Published On: Fri, Jan 18th, 2019

U.S. Senate Embraces Anti-Abortion Extremism Amid Government Shutdown

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!

Ahead of the annual anti-choice “March for Life” this weekend, Reproaction has launched a campaign highlighting just how normalized extremist attitudes are among anti-choice activists. In a video featuring a series of interviews, anti-choice leaders, followers, and legislators explained their perspective that women should be executed or otherwise punished for having abortions, including self-managed abortions. In other words, the campaign gives away the anti-choice movement’s game: a game of punishment, cruelty, and subjugation in which women’s lives and bodies are commodity.

Although, that’s hardly surprising when Donald Trump himself has said there “has to be some form of punishment” for women who have abortions.

Especially amid a Republican Party-led government shutdown wrecking the livelihoods of 800,000 federal workers, on Thursday, anti-choice Senators’ decision to instead vote on a ban on abortion coverage should make clear that the “pro-life” movement has never been about supporting anyone’s life. The movement has always been oriented around policing women’s bodies and a broad willingness to condone or engage in violence to achieve this.

Almost a full month into the partial government shutdown, rather than a vote to reopen the government, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, on Thursday, allowed a vote on a bill that would impose a permanent ban on federal funding of abortion care. While the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act narrowly failed, many pro-choice advocates aptly pointed out the hypocrisy of hurting the living conditions of born, living human beings and families by maintaining a government shutdown that means 800,000 federal employees could lose their paychecks, all while voting on a bill to deny women crucial health care.

It’s worth noting that federal and—across different states—public funding of abortion care is already often highly restricted, and those restrictions can have tremendous impact on whether low-income women are able to access abortion care.

In addition to the anti-abortion bill, this week, Senator Lindsey Graham introduced a 20-week abortion ban, citing the widely discredited idea that fetuses can feel pain beyond that stage in the pregnancy. Twenty-week bans have become increasingly popular on the state level in recent years, primarily with the goal of stigmatizing abortion by advancing the false idea that most abortions are late-term, despite how about 90 percent take place in the first trimester. Most late-term abortions involve extreme health circumstances, making 20-week bans especially dangerous and forcing some women to travel out-of-state great distances to access life-saving health care.

Twenty-week bans have been introduced in Congress before, but all have ultimately failed to pass, making Graham’s bill largely symbolic ahead of this weekend’s March for Life.

Utah and Massachusetts consider extremist abortion bans

Speaking of abortion bans, this week, a Utah lawmaker introduced a bill that would ban abortion at 15 weeks, while a lawmaker in Florida filed a bill that would ban abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

In Utah, H.B. 136 reflects a bill that was briefly enacted in Mississippi last year, banning abortions at a stage before some women even realize they’re pregnant, with limited exceptions. While it’s not clear what the consequences would be for violation of this law, in Florida, those in violation of H.B. 235 could be charged with a third-degree felony. In other words, H.B. 235 would essentially criminalize all abortions, since a fetal heartbeat can be detected at about six weeks, before many women realize they’re pregnant.

Utah’s H.B. 136 and Florida’s H.B. 235 both appear to be modeled around bills that have been introduced with mixed success in other states, such as Mississippi, Iowa, Ohio, and others. Both bills signal a dangerous shift toward extremism among anti-choice legislators, almost certainly emboldened by a president recognized by anti-choice groups as the “most “pro-life” president” we’ve ever had.

In the last seven years, we’ve seen more than a third of all roughly 1,200 anti-abortion laws passed since Roe v. Wade in 1973 enacted. Also in recent years, we’ve watched maternal death rates in the U.S. rise to become the highest in the industrialized world, with disproportionately higher rates in states where abortion is more restricted—hardly “pro-life.”

Massachusetts considers bill to support minors’ abortion access

In many states, minors face some of the most stringent barriers to abortion access across the country. Thirty-seven states require parental involvement for minors to access abortion, regardless of the nature of the minor’s relationship with their parents, or how such requirements undermine their bodily autonomy and could place them in abject danger.

In Massachusetts, state lawmakers are considering a bill that would eliminate parental consent requirements there. Current state law mandates minors obtain a parent’s permission to get an abortion or petition a judge through a process called judicial bypass, which can also be not only burdensome and invasive, but also discriminatory and inaccessible.

“In an ideal world, every teenager would have a parent to guide and discuss some of these important things with,” Jennifer Childs-Roshak, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, has said of the bill, “but the reality is that there are some young people who don’t.”

Last year, Massachusetts passed legislation to codify abortion rights into the state’s Constitution, signed into law by the state’s pro-choice Republican governor.

Rhode Island considers bill to codify abortion rights into Constitution

In some more positive news around reproductive rights, Rhode Island lawmakers are considering a law that would address anxieties about the new Supreme Court makeup by codifying abortion rights into the state Constitution. About 20 states currently have laws known as “trigger laws” that would immediately ban or criminalize abortion if Roe v. Wade were reversed—a distinct possibility ever since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy and confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh.

The Reproductive Health Care Act has been introduced in the Rhode Island state legislature before, but according to state legislators, this current bill has received the largest number of co-sponsors yet, with a majority of House members signing on and 17 state senators joining. Another bill to codify the protections of Roe into Rhode Island law has also been proposed by another Democratic state legislator, although this bill also imposes restrictions on late term abortions and minors’ access to abortion care.

Unsurprisingly, the RHCA enjoys stronger support among pro-choice advocates and groups. Rhode Island’s Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo has also made clear her pro-choice stance, saying in her State of the State address Tuesday that lawmakers should “make this the year we codify women’s access to reproductive health care here in Rhode Island.”

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)

Kylie Cheung writes about feminism and politics, with a focus on reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kylietcheung, or learn more about her writing at www.kyliecheung.tumblr.com.

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