Mike Pence’s Dangerous Promise to End Legal Abortion Is Driving Bad Policy
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!
Every now and then, it feels as if this column waxes redundant: An extreme anti-choice bill with the potential to cut off abortion and family planning resources to thousands of women is proposed, and over the course of several weeks, is shuffled from one committee to the next. This week, a bill effectively banning safe, second trimester abortion passed the Florida House, a federal court upheld Tennessee’s new state constitution language that there is no right to abortion, and an Iowa bill that would essentially sweepingly ban abortion by banning the procedure at roughly six weeks has passed the state Senate to the House.
All of these measures are uniquely dangerous, but every week, they seem to become more and more familiar. There’s always some progress gained in one state or another, but beyond that, it’s often just more of the same: dangerous bills politicizing women’s health and attacking public health, the economy, and human rights in the process. Every level of government has some capacity to affect reproductive rights for better or for worse, and from the Trump administration down, that’s what we see nearly every week. And while there’s not much good news to report this week, just remember that it doesn’t have to be like this. Primary voting for November’s midterm elections will be underway soon in many states, and progress—the end of the anti-woman routine this column feels like it’s become—is a real possibility.
That’s something to think about in light of Vice President Mike Pence saying just this week that the end of legal abortion will happen “in our time.” In his self-satisfaction, Pence is omitting that the only thing accomplished by an end to legal abortion is putting women’s health and lives in jeopardy.
Trump administration officials say awful things about abortion
A week or so after the State Department removed language recognizing abortion and contraception as human rights for women, Scott Lloyd, director of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, proclaimed undocumented women don’t have the right to an abortion. In a newly released ACLU deposition from last December, when asked if he believed unaccompanied minors have “no constitutional right to abortion,” Lloyd replied, “Yes.”
Over the past few months, which have seen detained immigrant women forced to sue for access to abortion (as detailed in this very column), Lloyd has spearheaded the fight to deny that abortion is a right regardless of immigration status. Between March and December last year, he denied seven requests for abortion by immigrant minors. Lloyd has previously admitted to ACLU lawyers that he has called for “abortion reversal” practices—the imagined concept of undoing abortion by far-right, anti-choice conspiracy theorists—on one undocumented minor who had a medication abortion.
And, of course, Lloyd isn’t even the only one in the Trump administration caught saying dreadful things about abortion this week. In a Tuesday speech before anti-choice groups in Nashville, Pence said he knew “in [his] heart of hearts this will be the generation that restores life in America … If all of us do all we can, we can once again, in our time, restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law.” In other words, Pence said Roe v. Wade’s guarantee of the right to an abortion will be dismantled relatively soon.
With things like this being said, the case for declaring this the most anti-woman presidential administration in modern history is exponentially strengthened. It’s been more than language from President Trump and his appointees: We’ve seen the reversal of the contraceptive mandate, “religious freedom” policy to allow discrimination against women who have had or are seeking abortion, an executive order banning taxpayer funded global organizations from offering family planning information, and of course, sharp challenges to immigrant women’s abortion access. These latest comments by Lloyd and Pence are just the Trump administration’s policy agenda put in words.
Birth control access is a staple of female entrepreneurship
As anyone with a functioning brain knows by now, birth control has always been about more than sex, and is also about women’s ability to make the best and safest decisions about their educational and professional advancement. In addition to its health benefits, by safely preventing unplanned pregnancy, women are able to focus on school or pursue opportunities in the workforce that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.
On Thursday, Small Business Majority released a survey that found contraceptive access allowed the majority of younger women entrepreneurs to start and grow their businesses. Contraceptive access has been particularly crucial for female entrepreneurs of color; 65 percent of black female entrepreneurs and 64 percent of Latina entrepreneurs responded that being able to decide when to have children had a substantial impact on their ability to grow their businesses.
Since October, the Health and Human Services Department has allowed employers and insurers to deny women birth control coverage, making birth control pills and especially long-term, more reliable hormonal contraception inaccessible to some low-income women. Prior to this policy, the contraceptive mandate instated by the Obama administration granted access to cost-free birth control to roughly 55 million American women, saving women an estimated $1.4 billion per year on birth control. It was immediately obvious that such a policy reversal would disadvantage many women in the workforce, but this survey shows just how important family planning resources are in allowing women to take control of their careers and enjoy economic security.
Mississippi Senate will vote on 15-week abortion ban
Speaking of redundancy, yet another state has chosen to advance an extremist abortion ban. On Tuesday, the Mississippi state Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee voted to advance a 15-week abortion ban for a full vote in the Senate. Current law in the state bans abortion at or after 20 weeks gestation, which is typically around when severe fetal abnormalities or other health risks tend to arise.
The bill passed the state House of Representatives last month and is expected to pass the Republican-dominated state Senate, too. The same day that it passed Senate committee, Republican Governor Phil Bryant told Mississippi Today that he intended to sign the bill, making it a strong possibility that this ban will become the law.
Right now, Mississippi is one of the most difficult states in the country in which to access abortion, and as of last year, it remains the state with the highest poverty rate at 20.8 percent, meaning that the costs associated with travel out-of-state for an abortion are more likely to be unmanageable for women in Mississippi. Laws like this reduce abortion rights to mere theory, and despite placing incredible burden and even danger on women, such policies rarely have an effect on preventing abortion according to research—as well as Mississippi’s consistent abortion rates, reported by Guttmacher Institute.
While such a bill could easily be contested in court if signed into law, reproductive rights advocates might hesitate because of the potential of such a suit going to the Supreme Court and potentially resulting in the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Illinois sees increase in out-of-state abortions
Between 2015 and 2016, fewer abortions were performed in the state of Illinois, according to Illinois Department of Health figures released this week. But 2016 saw a sharp increase in women from out-of-state coming to Illinois for the procedure.
Per the Chicago Tribune:
“Since 2010, about 3,000 women a year have come here from out of state to have an abortion. Because of confidentiality laws, the data aren’t broken down by home state, nor do they explain why women are traveling for the procedure. In a relatively large number of cases—1,176 in 2016 and 2,148 in 2015—it’s unclear whether the patient was from in state or out of state because that was marked unknown.”
It seems worth noting that Illinois’ closest neighbors are Kentucky, Indiana, Missouri and Iowa. Kentucky and Missouri are two of seven states in the country with just one abortion clinic, Mike Pence formerly served as Governor of Indiana, Iowa is getting closer and closer to signing an abortion ban into law, and in addition to having only one clinic, Missouri also mandates a 72-hour waiting period on the procedure.
The number of out-of-state women coming for abortions in Illinois has remained steady at about 3,000 per year from 2010 to 2015, and over the course of these years, anti-abortion laws in Illinois’ neighboring states have remained stringent. But according to the Chicago Tribune, in the last two years, addition restrictions such as waiting periods and the closure of numerous abortion clinics in these states may have contributed to this.
It seems as good a time as ever to repeat the well-documented fact that restrictions on abortion and even the shutdown of clinics don’t stop the procedure from happening. If any state would really like to see results, they’d be far better off funding birth control and sex ed.
Tune in next week to see what lawmakers will try next in their never-ending mission to derail reproductive justice!
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