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, Alabama’s state legislature successfully advanced a bill that would sweepingly criminalize abortion and punish those who have abortions with up to 99 years in prison. Shortly thereafter, the bill was signed into law by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey in a harsh reminder that women—and often white women—can play a critical role in denying other women reproductive rights.
Within a few short days of Alabama’s abortion ban, Missouri, one of several states in the nation with just one abortion provider, passed a ban on abortion at or after eight weeks through the state Senate. It’s one vote away, in the state House, from reaching Gov. Mike Parson’s desk, and Parson has already vocalized his support.
Both bills come on the heels of last week’s “fetal heartbeat” abortion ban signed into law in Georgia and more than a dozen similar abortion bans introduced in state legislatures across the country since just the beginning of this year.
It may feel like these horrifying, dystopian and dehumanizing bills are coming out of nowhere, but they’re not. Anti-abortion Republican politicians have been steadily seizing power in state legislatures and governments for years, introducing and passing sneaky but repressive abortion restrictions for years, all the while waiting for a president like Donald Trump to come along and pack the court system to make a total ban on abortion possible. Women and activists have been warning of this for years. What we’re seeing is terrifying, but once again, it’s hardly out of nowhere.
The ban on abortion in Alabama has been signed into law but is unlikely to go into effect for a long time, if ever, being purposefully designed to attract court challenges in order to take the case to the Supreme Court. Still, the law includes no exceptions for rape and incest and would be devastating and life-endangering for Alabama women—but at the same time, it’s about more, even, than Alabama. It’s about Roe v. Wade, and the health, human rights, and futures of all women and pregnant people in this country.
That said, it didn’t take Trump becoming president to render abortion virtually inaccessible for many women, and especially lower-income women of color, in several states, with myriad socioeconomic and geographic barriers already in place on the state and federal level. Since 1973, when Roe v. Wade was first decided, close to 1,200 state and federal laws restricting abortion access have passed, and as of 2014, around 90 percent of all U.S. counties lack an abortion provider.
Barriers to reproductive rights in this country have been taking us in this dreaded direction for years, but Donald Trump and his power to craft a judicial system and Supreme Court in the spitting image of his misogyny, has finally made the anti-abortion movement’s endgame a real possibility in America. After all, just this week, the U.S. Senate confirmed Wendy Vitter, Trump’s nominee for a federal judgeship in Louisiana, and a new, inexperienced, and radical opponent of abortion rights who has spread lies that abortion leads to cancer and suicide.
This anti-abortion “endgame,” as we saw earlier in Georgia, and this week in Alabama and Missouri, is nothing short of the criminalization and state ownership of women and pregnant people’s bodies. Under these laws, women’s bodies would be crime scenes: If a miscarriage is suspected to be an abortion, the burden of proof would be placed squarely on the woman, and untold numbers of women could be spied on or jailed for the outcomes of their pregnancies. Seeking health care to make a safe decision about one’s life, family, and future could see women sent to jail, and even in the absence of jail time, lack of access to reproductive health care would similarly imprison women in their own bodies.
These laws are attacks on women’s rights, status as citizens, and certainly our personhood, as they attempt to confer all three of these on fertilized eggs and fetuses over born, living women. Let’s be clear: If the threat of incarceration doesn’t make it obvious enough, these laws are not about children or families or protecting life, in a state like Alabama with a health care system that ranks 46th in the nation. They’re about punishment, endangering (and likely costing) women’s lives, forcing us to either give birth or radically change our lifestyles, whether we want to or not.
And most alarming of all, these laws may only be on the books in select states today—but tomorrow, or some time soon, they could come for all of us. These laws are about Roe v. Wade and all American women. These laws are about majority white, male lawmakers and their misogyny controlling all of our lives. That’s why our solidarity and support for women in Alabama, Georgia, and all impacted states matters, no matter where we are in the country.
Michigan moves to ban later abortion
This week, Michigan’s state House and Senate both moved to advance a bill to ban the dilation and evacuation abortion procedure, which is the safest method of second-trimester abortion. Therefore, the law is essentially a ban on later abortion, a rare but often life-saving procedure that we’ve seen especially, baselessly demonized in recent months. Thankfully, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has already said she intends to veto the bill, but an anti-choice group in the state already has a plan to circumvent the veto, and its passage from the legislature is unsettling at a time of so many proposed abortion bans, regardless.
Not only are later abortion bans blatantly unconstitutional, as Roe v. Wade permits safe, legal abortion until fetal viability, or as needed at the discretion of physicians, but they’re also dangerous and inhumane, forcing women to go through with unviable or life-threatening pregnancies, or give birth to babies with extreme anomalies, and watch them die shortly afterward. Yet, to the contrary, anti-abortion extremists spread vicious lies equating later abortion with “infanticide,” as if the lives of pregnant women simply aren’t part of the equation—and as if these lies don’t directly inspire horrific violence on abortion providers and women.
Later abortion bans, like all abortion bans, are cruel and extreme, but they’re also painfully ironic with so many early or total abortion bans being introduced across the country. When women are faced with so many barriers and delays to access care, later abortion may only become more needed, and laws like this in Michigan would be all the more dangerous.
Rhode Island rejects a bill to codify abortion rights
If there’s one thing we’ve established over the past few weeks, it’s that Roe v. Wade is under attack. That means the time for states to explicitly codify abortion rights in their state Constitutions has never been more urgent, and that means Rhode Island’s state Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote to reject a bill that would do just that especially scary.
With Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court and Donald Trump in the White House, relying on Supreme Court precedents to maintain abortion rights just isn’t a luxury we have anymore. More than 20 states could automatically lose the right to abortion the moment if and when Roe is reversed, with a few states here and there maintaining explicit abortion rights in their Constitutions. That’s just not enough.
Rhode Island’s rejection of this bill at the same time that Alabama is moving to ban abortion, and Georgia effectively already has, sends a horrific message about the direction in which we’re moving. We can only hope other state legislatures will introduce similar bills and successfully see them through.
Ohio lawmakers want to force doctors to lie to women
Extreme abortion bans aren’t the only way to obstruct safe access to abortion; another way is through laws that skew and block women’s access to accurate, comprehensive information about reproductive health care available to them.
This week, a new Ohio bill would require abortion providers administering medication abortion to tell patients that “abortion reversal” is an option, despite how ethical and conclusive research about this method has yet to be published. “Abortion reversal” itself started as an unethical experiment by ideologically motivated doctors a few years ago, and has since yielded dangerous legislation that would mislead women, and potentially lead to them being treated as test subjects.
Not only is the abortion reversal treatment potentially dangerous—the large doses of progesterone administered to save a pregnancy after taking the first of the two abortion pills are associated with health risks—but it’s also born from a false premise. So-called “abortion regret” isn’t a real phenomenon the way anti-abortion activists make it out to be. Everyone is free to feel differently about their abortion, but the fact remains that 99 percent of women who have abortions don’t regret their choice. Abortion reversal is plainly about stigmatizing abortion and projecting shame and imagined feelings of guilt and regret onto women.
If the Ohio bill passes the legislature, as it is slated to, and is signed into law by Ohio’s anti-abortion Governor, Ohio would join five other states with similar mandatory abortion reversal counseling laws. It’s currently joined by Nebraska and Wisconsin, which are considering their own versions of the bill.
Tune in next week to see what lawmakers will try next in their never-ending mission to derail reproductive justice!
(image: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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