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Trump’s Department of Justice Moves to Investigate Planned Parenthood

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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!

This past week has seen the passage of an epically horrifying tax bill through the Senate, dramatic new developments in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of President Trump, Sen. Al Franken’s resignation amid sexual harassment accusations, and of course, the Republican Party’s renewed support for an alleged child molester—you know, on account of his support for tax cuts for billionaires and opposition to women having human rights.

It seems like every day—every hour, really—there’s something new: a new famous man who turns out to be awful, a new way Republican lawmakers are trying to take away poor people’s health care, a new shady revelation about the Trump campaign. These are trying times to be living in, and it’s impossible to not get caught up in all of these many pressing issues—which brings me to the purpose of “The Week in Reproductive Justice.” Sometimes, everyday women’s rights issues—like how Pennsylvania women could be forced to cope with new abortion restrictions, or revelations about how the GOP tax bill will affect birth control access—can slip through the cracks, when they really shouldn’t.

With all that’s going on, reproductive justice issues might not appear on your newsfeed every day, but through this column, hopefully they will at least once a week.

The Justice Department moves to investigate Planned Parenthood

As Robert Mueller moves in closer and closer on the shady dealings of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, and just weeks after they attempted to block an undocumented minor’s access to an abortion, the Daily Beast reports that the Department of Justice plans to investigate Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue practices.

On Thursday, the Daily Beast reported that the head of Justice’s Office of Legislative Affairs sent a letter to the Senate, requesting documents from the Judiciary Committee’s investigation of the women’s health organization launched in 2015, after anti-abortion extremists released misleading and illegally obtained videos suggesting Planned Parenthood profited from “selling baby parts.”

In reality, the videos portrayed the ethical and wholly legal practice of donating fetal tissue for experimentation, and compensation for the costs of providing the tissue. Nonetheless, the videos had powerful consequences for Planned Parenthood and abortion clinics across the country. Following their release, rates of arson, violence and threats toward abortion clinics surged nationwide, according to data by the National Abortion Federation. Widespread, anti-choice rhetoric that both equated fertilized eggs to human beings and erased the humanity of women with unwanted pregnancies after the videos were released seemed to motivate Robert Dear to declare himself a “warrior for the babies” and commit a mass shooting at a Colorado Planned Parenthood in 2015. And, of course, the videos also triggered the Congressional investigation of the organization, which cost taxpayers roughly $1.59 million.

News of the DOJ investigating Planned Parenthood is concerning, as it’s no secret how hostile the Trump administration, which earlier this year signed a bill allowing states to block federal funding for Planned Parenthood, is toward the organization. The consequences of this could be widely felt—not just by women, but by everyone if researchers lose access to fetal tissue, which, among other things, historically made a cure for polio possible. This is just another reminder that anti-abortion sentiments affect everything from women’s human rights and economic enfranchisement to public health.

Pennsylvania House will vote on second-trimester abortion ban

On Monday, Republicans in Pennsylvania’s House Health Committee voted for a Senate-passed bill that would ban the dilation and evacuation procedure, except when the life of the mother is at risk. Twenty-week bans and severe limitations on second-trimester abortions have been a consistent and terrifying trend throughout 2017, going into affect in multiple states and even making it past the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year.

And yet, no matter how many time Republicans reiterate the same falsehoods to justify the ban, it’s important to remember these realities: 1) the dilation and evacuation procedure is objectively totally safe, 2) only about 10 percent of all abortions occur in the second trimester anyway, and, of course, 3) Roe v. Wade guarantees the right to abortion until fetal viability at around the 25th week of pregnancy. The majority of “late-term” abortions take place due to health risks and complications for the fetus or for the mother rendering safe, legal access to the procedure a serious public health issue, and in either case, regardless of the state of her health, no woman should have to bend over backwards to justify her decision for having an abortion.

The bill is certainly dangerous, as it will likely embolden similar proposals in other state legislatures, but we should all rest a little easier knowing Pennsylvania’s Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has already announced his intent to veto the bill if it passes.

The GOP tax bill will limit birth control access

On top of costing 13 million Americans their health care in the next decade—which will cause millions of women to lose access to basic reproductive health services—the GOP tax bill will also severely limit access to long-term birth control, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Insurance costs are expected to skyrocket after those who can’t afford health care pull out of the market without the individual mandate, which the tax bill would repeal, and as a result, millions of American women interested in IUDs would have to pay $500 to $950, plus a $150 to $200 insertion fee, out-of-pocket. Even paying for the birth control pill could also become too much of a burden for low-income women without insurance coverage. You’d think the party of abortion-loathing would see the disadvantage to cutting access to resources that provably reduce the rate of abortion. But maybe at the end of the day, more than abortion, Republicans just really hate poor women.

DC bill would allow women to get birth control without prescription

Speaking of birth control access, on Tuesday, local officials in DC cast an initial vote in favor of a bill that would make birth control available without prescription at pharmacies. The Defending Access to Women’s Health Care Services Amendment Act of 2017 was introduced in response to GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act earlier this year and would also counteract the Trump administration’s reversal on the contraception mandate, which allowed 55 million women to access copay-free birth control and annually saved women $1.4 billion a year.

Prescription-free birth control will boost access and make getting birth control, a perfectly safe medication, more convenient and less stigmatized. But unfortunately, it won’t necessarily alleviate the severe financial burden that low-income women may experience if their employers or insurers decide for whatever reason, as the repeal of the contraceptive mandate allows, to deny them coverage.

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)

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