Wyoming Legislator: “Unlike a Clothing Purchase, Women Can’t Change Their Minds About an Abortion”
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!
On Tuesday, Wyoming’s House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would require women seeking abortion care in the state to wait 48 hours before they could receive an abortion. Sheridan Representative Richard Tass, the lawmaker who introduced the bill, told the committee, according to Wyoming Public Media, that “unlike a clothing purchase, women can’t change their minds about an abortion,” arguing the bill will give women the time they need to consider the “gravity” of their decision.
The bill suggests women are fundamentally incapable of fully considering their decision to have an abortion on their own, and that they quite literally have to be told to think, despite how women who go to clinics seeking abortion care have already made up their minds. On top of that, it’s incredibly insulting, but not really surprising, that this comes from a man who thinks women are frivolous and that all we know how to do without legally mandated supervision is buy clothes.
Unfortunately, mandatory waiting periods are a relatively common restriction on abortion care, and while they ultimately have virtually zero bearing on changing women’s minds, they’re effective nonetheless in promoting stigma around abortion and paternalism in our understandings and treatment of women’s bodies and decisions.
Of course, on top of being plainly offensive and condescending, laws like this also have the capacity to deeply inconvenience women seeking care, considering the sheer amount of women who are forced to travel out-of-state or great distances to access abortion care. For low-income women or women who don’t receive paid time off, being forced to travel and miss several days of work poses a substantial burden.
Now that H.B. 140 has passed committee, it will move forward for consideration from the full House, where the Republican Party holds a pronounced majority.
The impact of the Roe v. Wade ruling at its 46th anniversary
This week, a new report revealed teen use of birth control has soared since the 1970s, and access to more reliable long-term birth control, such as pills, implants and IUDs, has increased, too. There’s just one slight hitch: Unplanned pregnancy is still happening—an obvious reality to anyone who knows the majority of people who have abortions were using contraception when they conceived.
That’s why, while increased access to all birth control options is certainly necessary and beneficial, safe, legal, and accessible abortion must always be an option. This is true today, and it’s been true since Roe v. Wade was decided 46 years ago on Tuesday.
In pre-Roe America, and specifically in the 1950s and ’60s, an estimated 200,000 to 1.2 million illegal, unsafe abortions took place annually, with untold numbers of women dying as a result. Roe v. Wade marked significant, necessary, and life-saving progress, but in many parts of the country, abortion access has remained in a dire state; one Supreme Court reversal could lead to about 20 states automatically, explicitly banning abortion.
Today, in areas where abortion is more restricted and inaccessible—about 90 percent of U.S. counties lack an abortion provider—injuries from unsafe abortions continue to occur, while women who pursue safe options for self-managed abortion continue to face risk of prosecution in some parts of the country. In recent years, state legislatures have been passing increasingly creative, dangerous laws hacking away at abortion and reproductive rights at frankly terrifying rates, while maternal death rates in states with more barriers to access consistently post higher maternal death rates—an inescapable irony considering the anti-choice movement’s self-identification as “pro-life.”
In other words: Now, more than ever, in light of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, the existence of Roe (for the time being) simply can’t be a green light for complacency.
Illinois and Chicago take bold steps for abortion rights
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo marked the anniversary of Roe on Tuesday with bold and necessary actions to protect and expand reproductive rights.
At a Planned Parenthood in Illinois, Pritzker signed an executive order to ensure the state is enforcing a recently passed law allowing for taxpayer funding of abortion. Pritzker said he was “concerned” that his predecessor’s administration had not been making sure the law “was enforced for state government employees.”
“This order will make it clear that state employees receiving government funded health insurance have the same rights to control their bodies and make their own healthcare decisions as everyone else in the state,” Pritzker added. The newly elected Democratic governor also added that Illinois “will be the most progressive state in the nation when it comes to guaranteeing women’s reproductive rights.”
Meanwhile, in New York, Cuomo marked 46 years of Roe by signing into law the landmark Reproductive Health Act, which explicitly takes abortion out of the state’s criminal code, moving to regulate abortion as a matter of public health. Additionally, the RHA will authorize more medical professionals to perform abortions, granting wider access to abortion care, and permit abortions after 24 weeks when the fetus is not viable or to protect a woman’s health. (Previously, New York women have shared stories of being forced to travel out-of-state for abortions at or past 24 weeks, despite needing abortion care for safety reasons.)
Separate from the RHA, Cuomo has said he would support legislation to explicitly codify abortion rights into the state Constitution, a necessary and proactive step to prepare for incoming, new threats posed by the Supreme Court. Legislation like the RHA is long overdue, and in fact, even Gov. Cuomo acknowledged this as he signed the bill. But the significance of its signing on the anniversary of Roe also sent a clear message: that almost five decades have passed and there’s still so much work to be done.
Court rules Iowa’s “fetal heartbeat ban” unconstitutional
In some more exciting news from Tuesday’s anniversary, an Iowa state judge struck down an Iowa state law banning most abortions, as many women don’t even realize they’re pregnant before a fetal heartbeat is detected (at around six weeks). The fetal heartbeat ban, signed into law by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds in May, would have banned abortion care after a fetal heartbeat can be heard, and was stayed from taking effect last summer.
Yet, the implementation of the law wasn’t even the ultimate goal of some of its supporters, who hoped that it would spur a legal challenge and wind up at the Supreme Court, where it could yield a ruling that would strike down or dramatically scale back Roe v. Wade. This has become an increasingly common anti-choice strategy, as President Trump continues to stack courts across the country with anti-choice judges, and after his appointments of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
In either case, while it’s unclear what Iowa anti-choice advocates’ next move will be, pro-choice advocates in the state celebrated the judge’s decision and its historic significance on the anniversary of Roe.
Utah, Tennessee embrace proposed abortion bans
Unfortunately, the week of the 46th anniversary of Roe also saw the emergence of two proposed abortion bans in Utah and Tennessee. The very same week an Iowa judge struck down the state’s fetal heartbeat ban, a Tennessee state legislator, for the third time in his career, filed a bill that would ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
It should be obvious, at this point, that proposed fetal heartbeat bans are simply fodder for court conflicts, while sending a dangerous message to women everywhere that many lawmakers consider our health, safety, and autonomy secondary to preserving a six-week fetus. The lawmaker who introduced the bill has already acknowledged that it will wind up in the courts, but has expressed optimism because of Tennessee’s Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ conservative record.
Meanwhile, in Utah, anti-choice lawmakers are fighting for a bill that sounds less extreme than a fetal heartbeat ban, but would ultimately have the same effect of endangering women’s health and safety, needlessly stigmatizing abortion, and slashing access to a life-saving, necessary health service. H.B. 136 would effectively ban abortions in the second trimester, modeled after Mississippi’s short-lived 15-week abortion ban from last year. The vast majority of abortions take place in the first trimester, with many late-term abortions stemming from serious health risks or special circumstances, making laws like this pointless aside from cruelty and endangering women.
Of course, that same Mississippi law was struck down last year by a judge who pointed out that Roe v. Wade prevents states from banning abortion before viability, which is often around 24 or 25 weeks, if the fetus becomes viable at all. But that doesn’t make bills like H.B. 136 any less alarming, as it reflects a mounting trend of anti-choice lawmakers working to cut off abortion access by banning abortion at varying stages.
North Dakota lawmakers want medical professionals to lie to patients about abortion
Aiming to become the sixth state to require doctors to tell patients that the effects of medication abortion can be reversed, on Monday, North Dakota lawmakers held hearings for a new bill that would effectively force doctors to lie. The bill is deeply ironic in light of the Trump administration’s tireless work to promote global and domestic gag laws, which would prohibit doctors from talking about patients’ reproductive health care options, including abortion and birth control.
Additionally, the Supreme Court ruling last summer in NIFLA v. Becerra effectively ruled that fake women’s health clinics cannot be required to disclose that they do not offer real health care, and that abortion care can be sought elsewhere. It supposedly marked a ruling against “compelled speech,” which should certainly extend to preventing anti-choice lawmakers from requiring doctors to lie.
To clarify, “abortion reversal” is not a thing. Medication abortion typically involves two pills, the first taken between six and 48 hours before the second; abortion reversal theories suggest that if, after taking the first pill, the individual takes in a large dose of progesterone, which can actually endanger women’s health, the pregnancy can be saved. However, this method has about the same success rate of “saving” the pregnancy as just simply taking the first pill and not the second.
If this sounds absurd, it is—but it’s also pretty on par with the anti-choice movement’s long, enduring history of rejecting science and premising legislation around misogynist, widely discredited conspiracy theories. Forty-six years after Roe, the new bill in North Dakota really only underscores how creative anti-choice activists and lawmakers have become in their work to obstruct abortion access through stigma and deceit.
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)
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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