Reproductive Rights: I've Got Some Good News and Some Bad News

It's hard to relax these days (though I still haven't tried yoga.) Take the current fight around reproductive rights. Pro-choice advocates of women's health have heard plenty of good news in the past few days. The trouble is, it's almost always been tempered by bad news. See what I mean:

Pre-Abortion Sonogram Debate

After days of protests and media coverage, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell backed away from a state bill last week that required sonograms 24 hours before an abortion. Much of the criticism from pro-choice advocates focused on how the bill would require very invasive transvaginal sonograms for those women seeking an abortion early in the pregnancy. McDonnell explained he was opposed to requiring transvaginal sonograms and couldn't support the bill as written. The bill's opponents cheered.

Now it seems likely Virginia will pass a less-extreme version of the bill—while Alabama may pass a bill more similar to Virginia's original. Virginia lawmakers have revised their controversial bill to leave "the use of vaginal ultrasounds up to the doctor and patient." The bill is scheduled to hit the Senate this week, and McDonnell has said he'll sign an amended bill that does not require the transvaginal songorams. Meanwhile Alabama lawmakers are scheduled to debate a sonogram bill as well—and this one requires either a transvaginal or transabdominal sonogram, whichever will "display the embryo or fetus more clearly."

Personhood

On Thursday, the Virginia Senate effectively killed a personhood bill that would have changed the legal definition of person to include the unborn. The measure, which had already passed the state House, raised too many legal questions for some senators, and the bill was sent back to committee and won't be reconsidered this year. 

But in Oklahoma the measure is very much alive. It's already won approval from the state Senate and has received significantly less attention than Virginia's. Republicans have a two-to-one advantage over Democrats in the Oklahoma House and the governor has consistently signed anti-abortion measures. Hardly time to relax if you're a pro-choice advocate.

Access to Healthcare

Washington state may require insurers to cover abortion. That's in contrast to the 15 states that have already restricted abortion coverage and the other 12 considering doing so. If passed, the Washington measure would require insurers covering maternity care to also cover abortions, giving more access to low-income women with insurance. The bill, currently in the state Senate, would give some clarity to the very murky rules around abortion coverage in the federal healthcare reform.

But in the meantime, Texas health officials have decided they will forego $35 million in federal funding for the state's Women's Health Program, all to spite Planned Parenthood. The feds rejected an application to renew the program, but the application excluded any healthcare providers affiliated with abortion clinics. That meant no Planned Parenthood. After the feds told the state it could not exclude Planned Parenthood from the program, which provides pap smears, birth control, and cancer screening for 130,000 low income women, the state got three more months to resubmit the application. But last week, state health officials opted to drop the program rather than let Planned Parenthood receive funds.

Maybe the 130,000 women who are losing access to basic healthcare will be able to find the glass half-full.  Probably not in women's health though.

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