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Anti-Choice State Legislatures Claim a Series of Terrifying Victories Going Into 2019

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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!

Objectively speaking, 2018 was a hotbed for human rights abuses by governments around the world, but according to a new report by Amnesty International, women were leaders of key resistance efforts, as we so often are, not just in the United States, where women ran for and won elected office at record rates, but in Latin America, the Middle East, and other parts of the world, where they’ve mobilized in unprecedented numbers and are spearheading movements against sexual violence, femicide, and dangerous reproductive rights policies.

To name just a few example of progress in global policies governing women’s rights, Argentina, Ireland, and Poland advanced policies to decriminalize abortion, with varying levels of success, and Saudi Arabian women won the right to drive. Despite their consistent erasure from the frontlines of some of the most bold progressive movements throughout history, women are more often than not the architects not just of their own liberation, but of key, successful human rights movements in general.

Amid alarming progress for bills to essentially ban abortion rights in Ohio, restrict access to medication abortion in Oklahoma, and shutter access to reproductive health care in Tennessee this week, it seems more important than ever to recognize how incremental progress often is, and the devastating setbacks and barriers that unfailingly go hand-in-hand with it.

The anti-choice movement is relentless, but women and reproductive justice advocates are, too. There’s too much at stake for us not to be.

Ohio lawmakers will send bills banning abortion go Governor’s desk

As of this week, the Ohio state legislature is poised to send two anti-choice extremist bills to Republican Gov. John Kasich’s desk: HB 258, a “heartbeat” abortion ban, and SB 145, which would essentially ban abortion in the second trimester. This, of course, doesn’t include another bill that would sweepingly criminalize all abortions by broadly conferring personhood on fetuses, which is still under conideration in committee.

Following an alarming trend of similar anti-choice legislation, HB 258 would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is often at around six weeks—before many women even realize they’re pregnant. As a result, HB 258 effectively serves as a ban on abortion. In contrast, SB 145 wouldn’t ban all abortions, but would ban the safest option for second trimester abortions, which comprise the overwhelming majority of abortions, and are often sought due to extreme, dangerous health circumstances.

Due to their obviously unconstitutional nature, opponents of the bill point out that, if enacted, HB 258 and SB 145 would do nothing but incur steep costs to the state to stave off the immediate legal challenges they would draw, but to supporters of the bills, those legal challenges would present the perfect opportunity to attack Roe v. Wade and abortion rights precedents in the higher courts.

Kasich has previously vetoed a bill nearly identical to HB 258 in 2016, while simultaneously signing another dangerous bill that banned abortion at 20 weeks. But even if Kasich vetoed both HB 258 and SB 145, as is expected, there remains a narrow path for Ohio Senate Republicans to override the veto, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports.

Michigan legislatures approve restrictions on medication abortion

Medication abortion is objectively safe health care, resulting in serious complications less than 0.25 percent of the time and approved by the FDA. Not only is it safe, but it’s also become more necessary than ever, with the future of abortion access deeply jeopardized by the new Supreme Court composition. That’s why, this week, the Republican-controlled Michigan state House’s decision to pass a bill to permanently prohibit telemedicine abortion, now on track to reach Republican, anti-choice Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk, is so alarming.

In many parts of the U.S., where 90 percent of counties lack an abortion provider, and around the world, abortion access through telemedicine, or the ability to receive a prescription for medication abortion via a remote consultation with a doctor, has been life-saving.

Nineteen other states currently prohibit telemedicine abortion access as of this year, although a new arm of the global organization Women on Web still provides medication abortion via telemedicine to women across the U.S.

Oklahoma judge dismisses lawsuit challenging waiting period law

This week, an Oklahoma judge tossed out a legal challenge to the state’s restrictive 72-hour mandatory waiting period to access abortion care, which requires women seeking abortion care to wait three days before they can access the service. Oklahoma is one of about 27 states with mandatory waiting period laws.

Waiting period laws are so prevalent in anti-choice state legislatures because of how effective they are at stigmatizing and obstructing access to abortion, not to mention shaming women for a health care decision they’re, more often than not, already certain that they want.

Considering that 90 percent of counties lack abortion providers and millions of American women live more than 100 miles away from their nearest abortion provider, a significant number of American women face long-distance travel just to access health care, which forces them to pay for transportation, lodging for themselves, child care for their children, and on top of all of that, miss work and lose income if they lack paid time off. Waiting periods can make abortion either inaccessible or dangerously costly, and disproportionately affect low-income women of color who are seeking care.

Waiting periods are also rooted in deep paternalism, suggesting women don’t know what’s best for them, or haven’t responsibly thought through their decision—that women are incapable of thinking for themselves unless they’re quite literally forced to. Research has shown that when most women seek abortion care, they’re already certain about their decision; imposing waiting periods on a safe, legal health care service is purely about ideology, shame, and paternalism.

Fortunately, advocates who led the challenge on Oklahoma’s waiting period law say they aren’t giving up yet. Opponents of the law first challenged it in 2015, and Oklahoma’s reports that they don’t intend to back down now.

Nashville’s only abortion clinic suspends services

On Tuesday, a Planned Parenthood clinic in Nashville, Tennessee, that was the only abortion provider in the city, announced it was suspending abortion care services indefinitely, in part due to lack of abortion providers. As of this week, the clinic is referring patients seeking care to abortion clinics hours away in Knoxville and Memphis, which are both 200 miles from Nashville.

As previously noted, unfortunately, what Nashville patients are about to experience isn’t new—not when the vast majority of U.S. counties lack abortion providers, and millions of American women must travel more than 100 miles to access abortion—but the shutdown of this clinic, not explicitly due to TRAP laws but lack of abortion providers, signals a foreboding future of stunted abortion access if training to provide abortions doesn’t remain accessible to medical students in the U.S. and around the world.

California lawmakers reintroduce bill to provide medication abortion to college students

In some much-needed good news, earlier this month, California state legislators reintroduced SB 320, a bill to require access to medication abortion at the health centers of public state universities through private funding. The bill, which would facilitate abortion access to one of the most vulnerable demographics, was vetoed by “pro-choice” Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in September this year.

Brown’s decision to veto the groundbreaking bill, calling it “unnecessary” despite the thousands of students who not only conceived of the idea but engaged in powerful organizing work to successfully push it out of the legislature, was heartbreaking to many, but shortly after, California Governor-elect Gavin Newsom suggested that he would have signed SB 320, Democrats made even more gains in the state legislature after the 2018 midterm election, and state Sen. Connie Leyva reintroduced the bill to the state Senate.

Despite California’s relatively liberalized abortion laws, rural parts of the state that are home to thousands of state university students require all-day travel to access abortion off campus, which would also require students to miss class, work and other obligations to access abortion. Without campus abortion access, a gendered achievement and opportunity gap could arise due to the barriers female students would face to access abortion care, while low-income women could be forced to shoulder burdensome debt—not to mention lose income from missing work—to access care that is absolutely requisite to their ability to stay in school, obtain a degree, and become economically autonomous.

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

(image: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

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