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Lawmakers Claiming to Be Concerned With Women’s Safety Could Leave Arkansas Women With Only One Abortion Provider

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, the passage of the GOP’s sweeping tax bill—a monster piece of legislation that will slash taxes on the wealthy and corporations at the expense of everyone else—marked a sharp attack on reproductive rights. Experts predict the bill will cost roughly 13 million Americans their insurance coverage in the next decade and result in more women being forced to pay out-of-pocket for IUDs and birth control pills, a burden that will disproportionately attack low-income women.

Republicans will only have themselves to blame when new economic restraints on reliable contraception negatively impact the national abortion rate, which has declined in recent years largely due to increased birth control access. But in their unending quest to make low-income women’s lives more difficult and dangerous, it seems this is a consequence they’re willing to overlook. In addition to the tax bill’s passage, this week has also seen developments in anti-choice efforts to cut abortion access for some of the nation’s most vulnerable demographics, from undocumented, unaccompanied minors, to rural women, to women suffering from pregnancy-related complications.

Here’s what you may have missed:

Trump administration’s war on immigrant minors’ access to abortion seems to be at a stalemate

This week, following a grisly battle in October, in which Trump’s Justice Department attempted to force an undocumented minor, five months into her pregnancy, to give birth, the administration has once again gone to war with the courts over two pregnant immigrant teens in custody.

Early Monday, a federal judge ruled that both unaccompanied teens must be allowed to access abortion services “promptly and without delay” in order to “preserve [the teens’] constitutional right to decide whether to carry their pregnancies to term.” Within an hour of the ruling, the Trump administration moved to call on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and Supreme Court to intervene, before later backing off after their lawyers claimed to find a birth certificate for one of the immigrant teens demonstrating that she was 19, not 17, meaning she falls outside of the purview of their attempts to stop minors.

Politico reports that at this point, the conflict between courts and the Trump administration over undocumented minors’ human rights seems to have reached a stalemate, but it’s likely that this could all wind up in the Supreme Court at some point. Despite this week’s legal victories for the two young immigrant women in custody, the ACLU requested a class action suit on behalf of all detained teens, stating: “We are pleased that these two young women are able to finally get the care they need. But the government’s policy is still in place. These two cases show how the government continues to abuse its power by denying abortion access. The ACLU will keep fighting until this dystopian policy is struck down, and we have justice for every Jane.”

According to the ACLU, that young women in U.S. custody are “being forced to continue their pregnancies against their will” is plainly unconstitutional. So far, undocumented women seeking abortion access have won their individual rights in court, but in the absence of a definitive ruling, it seems likely the Trump administration will only continue to cause trouble. In the guise of sparing the taxpayer of funding undocumented women’s abortions, the administration’s fight to obstruct immigrant women’s rights serves two purposes: One is to further dehumanize, otherize and ultimately lower standards for the government’s treatment of non-citizens. The other is to further the state’s already disturbingly vast decision-making power in dictating women’s bodily choices.

Where the Obama administration did not support government-funded abortion services for those in custody except in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the life of the mother, nor did it block those in custody from seeking abortion services at their own expense, the Washington Post reports. The Trump administration, on the other hand, seems particularly determined to force undocumented teens to give birth.

Second federal judge halts Trump’s attack on birth control access

In a rare and refreshing victory for women, a second federal judge has temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s recent reversal on the contraceptive mandate, an Obama-era policy through which 55 million American women gained access to co-pay-free birth control and saved $1.4 billion annually. A judge from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California joined a federal judge for the state of Pennsylvania in ruling against President Trump’s new policy, which would allow employers and insurers to deny women coverage on the basis of not just freedom of religion, but also any moral objection whatsoever. In other words, if your employer isn’t too thrilled about the idea of women having sex for any reason other than procreation, you’re on your own.

Federal judges for other districts throughout the country could soon make similar decisions, and while rulings like this are important, it’s a sad day when women’s access to crucial resources to make decisions about their bodies is contingent on which state they live in.

Pennsylvania Governor vetoes abortion ban

Speaking of surprisingly-not-terrible news related to reproductive rights, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would ban abortions at 20 weeks. It sounds like a no-brainer that a law criminalizing abortion at a stage where most of the people seeking it are doing so for health-related reasons would be vetoed, but similar bans have already been passed in 20 other states, and in October, a 20-week ban the U.S. House of Representatives was passed as well.

The simple, oft-ignored reality of late-term abortion is that it’s relatively rare—just 10 percent of all abortions happen in the second trimester. One purpose of this bill, which Governor Wolf rightly identified as “an attempt to criminalize decisions women make about their health care,” is to attach stigma to abortion in general by misleading the public that many abortions are late-term. But ultimately, just as it’s important to be cognizant of these realities, it’s also important we recognize that rare or not, abortion until the point of fetal viability is not only legal because of a little thing called Roe v. Wade, but also wholly respectable, and something no woman should feel forced to justify.

Arkansas is on the verge of losing two abortion clinics

On Thursday, Planned Parenthood asked the Supreme Court to assess the constitutionality of Arkansas’ Act 577, a medically unnecessary law requiring non-surgical abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals despite the proven safety of the abortion pill. The state of Arkansas currently has three abortion providers—two of which solely offer medication abortion, and could soon lose their ability to provide this service as a result of Act 577. In the absence of these two providers, women in the state—especially low-income women lacking the time and resources to travel for the procedure—will be left scrambling.

In 2016, the Supreme Court issued a ruling on a similar, medically unnecessary law in the state of Texas, which required the state’s surgical abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. The law resulted in more than half of the state’s abortion providers being shut down over the course of three years, placing a burden on clinics that they lacked the resources to meet, but in a 5-3 decision, SCOTUS overturned it. In the state of Arkansas, Act 577 seems likely to have the same effect of Texas’ notorious HB 2.

At the end of the day, the most outrageous part of laws like this—on top of endangering low-income rural women’s health and forcing them to jump through humiliatingly difficult hoops just to make a basic decision about their bodies—is the gross dishonesty they’re rooted in. Lawmakers claim to put these restrictions in place in the interest of women’s safety, but time and again, a little thing called science has proven the safety of surgical and medication abortion alike, and the danger of restricting access to it. It’s never been safe, legal abortion access that’s cost women thousands traveling to have the procedure, or forced them to risk their lives in back-alleys. The same people claiming to care about women’s safety are the same ones pushing a dangerous, dehumanizing agenda of reproductive coercion.

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

(image: Rena Schild /

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