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The Week in Reproductive Justice: Planned Parenthood Prepares to Decline Title X Funding to Stand Up for Abortion Access

Pro-choice activists, politicians and others associated with Planned Parenthood gather for a news conference and demonstration.

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, Planned Parenthood announced it will withdraw from the nation’s family planning program for low-income people, better known as Title X funding, on Aug. 19, in the absence of court intervention. This announcement comes on the heels of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of a Trump administration rule that would prohibit Title X funding recipients from offering abortion services or referrals earlier this summer.

Per NPR:

“In a letter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, Planned Parenthood officials ask for a stay against new Trump administration rules that forbid organizations receiving Title X funds to provide or refer patients for abortion. If the court does not intervene, Planned Parenthood says it will be forced to pull out on Aug. 19 after decades with the program.”

Donald Trump’s domestic “gag rule” is nothing short of catastrophe for low-income people and women, promising to separate the some 40 percent of women on Medicaid who rely on Planned Parenthood from the reproductive healthcare they need, and threatening to disrupt Title X’s impressive track record of preventing an estimated one million unwanted pregnancies, annually. After all, what else could we expect when organizations that lead in providing birth control and and sexual health education—resources that tend to reduce unwanted pregnancy rates—are defunded, simply for offering abortion services? Restrictions on reproductive rights like the domestic gag rule may do a number in terms of inconveniencing, endangering and costing women—but only increased access to contraception is successful in actually lowering abortion and unwanted pregnancy rates.

Alexis McGill Johnson, Planned Parenthood’s acting president, has said the impact of the gag rule on low-income patients could differ in each state. Specifically, in some areas, contraception and other services could become more expensive or wait times could be longer. ”Some people will not be able to afford the care; it means that some people will have to make a decision as to whether or not they have the time to wait in line,” McGill Johnson said. “It certainly means that there will be, potentially, a delay in care — or they will decide to forgo the care altogether.”

The disproportionate impact of the Trump administration’s anti-choice agenda on low-income women and pregnant people is only surprising for those who haven’t been paying attention to the history—and certainly, the present—of reproductive health access in this country. Wealthy women who live anywhere in the country will always be able to afford to travel out-of-state to access abortion if it’s banned in their native state, or pay out-of-pocket for birth control or STD, breast cancer, and cervical cancer screenings. The defunding of reproductive health organizations like Planned Parenthood through the domestic gag rule only magnifies the extent to which the War on Women is also a class war, an attack on the rights and dignity and autonomy of lower-income people.

Tennessee becomes latest state to attempt total abortion ban

Since the beginning of this summer, red states have been deliberate about proposing, passing, and signing into law bills that would ban all or nearly all abortions, via so-called “fetal heartbeat” bans that would ban abortions at six weeks, before women even know they’re pregnant, and as in Alabama and. this week, Tennessee, total abortion bans. Tennessee’s SB 1236 started out as a proposed “fetal heartbeat ban,” itself, when lawmakers this week began considering an amendment that would make SB 1236 instead ban all abortions, with no exception for rape or incest.

Even as SB 1236 faces an uncertain future, its proposal to the state legislature is concerning enough when put in context of how the last few months—and certainly the last few years—have gone: According to the Guttmacher Institute, a shocking 58 abortion restrictions, including 26 abortion bans, have been enacted across 19 states in the first six months of 2019 alone. More than a third of all 1,200 anti-abortion laws in place, since Roe v. Wade in 1973, were enacted in the seven short years between 2011 and 2018. It’s hardly a coincidence that the last decade has seen an increase in maternal death rates, disproportionately impacting women of color and women in states with more restrictions on abortion, sending the United States to the top spot in maternal death rates in the industrialized world.

Under the proposed amendment to SB 1236, the only exception to the abortion ban would be if the pregnant person’s life is at risk. Non-compliant abortion providers could be charged with a Class C felony, which is punishable by up to 15 years in jail and a $10,000 fine, in a provision of the bill that offers a dark glimpse of the world of criminalized abortion and pregnancy outcomes anti-choice politicians aim to subject women to.

Planned Parenthood considers pro-choice ballot initiative in Michigan

As anti-choice advocates in the state collect signatures for two 2020 ballot initiatives that would (A) essentially ban all abortions by banning abortion before most women know they’re pregnant and (B) ban all later abortions by banning the dilation and evacuation procedure, Planned Parenthood has formed a committee to consider launching a pro-choice ballot initiative. This would aim to overturn a dated state law that would automaitcally ban abortion in the absence of Roe v. Wade, which, if you’ve been keeping up with the news since November 2016, has been skating on pretty thin ice. Instead, abortion rights would be codified into Michigan’s state Constitution.

If Roe is overturned—a very serious “if” with a conservative Supreme Court majority, and several states passing, signing, or very seriously considering total abortion bans—about 20 states have Constitutions that would outlaw abortion rights, while abortion legality would essentially exist in a state of limbo, except in the states that have proactively codified abortion rights into their Constitutions.

Several states, including New York, Massachusetts, and others, have recently signed into law bills that codified abortion rights into the Constitution, with increased urgency since Brett Kavanaugh was nominated and eventually confirmed to the Supreme Court. If Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice advocates in Michigan determine to move forward on this ballot initiative, and if it’s successful, Michigan could join these states in preparing for a post-Roe America.

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

(image: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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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