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!
Coming on the heels of nationwide controversy around later abortion legislation and right-wing lies about the health service, the self-proclaimed “pro-life” President Trump naturally spoke about the issue at Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.
“Let us work together to build a culture that cherishes innocent life,” the president said, “and let us reaffirm a fundamental truth: All children—born and unborn—are made in the holy image of God.” Relevant to a recently enacted New York state law to protect access to later abortion, and a bill in Virginia that would do the same, he added, “Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth. These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and dreams with the world.”
Just last week, we did a deep dive into everything that’s wrong with anti-choice talking points about later abortion, but here’s the breakdown if you missed it: Later abortion is far more nuanced—and certainly far rarer—than cruel, alarmist narratives by anti-choice lawmakers suggest. It typically involves extreme health circumstances, either for the fetus or the pregnant person, and arises because many key tests to examine the fetus’ health aren’t possible until around 20 weeks.
Later abortion access is widely supported by medical professionals, often to help pregnant people avoid the trauma of carrying to term, giving birth, and watching their baby die. Later abortions can also be the product of laws in many states that obstruct abortion earlier in the pregnancy, and have always been protected by Roe v. Wade.
None of these facts, nor the voices of actual doctors, medical professionals, and people who have had late abortions, have deterred anti-choice politicians from spreading and affirming inhumane, dangerous lies in their rhetoric and legislation. Case in point: Republican Congress members’ efforts to force a vote on a bill that claims it would require medical protections for infants born during abortion. This is, of course, simply not something that happens. I have to believe anti-choice people actively know this, but push this narrative in their statements and ignorant legislation to sweepingly demonize and oversimplify abortion for their own gain.
It’s during times like this that we must remember to center the voices of people who are directly impacted by the politicization of later abortion—people who have had later abortions and providers who have offered later abortion care, not the lawmakers who are doing everything they can to marginalize them.
Supreme Court (temporarily) blocks anti-abortion Louisiana law
Late Thursday night, the Supreme Court narrowly blocked a Louisiana law that could potentially shut down the state’s last abortion clinics by requiring providers at these clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals in June Medical Services v. Gee. The decision came a week after the court placed a temporary, week-long injunction on the law, which would have taken effect on Monday.
Chief Justice John Roberts notably sided with the four liberal-leaning justices, while, surprising no one, alleged sexual abuser Brett Kavanaugh wrote a dissent. For what it’s worth, in September, Kavanaugh had promised to respect precedent on abortion rights, but it’s not as if any of us actually believed him. (His opinion in this matter directly conflicts with precedent set by the court’s ruling in the 2016 case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.)
This requirement has proven time and again to be medically unnecessary, due to the objective safety of abortion care, and is purely political in nature, carrying the goal of closing the majority of clinics that will not be able to meet a standard so far beyond their needs.
Previously, the Supreme Court ruled laws like this are unconstitutional, as they create an “undue burden” on women seeking abortion care by shutting down clinics en masse, and shuttering abortion access as a result.
Utah law banning abortions for fetal disability moves forward
On Wednesday, Utah state legislators passed a bill that would ban abortions deemed to be entirely motivated by a fetal Down syndrome diagnosis out of committee. This is a particularly salient issue at a time of mounting, manufactured outrage surrounding later abortion care, as disabilities or fetal abnormalities are often not detectable until later in the pregnancy, but no matter how politicians spin it, bills like this mark a fundamental violation of women’s right to bodily autonomy, and private decisions between them and their doctors.
They also violate Roe v. Wade’s guarantee of abortion access up to the point of fetal viability and require a doctor providing abortion care—the person who would be criminalized under this particular law—to read a woman’s mind and divine her exact reasons for seeking an abortion before performing one.
In addition to banning abortions that the state decides were motivated solely by ableism, the bill would direct Utah’s health department to create a brochure with resources and information about Down syndrome that doctors would be required to share with a pregnant woman if a prenatal test is positive for Down syndrome. However, doctors are concerned the bill’s approach to that information is flawed and unclear, and the state would do better to provide a unified resource for parents to turn to.
Now that the bill has moved out of committee, the full Utah state House will begin to consider it. Legislation like this has previously been enacted in Indiana, signed into law by then-Gov. Mike Pence, but was struck down in court in 2017.
Iowa considers constitutional amendment to undermine abortion rights
Iowa state legislators this week discussed a bill that would add language stating that nothing in the state constitution secures or protects the right to an abortion. This could make the right to an abortion in Iowa vulnerable in the event of Roe v. Wade’s reversal, and further empower extremist, anti-abortion bans and restrictions the state is already notorious for. In 2018, Iowa enacted a fetal heartbeat ban that would effectively ban all abortions, because most women do not even realize they’re pregnant before a heartbeat can be detected.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has already expressed her support for this proposal, which is hardly a surprise considering Reynolds signed the fetal heartbeat ban into law. The proposal can become the law and be added to the state Constitution if it first passes both state assemblies and receives the majority of the vote on the state ballot.
New Mexico state House passes bill to decriminalize abortion
Yes, abortion remains legal in New Mexico, so long as Roe v. Wade remains intact, but New Mexico is one of many states with a law on the books to automatically impose a criminal ban on abortion if Roe were to be overturned—an increasingly daunting reality since the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. That’s why a bill that passed the state House and would explicitly decriminalize abortion is so important.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has already vowed to sign the measure if it reaches her desk, which means now this landmark piece of legislation just has to pass the state Senate—which could be a challenge in light of some bipartisan opposition to the bill in the Senate.
In 1969, New Mexico enacted a statute that made it a felony for abortion providers to terminate a pregnancy, with exceptions only for rape, fetal abnormalities, or serious threats to a woman’s health. The law has been dormant and unenforceable in light of Roe v. Wade for the last nearly five decades, but today, surges of anti-choice laws (the last seven years alone account for more than a third of all 1,200 anti-abortion laws enacted since Roe) and subsequent legal challenges to these laws could reach the Supreme Court and potentially yield a full reversal of abortion rights.
Certainly, there are challenges to access abortion care today, and in many parts of the country (especially for women of color) women can be and have been prosecuted for having abortions, but pre-Roe America and its jarring rates of unsafe abortions, and associated injuries and fatalities, is a time we can never return to. If the decision is reversed, states have to be proactive about protecting this human right.
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)
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