The four horsemen haven’t appeared on the horizon yet, nor has the sea turned to blood, but you’d be forgiven for thinking that when it comes to reproductive justice in the United States. End times are just around the corner.
In 2013 alone, states enacted gobs of restrictions on early access to abortion. From Texas to Ohio to Iowa, dozens of clinics shut their doors. The courts are abortion-rights advocates’ best hope for stemming the tide of regressive legislation, but as Scott Lemieux has extensively documented here at the Prospect, their judgments have been decidedly mixed.
In this ever-growing maelstrom of incursions on abortion rights, pro-choice politicians have stayed on the defensive, clinging to the standards established by Roe v. Wade even as conservatives whack relentlessly at their foundations. Given the apocalyptic tenor of the times, supporters are routinely lauded as martyrs for the cause. Wendy Davis’s doomed filibuster against a restrictive abortion bill on the floor of the Texas Senate was undoubtedly the high point for the pro-choice movement this year, even though it was clear that the law—which is now wreaking havoc on the state’s abortion providers—would pass anyway. But the victories are almost always pyrrhic, a trickle of small symbolic triumphs amid an avalanche of defeats.
Tamesha Means was only 18 weeks pregnant on the morning of December 10, 2010 when her water broke. In a haze of pain, she called a friend for a ride to the only hospital in her central Michigan county. She had no idea that the hospital, Mercy Health Partners, was part of a Catholic health system. She just knew she needed help.
Earlier today, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear not one, but two challenges to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate; they’ll be heard together in an action-packed hour of oral arguments sometime in the spring. Both cases deal with conservatives’ ever-growing penchant for anthropomorphizing corporations—this time, the justices will decide whether companies can be exempted from the mandate to provide birth control at no cost to employees because of the owners’ religious beliefs.
Last June, Ohio Republicans quietly slipped a handful of abortion restrictions into the state’s budget, alongside provisions to invest in Ohio’s highway system and a new funding model for the state’s colleges and universities. Eight states, including Ohio, already require clinics that perform or induce abortion to have a “transfer agreement” with a local hospital, so that patients can be transported quickly to a more sophisticated medical center in case of an emergency. The budget, which Republican Governor John Kasich signed into law with the abortion provisions intact, included an innovative new rule, making Ohio the first state to prohibit abortion clinics from entering into transfer agreements with public hospitals.
When the court ruling came down on Texas’s law restricting abortions, media outlets didn’t hold back. The Huffington Post went with the headline “Texas Abortion Restrictions Declared Unconstitutional by Federal Judge” while CNN blared “Judge Blocks Parts of Abortion Law.” Let’s just be clear: The law still bans abortions after 20 weeks and the state is still in the process of creating codes so that next year abortion clinics will have to meet the same building code standards as hospitals that perform invasive surgery. The lawsuit instead, focused on two other provisions of the law—one requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals, the other requiring anyone abortion-inducing pills to follow an outdated medical regime, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000.
On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court handed down a ruling that will help determine how the U.S. Supreme Court handles its next big abortion case. But Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice hasn’t been scheduled for oral arguments just yet. The law in question, which deals with abortion-inducing drugs, was messily written, leaving room for considerable doubt about whether the state of Oklahoma intended to require doctors to follow a particular set of dosage requirements (the state attorney’s argument)—or ban the use of the drugs for abortion entirely (the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice’s argument).
It’s hard to miss the fallout from the barrage of abortion restrictions that hit state legislatures this year. Four abortion clinics in rural Texas announced plans to close after determining it would be too expensive to comply with a new state law imposing unnecessary medical standards. Clinics in Ohio and North Carolina, where similar laws have been passed, say they may also have to close. Iowa’s telemedicine abortion program—a creative workaround designed to bring first-trimester abortion to women in rural parts of the state—was recently shut down by the state medical board. In states nationwide, the hurdles to access safe, high-quality abortion care are getting higher and higher.
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.
One night in 2007, Jill June, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, couldn’t sleep. She was grappling with a problem that vexes rural pro-choice advocates everywhere: the lack of access to abortion. At the time, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, which performs most of the abortions in Iowa, had 17 clinics in its network but only three with an on-site physician. Doctors would travel, sometimes as far as 200 miles, to three other clinics in the state to perform intermittent care. The remaining 11 clinics did not offer abortion services. In all, 91 percent of Iowa’s counties, the more sparsely populated regions that are home to more than half of the state’s women, lacked an abortion provider.
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.
Last Friday, Judge Edward Korman ruled that the federal government must abide by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommendations and make emergency contraception available over the counter without age restrictions. Cue the freak-out about girls having unprotected orgies followed by Plan B snorting parties. Emergency contraception, often referred to as “the morning-after pill,” or by its brand name, Plan B, is designed to be taken in, well, emergencies—the condom breaks, you got carried away in the moment and didn’t ever quite get to the birth control, or in cases of sexual assault or coercion in which the victim doesn’t have much choice about contraception.
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.