If you want to take a plunge into the roiling id of the anti-choice movement, go to Albuquerque. Tomorrow, the half-million residents of New Mexico’s most populous city will vote on a ballot measure that would ban abortion after 20 weeks. Although 13 states have enacted similar laws, if Albuquerque’s measure passes, it will become the first municipality to impose a 20-week abortion ban.
In early August, several dozen teenagers and a few adult supervisors descended on the Holocaust and Intolerance Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico with a request: They wanted the curators to add an exhibit on abortion. When their demand was rebuffed, the teens—who were spending the week in the city as part of a pro-life training camp sponsored by Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust—unfurled a banner outside the building calling Albuquerque “America’s Auschwitz.”
The protest catapulted Albuquerque into the national media, but the demonstration is just one part of a larger experiment by the recent wave of pro-life activists flocking in from out of state: Can they transform New Mexico—a moderate state with liberal abortion laws—into another combat zone in the abortion wars? After a number of failed efforts to change policy in the legislature, abortion opponents have homed in on Albuquerque. Earlier this summer, they gathered enough signatures to put an ordinance banning abortion after 20 weeks before city voters in a special election. While similar bans have been passed in a dozen states, the proposed law would be the first to limit legal abortion at the local level. The immediate goal is to end the controversial practice of third-trimester abortion, but the campaign could also serve as a model for pro-life activists who are eager to spread red-state extremism into more moderate parts of the country.
By the end of July, it was clear opponents of abortion were going to have a banner year. In the first half of 2013, state legislatures across the country enacted dozens of restrictions on abortion clinics that will slim their hours or shutter them completely. States like Wisconsin and Indiana added requirements like ultrasounds and waiting periods for women seeking the procedure. After a high-profile debate, Texas passed a law that bars abortion after 20 weeks, bringing the total number of states with similar bans to 11.
The show’s far from over. Earlier this month, at a press conference that featured the Duggar family of 19 Kids and Counting fame, two Ohio state legislators announced they were restarting the fight for one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. House Bill 248, generally known as the “Fetal-Heartbeat Bill,” was introduced on August 22 in the House Committee on Health and Aging, chaired by the bill’s co-sponsor, state representative Lynn Wachtmann.
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:
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.
Two years ago, the Texas Legislature passed a law requiring that women seeking abortions first have a sonogram. If it's early in a pregnancy, the law would require submitting to a transvaginal sonogram, with a wand inserted into the vagina. Even though a similar measure subsequently stirred national controversy in Virginia, prompting its defeat, progressives in Texas could barely mount a fight. Passage was inevitable, everyone knew, and the cause quixotic—because, after all, this was Texas.
The hot conservative story of late last week, starting with a USA Todayop-ed by Kristen Powers, was the failure of the mainstream media to cover the horrifying case of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia doctor accused of committing infanticide, and maiming and, in some cases, killing his patients (most of them poor women) in an unsanitary abortion clinic. Perhaps the story does deserve more coverage than it has received, but the lessons to be drawn from it are different from the conclusions conservatives are making. Here are five points currently being overlooked in the coverage of the controversy.
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."
Since the Todd Akin affair entered the national conversation, many commentators—myself included—have noted the extent to which Akin’s views are in line with the mainstream of the Republican Party, and nearly identical to ones held by Paul Ryan, the GOP vice presidential nominee. This video, unearthed by Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski, illustrates the point. In it, a younger Ryan denounces a women’s health provision that was included in a bill to ban “partial-birth” abortion. Exceptions to the ban, he argues, would make it “meaningless”:
(AP Photo/San Angelo Standard-Times, Patrick Dove)
If you haven't been worn down reading about Todd Akin's bizarre and ignorant views about the female reproductive system, now turn to Texas, where women's uteruses may soon have to move out of state to find health care. Late Tuesday night, a federal court of appeals ruled that Texas can exclude Planned Parenthood from the Women's Health Program, which provides basic preventative care—like birth control and cancer screenings—for low-income women. The decision has terrifying implications in a state where women's access to health care is already poor.
Yesterday morning, before the GOP completely turned its back on Todd Akin, I noted that—despite their harumphing—few Republicans disagreed with the substance of Akin’s remarks. In Congress and across the country, GOP lawmakers have supported a raft of bills designed to restrict or end abortion, as well as most forms of contraception. Look no further than the Republican platform, which—as CNN reports—will include radical and restrictive language on abortion:
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.”