Earlier this month, lawmakers in Kansas ended this session’s debate over abortion on a surprisingly low-key note. The Republican leadership shepherded two minor tweaks to existing abortion policies through the legislature, while staving off a far more contentious measure: a bill that would criminalize abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The bill’s advocates say they are confident it would have passed, had it reached the floor; Kansas has strong anti-abortion majorities in both houses of the legislature and pro-life crusader Sam Brownback in the governor’s mansion. But the Republican leadership, prompted by the state’s most powerful pro-life group, Kansans for Life, used a legislative loophole to keep their more radical colleagues from attaching the fetal heartbeat proposal.
Last year, as much of the nation is aware thanks to Wendy Davis, Texas passed a particularly draconian abortion law. Predictably, the law has already caused abortion clinics to close, and by the end of the year there are expected to be only 6 clinics remaining to serve the nation's second-largest state.
Since November, the last abortion clinics in East Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, some of the poorest and most remote parts of the state, have been hanging on by their fingernails. The two clinics, both outposts of a network of abortion providers called Whole Woman’s Health, stayed open with slimmed-down staffs while their owner, Amy Hagstrom Miller, struggled to comply with the first chunk of HB2—the voluminous anti-choice law passed by the Texas legislature last summer—which requires abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital. Today, after weeks of failed negotiations with nearby hospitals, Hagstrom Miller announced that both clinics are closing their doors.
Outside Planned Parenthood’s clinic in downtown Boston, a painted yellow line swoops across the sidewalk and into the well-trafficked street, marking a 35-foot half-circle around the entrance. Most days, anti-abortion demonstrators gather on the edge of the line, holding signs and rosaries, and clutching bundles of pamphlets. As women approach the half-circle, the demonstrators spring into action. The goal is getting the women to pause and talk to them before they cross into the “buffer zone” on the other side of the line, which Massachusetts law declares a protest-free space.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about the constitutionality of these buffer zones tomorrow, in McCullen v. Coakley. The arguments won’t tackle the polemical question of whether abortion should be available; instead, the justices will be asked to consider whether the buffer zones violate anti-abortion demonstrators’ First Amendment rights.
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.
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.
In March of 2012, Virginia governor Bob McDonnell was in trouble. The Republican-dominated state legislature had passed a measure that would require women seeking abortions in the early stages of pregnancy to have a transvaginal sonogram—a procedure in which a wand is inserted into the vagina. Pro-choice activists jumped on the bill, calling it “state-sanctioned rape.” The outrage went national, and the conservative governor with aspirations to higher office backed off. A version of the sonogram bill did make it into law, but it does not specifically require transvaginal sonograms, just the better-known “jelly on the belly” type.
Just before the 2012 election, the Daily Caller, a web site run by Tucker Carlson, produced a blockbuster report claiming that New Jersey senator Robert Menendez had frequented underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, and they had the prostitutes' testimony to prove it. Bizarrely, mainstream media did not pick up the story, Menendez was re-elected, and to almost no one's surprise, the whole thing now appears to have been a slander cooked up by Republican operatives. How did such a thing happen? The answer is, it's ACORN's fault. Hold on while I explain.
(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.
Honestly, some days I can’t tell real news from The Onion. Representative Todd Akin’s staggering comment on Sunday about the female body’s amazing ability to reject unwanted sperm actually made my jaw drop. If only it didn’t represent what so many people believe, as Amanda Marcotte explained so clearly here yesterday. The good news is that it flushed those beliefs out into the open. As she said, it’s not a gaffe; it’s an insight into the anti-choice movement’s distrust of women and its ignorance of science.
Last week, the Susan B. Anthony List’s computers were seized as evidence in an ongoing federal lawsuit in Ohio. Yesterday, the group’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, sent out a fundraising e-mail with the news and a plea for donations. “As important as it is that we vigorously defend against the opposition’s efforts to strip us of our cherished First Amendment right to speak, every minute (and dollar) we spend doing it takes away from our efforts to defeat Planned Parenthood and their pro-abortion Congressional allies,” Dannenfelser wrote.
Former CNN anchor Campbell Brown had an interesting op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times, where she criticized Obama for condescending to women voters in his attempt to gain their support:
It’s obvious why the president is doing a full-court press for the vote of college-educated women in particular. The Republican primaries probably did turn some women away. Rick Santorum did his party no favors when he spoke about women in combat[…]; when he described the birth of a child from rape as “a gift in a very broken way”; and how, if he was president, he would make the case for the damage caused by contraception.
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.