inaccurate “abortion reversal” counseling

In case you needed more proof of the extent to which anti-abortion lawmakers are legislating junk science and misogyny onto women’s bodies, Nebraska lawmakers just advanced a bill to require abortion providers to counsel their patients that medication abortion can be reversed. This bill is based on one unethical study that suggests women who take the first of the two medication abortion pills can “reverse” their abortion by intaking large amounts of progesterone, despite experts’ warnings that this could have detrimental impact on women’s health.

So-called “abortion reversal” first became a thing in 2015, through misleading a pregnant woman and then effectively experimenting on her body. Since then, anti-abortion activists have only continued experimenting on women’s bodies and colluding with lawmakers to impose this on women.

“Abortion reversal” is also notably rooted in the myth that all women must necessarily regret their abortions, because of anti-choice activists’ understanding of abortion as inherently something to feel ashamed of and guilty for, but that’s not the case for many women (or actually most women, considering 99 percent of women don’t regret their abortions), for whom abortion is just a health service through which they can safely choose if and when to have children. Everyone is different and therefore will feel differently about their abortion, and that’s just fine, but universalizing the feelings of regret of a few women, solely to advance a harmful, insidious political agenda, is twisted and shameful.

This bill now stands just two votes away from the governor’s desk, where it could soon join the five other states with similar laws in place.

Virginia court ruled to expand abortion access

In refreshing positive news, on Monday, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia became the first federal court to strike down a law that only permits physicians to provide abortion care. This law has existed despite how medical experts have asserted over and over for years that non-physician healthcare providers can safely and effectively provide abortion, too.

As a result of this law, many women have been forced to travel great distances for care they could have received from a non-physician health provider near them. In other words, the purpose of laws like this is explicitly to make abortion inaccessible rather than safer, and further stigmatize abortion care as a complicated, dangerous health service. In the absence of this law, activists in Virginia are optimistic that abortion access could soon increase dramatically.

Now that a Virginia district court has struck it down, there’s hope that similar, decades-old laws that still exist in more than 30 other states could meet a similar end.

Alabama could soon ban all abortions

Because just banning abortions at six weeks apparently isn’t dangerous and extreme enough for them, Alabama lawmakers recently introduced a bill that would make it a felony for a doctor to perform any abortions at all. The bill passed Alabama’s state House almost unanimously in April and seemed poised to pass the state Senate early Thursday, before a vocal fight erupted between state senators, leading to a delay in the vote to next week. However, the delay seems unlikely to change the outcome of the vote, with the Senate’s Republican, anti-choice majority determined to push the bill forward.

This week, in committee, state Senators added exceptions to the bill for pregnancies caused by rape and incest, but it seems doubtful that survivors seeking abortions would actually be believed about their experiences with rape in a state that doesn’t even trust women enough to accord them basic bodily autonomy.

The purpose of this bill, which will likely soon head to the governor’s desk, is to ban abortion not just in Alabama, but—as women and activists have been warning for years—the nation at large. Per a statement from Alabama’s lieutenant governor shared this week, they’re hoping that when the law is inevitably challenged, it will be sent through the judiciary to the Supreme Court, where Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth notes that President Donald Trump has laid the groundwork for Roe v. Wade to be reversed. With each passing week, the threat to Roe starts to feel more and more like a dark promise.

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

(image: Avivi Aharon / 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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