In the days since North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory signed a restrictive new abortion bill into law, directing state officials to regulate abortion clinics like surgical centers, the first-term Republican has gotten a sharp taste of abortion-rights advocates’ wrath. Only one clinic in the state currently meets the new regulations; the rest will have to undergo expensive renovations or face closure. On Monday, dozens of protesters held a 12-hour vigil outside the governor’s mansion as they waited to hear whether McCrory would sign the law. Returning the next day, after they learned that McCrory had approved the measure, the protesters wore Mad Men-style shirtdresses and old-fashioned lace gloves to emphasize the law’s regressiveness. They waved signs and chanted slogans, encouraging passing motorists to honk in support of their cause. In a nod to the motorcycle safety bill that contained the restrictions, motorcyclists circled the mansion. (No one crashed.)
Texas state senator Wendy Davis, whose unsuccessful attempt to stop a restrictive abortion law drew national attention. (Flickr/Texas Tribune/Todd Wiseman)
Conservatives may be in retreat on many different fronts these days, but in one area, they're having smashing success: restricting the ability of women, particularly non-wealthy women, from accessing abortion services. And they're doing it with a new tool: the 20-week abortion ban, offered as cover for a raft of restrictions that aren't about stopping later-term abortions but about stopping all abortions. They're succeeding not because of some change in Americans' views on the subject, but because of the exercise of raw political power. As you may have heard, opinions on abortion, unlike those on many other subjects, have been remarkably stable for decades.
But that stability masks some stark differences on abortion, differences that create just enough space for Republicans in parts of the country to make abortion all but illegal. Yesterday the Pew Research Center came out with a new poll, showing some rather dramatic gaps by region on what people think about abortion. Check out this graph:
If you're a supporter of reproductive rights in the United States, you're forced to endure various forms of concern trolling. The centrist form, perfected by Slate's Will Saletan, exhorts supporters of abortion rights to concede that abortions are icky and that the good faith of people who support criminalizing abortion must be conceded even when their arguments are a moral, political, and legal shambles. While outright opponents of abortion rights are certainly willing to use these techniques, they have innovations of their own. The concern-troll-in-chief for opponents of reproductive rights is Ross Douthat of The New York Times. Last weekend's manifestation is a particularly good example, both because the arguments are relatively sophisticated and because Douthat is frequently generous enough to provide the material that refutes his own arguments.
Last night, Ohio Governor John Kasich took a little time from his weekend to sign a new $65 billion budget for the state. There are many moving parts to the law, including a $2.5 billion tax cut which—like most Republican tax cuts—is meant to help the rich at the expense of everyone else. But of those parts, the most relevant for discussion—given last week’s fiasco in the Texas Senate—are the new restrictions on all reproductive services.
Last week, I noted the extent to which opposition to same-sex marriage and opposition to abortion are still linked tightly together. With its new anti-abortion law—and long-standing ban on gay marriage—Alabama is the latest state to prove the point:
Alabama lawmakers late Tuesday gave final passage to a measure placing stricter regulations on clinics that provide abortions. […]
The bill requires abortion clinics to use doctors who have approval to admit patients to hospitals in the same city. Some clinics now use doctors from other cities that don’t have local hospital privileges. A similar law in Mississippi is threatening to close that state’s only abortion clinic, which is challenging the law in court.
Here's a contrast: At the same time the Supreme Court held oral arguments on a case that could legalize same-sex marriage, North Dakota lawmakers passed one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the nation. It's a sign, argues Sarah Kliff in The Washington Post, that the two have decoupled as issues of controversy, "Younger Americans have become increasingly supportive of gay marriage in a way that hasn’t necessarily happened for abortion rights."
The gun crowd is so paranoid about the erosion of their Second Amendment rights that they make Chicken Little look like an actuary. The president’s recent gun proposals include initiatives such as expanded background checks, a ban on certain military-type rifles, and limits on the size of magazines. But if you listen to the gun folks, even these tepid proposals are—to quote a past president of the National Rifle Association—“unconstitutional schemes to gut the Second Amendment.” Iowa Senator Charles Grassley accused Obama of thinking “the Second Amendment can be tossed aside.” Any skeptical glance in the direction of that Glock on their hip is worth a Second Amendment yelp.
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA—Outside of the convention center, and around downtown Charlotte, are a handful of anti-abortion activists. It’s hard to miss them. They carry large signs plastered with graphic photos of dismembered fetuses and preach their message with loudspeakers:
(AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times, Edmund D. Fountain)
Three days from now, in the hurricane-lashed hull of the Tampa Bay Times Forum, at the temporal cross coordinates of Congressman Todd Akin’s confession and the Republican Party’s communion, we’re finally going to see what’s truly mesmerized this white, middle-aged, male political conglomerate for the last two generations, and that’s the sexual freedom of women. The language has always been there, but until this presidential election it’s been lip service; next Monday, however, when the Republican platform is approved by the party’s convention, all the fear and loathing that women’s sexuality engenders will be splayed in the aisles before an electorate newly alerted to the party’s unforgiving position on abortion courtesy of Akin’s imprudence. The Akin vocabulary, and the platform’s, may be one of “abortion” and “rape,” but those words are symptoms of what really afflicts the party, which is the intolerable vision of women having sex on their own terms with impunity. This is what much of the anti-abortion movement detests and always has detested in the name of “life.”
Since yesterday morning, political conversation has been dominated by the comments of Todd Akin, a (formerly) obscure Missouri congressman and Republican candidate for Senate. "First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told local reporters, explaining his absolute opposition to abortion, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
And if these natural defenses fail? “Let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work, or something,” Akin said. “I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.”
If you’re going to slander the estimated 32,000 women a year who become pregnant after being raped, it’s probably not wise to do it on a Sunday, when it will lead the next week’s news coverage. Republican nominee for Missouri Senate Todd Akin chose not to follow this bit of wisdom, instead declaring in a television interview yesterday that women can’t get pregnant from rape.
“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
As Salon's Irin Carmon reports, a Republican appointed district-court judge has prevented a new statute that would force the only remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi to close. (The new law was necessary because, despite the best efforts of past Mississippi legislatures, one lone clinic in Jackson has managed to heroically persevere through a maze of state restrictions.) The stay is temporary, and the issue will presumably have to be resolved by a higher appellate court, possibly ending with the Supreme Court of the United States.
A new Gallup poll shows that the percent of Americans calling themselves pro-choice has fallen to 41 percent. In 2008, when that number hit 42 percent, there was a predictable flurry of news attention. So I want to call attention to what I wrote then. In short, this “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice” question obscures the true nature of American attitudes toward abortion. Support for the right to abortion depends strongly on the circumstances of the pregnancy. They cannot be summarized with the labels “pro-choice” and “pro-life.”
Moreover, and most importantly, more nuanced measures show little of the fluctuation that Gallup’s pro-choice vs. pro-life measure shows. Indeed Gallup’s new poll confirms this finding:
However, it is notable that while Americans’ labeling of their position has changed, their fundamental views on the issue have not.
Planned Parenthood staffers might have been inclined to celebrate last Friday. That afternoon, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled Texas could not exclude Planned Parenthood from its Women's Health Program. On Monday a district judge had granted an injunction, forcing the state to pay Planned Parenthood clinics that served the WHP clients—low-income women who are not pregnant. The injunction was short-lived—the state attorney general appealed the decision to the 5th Circuit, which granted an emergency stay, allowing state health officials to start kicking out the Planned Parenthood clinics.