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!
News about abortion rights has been nonstop over the past few weeks—and this week was no exception, with safe abortion on the brink of becoming virtually inaccessible in several states.
As presidential candidates and leading politicians and activists move to make abortion rights a central issue in American political discourse, it’s become increasingly clear that abortion access can no longer be overlooked for more “important,” more “serious” issues like the economy—as if those two are separate—nor can abortion access be an issue on which we compromise with those who oppose it, regardless of their political party.
The stakes are simply that high, and the threat is simply that real, as 2019 has seen an unprecedented explosion of proposed and passed abortion bans—unprecedented even at a time when more than a third of all anti-abortion laws enacted since Roe v. Wade (1973) were enacted in the last seven years, alone. All of this is rendered infinitely more dangerous by a Supreme Court majority that has already signaled that its sympathies lie with states seeking to ban abortion.
This week, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards signed into law a bill that would ban abortion at six weeks. Commonly known as the “fetal heartbeat” abortion ban, like the one passed in Georgia last month, the law bans abortion long before the fetus’ heart has developed, in reality, and what’s actually detected is simply fetal cardiac activity. What’s worse is that the law bans abortions before most women can even realize they’re pregnant or access abortion care, rendering the law pretty much a total ban on abortion, but what’s made Edwards’ support for the bill especially upsetting is his alignment with the Democratic party, and his defiance of the party’s pro-choice platform.
While Edwards’ support for the abortion ban isn’t in line with his party, it exposes a weakness in Democratic leadership’s record on reproductive rights, as top Democrats including Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders, California Gov. Jerry Brown, and others have all vocally advocated that the party must support and include anti-abortion Democrats. Edwards’ decision to sign the ban into law exposes everything wrong with the notion that the Democratic Party can somehow compromise on something as existential and fundamental as whether women and pregnant people have the right to autonomy in their bodies.
The notion that anyone can simply and safely “agree to disagree” with their anti-abortion representatives has always been naive and always ignored the power dynamics that make this impossible. There can be no compromise on whether the state should have the power to force women to give birth, on whether women should be denied health care and die. Which party Gov. Edwards outwardly self-identifies with is ultimately irrelevant to all the women in his state who will be hurt by the ban.
Unfortunately, the threat of total lack of abortion access was hardly limited to Louisiana this week. Just one week after Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed into law a bill that would ban abortion at eight weeks of pregnancy, Missouri also faces the threat of the closure of its last operating abortion clinic. The Planned Parenthood clinic, which serves the state’s more than 1 million women and girls of reproductive age, could shut down pending a federal court decision, because the state Health Department declined to renew its license, feigning safety concerns. It’s difficult to believe safety is the concern here when complete lack of an abortion provider in Missouri would almost definitely lead to dangerous pregnancy-related outcomes, and likely death.
Women and activists have warned of the threat to Roe v. Wade for years—decades, even—but of course, even with Roe technically intact, in states like Louisiana and Missouri, among many others, abortion could become all but inaccessible, regardless. There’s never been a more urgent need for bold, immediate, and uncompromising advocacy for abortion and reproductive rights from those who claim to defend it.
Federal judge blocks Mississippi state abortion ban
In some surprisingly positive news, this week, a federal judge blocked a six-week abortion ban from taking effect in Mississippi.
U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves seemed to share our collective frustration when he wrote in his decision, “Here we go again,” and continued: “Allowing the law to take effect would force the clinic to stop providing most abortion care. By banning abortions after a detection of a fetal heartbeat, S.B. 2116 prevents a woman’s free choice, which is central to personal dignity and autonomy. This injury outweighs any interest the State might have in banning abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.”
Reeves has previously ruled on another abortion ban in Mississippi that would have banned abortion at 15 weeks, despite Roe v. Wade’s protection of abortion care up to the point of fetal viability, and in extreme circumstances as needed.
This decision comes as a relief and certainly marks an important victory, but it’s also alarming how often we’re seeing abortion bans like this enacted, in states with judges that may not be as sympathetic to reproductive rights.
How the Supreme Court weighed in on Indiana abortion laws, birth control, and eugenics
In a busy week for the U.S. Supreme Court, it ruled on two previously struck down Indiana laws.
The court opted to uphold the decision of the lower court to block a state law that would have banned abortions that were supposedly sought due to the race or gender of the fetus. As Asian-American activists and advocacy groups have repeatedly pointed out, laws like this have no actual basis in reality, but use of racist stereotyping to target Asian-American women seeking abortion care.
Despite the Supreme Court’s ultimate decision to block the law, Justice Clarence Thomas vocally defended it. He suggested the gender- and race-selective abortion ban is beneficial to black women and women of color, despite how, if anything, the law would be used to target, discriminate against, and deny health care to women of color. Thomas also drew on false narratives about Margaret Sanger, a leader in birth control activism, to broadly tie birth control and contraception to eugenics, despite how immigrant communities and communities of color have historically disproportionately benefited from contraception access.
However, the Supreme Court simultaneously ruled in favor of another Indiana abortion law that had previously been struck down. This law would require women who have abortions to pay for the remains of their aborted fetus to be buried or cremated, which could cost thousands out-of-pocket and render abortion care economically inaccessible for lower-income women. Other states, like Texas, have passed fetal burial requirements that were struck down in courts. The Supreme Court’s decision to support fetal burial laws may open the door for many other states hostile to abortion rights to implement similar legislation.
Tune in next week to see what lawmakers will try next in their never-ending mission to derail reproductive justice!
(image: Peter Keegan/Keystone/Getty Images)
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