Published On: Sat, Oct 26th, 2019

Six-Week Abortion Bans Made a Comeback This Week. PLEASE Vote in State Elections.

Woman holding sign that says, "Ugh, where do I even start?"

Welcome to The Week in Reproductive Justice, a weekly recap of all news related to the hot-button issue of what lawmakers are allowing women to do with their bodies!

This week was heavy with reminders about the importance of state and local elections in impacting key human rights issues, not the least of which being reproductive rights. Just one example came in the form of a Virginia state lawmaker saying restrictions on gun ownership are no different than pregnant people being required to wear ankle bracelets that monitor their pregnancies and track whether they seek abortions. (As dystopian as this sounds, with an abortion-hostile Supreme Court staring down Roe v. Wade, and increasing cases of women facing criminal charges for miscarriage, are we really that far away from ankle bracelets?)

And if you’ll recall, since the beginning of 2019, extreme, so-called “fetal heartbeat” abortion bans—as well as total abortion bans—have swept through state legislatures across the nation, even being signed into law in Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, and Louisiana over the summer. It’s worth noting that “fetal heartbeat” abortion bans are entirely misnamed, as an embryo does not even become a fetus until around the 11th week of pregnancy, but “fetal heartbeat” bans take effect at about six weeks. At this stage, embryonic cardiac activity can begin to be detected, which anti-abortion lawmakers have used to justify a law that would ban abortion before virtually all pregnant people could even know they’re pregnant—effectively amounting to an outright abortion ban, plain and simple.

All of these aforementioned bills have been challenged or even blocked in court so far, but this week came with updates about similar bills in different states. In the South Carolina Senate, on Tuesday, Republican lawmakers saw to the removal of exceptions to a proposed “heartbeat” ban, which had been added to the bill by the House. This isn’t to say that rape and incest exceptions make abortion bans any less cruel and dangerous, but it certainly shows that South Carolina Senate Republicans have quit any pretense of sympathy or compassion for women and pregnant people. The bill will require another vote in the Senate Medical Affairs Committee before it can make it to the floor, but Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has said he would sign the bill if it came to his desk.

At the same time that was happening, Pennsylvania became the latest state to consider a six-week abortion ban, formally introduced in the state House on Monday, but in contrast with South Carolina, Pennsylvania’s Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf responded almost immediately to the introduction of the bill with the unequivocal promise to veto it should it come to his desk. So if you didn’t know, now you do: State elections are a deciding factor in the War on Reproductive Rights, now more than ever, as reproductive rights face an increasingly uncertain future on the federal level.

Florida state House will debate parental consent abortion law 

After previously passing Florida’s state House earlier this year and being rejected by the Senate, a bill that would require minors to obtain the consent of their parents to receive abortion care has passed out of committee to the House floor once again. This bill is expected to be the most contentious piece of legislation concerning reproductive rights as we await the next legislative session on Jan. 14 and serves as yet another reminder of the importance of state elections—especially in consistent tossup states like Florida.

According to Guttmacher Institute, 37 states have laws that require some degree of parental involvement in minors’ access to abortion care. These laws can place minors with unwanted pregnancies in danger depending on their parents’ views of abortion, and can certainly endanger minors who may have abusive parents, or are not in contact with their parents for any reason. Some of these laws allow for exceptions if minors receive a judicial bypass, but ignore that many young people live great distances from their county judge, and that evaluations of their maturity are often highly subjective.

Parental involvement laws further send the dangerous message that bodily autonomy is a right that is contingent on age, all while often working hand-in-hand with repressive, dangerous abstinence-only sex education laws that deny young people any information about how to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place.

Oklahoma’s deceptive “abortion reversal” laws blocked in court

Since 2015, a new type of dangerous anti-abortion law has been sweeping state legislatures: “abortion reversal” laws, which require abortion providers to falsely counsel their patients that medication abortion’s effects can be reversed, within 24 hours of taking the first of the two pills typically involved in medication abortion. As of October, six states currently have abortion reversal counseling laws in place, but as of this week, there’s some good news: A federal judge in Oklahoma placed an injunction that will stop Oklahoma’s version of this bill from taking effect.

It’s worth noting that, in addition to being entirely unproven and likely dangerous to women’s health, “abortion reversal” is little more than human experimentation on pregnant people—people who are often in desperate situations and forced to operate with misleading, deceptive information from the state. With medication abortion usage on the rise—for plenty of reasons, likely including the steady shutdown of physical, surgical abortion clinics—abortion pill reversal laws will likely pose the next big barrier to safe, informed access to reproductive health care.

More than 900 reproductive health clinics have lost federal funding since August

At the end of summer, the Trump administration formally rolled out its new Title X policy that will strip organizations offering abortion care, or abortion referrals, of federal funding. This policy, known as the domestic gag rule, exists despite the existence of the discriminatory Hyde amendment, which already bans federal funding from covering abortion care and enacts disproportionate harm on low-income women and women of color.

Well, in case we weren’t certain of the devastating effects the domestic gag rule would have on reproductive health clinics, and especially the low-income people they serve, now we know: More than 900 clinics have lost federal funding that was crucial to offering contraception, STI tests and treatment, life-saving cancer screenings, and sexual health education. According to some estimates, Title X has helped prevent more than one million unwanted pregnancies annually; the defunding of providers that offer birth control certainly seems counterproductive to the goals of a movement to eradicate abortion, until we remember that the movement is far more about denying autonomy and health care access than anything else.

The devastating loss of Title X funding to clinics is guaranteed to shut down clinics—and unfortunately, already has—or increase costs for care that could shut out disproportionately low-income people and young people. It also reminds us how much is at stake at every level of government, with 2020 elections looming.

Tune in next week to see what lawmakers will try next in their never-ending mission to derail reproductive justice!

(image: Avivi Aharon / Shutterstock.com)

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