Intrusive, Authoritarian GOP-Run Legislatures Try to Curtail Abortion Rights
It’s no secret that Trump has thrown down with the anti-abortion movement. Indeed, at times, he seems to be even to the far right of “No,” saying during the campaign that women who seek abortions should be criminally punished in some form.
What is an unpleasant surprise is the degree to which Republican-majority states are continuing to move toward sealing any chance of personal choice in abortion. We are long beyond federal withholding of any government funds for institutions that allow abortions; ending overseas aid that had included family planning and abortion support; and stripping abortion payments from federally allowable health plans. An exception was allowing Planned Parenthood payments for non-abortion services to survive a torturous budget process.
The Trump administration has promoted anti-abortion fervor to immigration, where only court intervention was able to require that abortion services be available to pregnant teen border detainees.
So, the abortion wars have returned to the states whence they had come. It seems we are in a race to the bottom, to determine which state can eliminate even the most hidden possibility for abortions.
Remember, Roe v. Wade continues as the law of the land, allowing abortion to the point of fetal viability, generally considered to be about 24 weeks.
These bills, court judgments and continuing campaigns not only attack choice, but also raise disturbing questions as to the degree that sponsors who say they want to protect life are actually harming women. Here are some of them:
- In Ohio, lawmakers have proposed legislation to ban all abortions, period, with no exceptions for victims of rape or incest or to save a woman’s life. According to The New York Times, the Ohio bill would not only cut off access to the procedure, it would also allow criminal charges against both abortion providers and women seeking the procedure. Republican Rep. Ron Hood said it would be up to prosecutors to decide whether to charge a woman or a doctor and what those charges would be. Under the bill, an “unborn human” would be considered a person under state criminal homicide statutes. Thus, a prosecutor could decide to charge a woman who ended a pregnancy with murder. In Ohio, murder is punishable by life in prison or the death penalty.
- In Mississippi, a federal judge stepped in to block a new law that would disallow abortions after 15 weeks exactly because it ran afoul of the U.S. Supreme Court standard. Now abortion protesters have filed suit against dozens of Mississippi laws that curtail abortions, from required time delays to bars against doctors using electronic consultations with patients. There is a single abortion clinic in the state. Kentucky last week banned the procedure used in most abortions after 11 weeks. More restrictive bills are pending in Iowa and South Carolina.
- In the last week, Wisconsin prohibited the state’s health insurance program from covering abortion care for state and local public workers, joining 21 other states who have also done so. Nicole Safar, director of government relations at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, said in a statement that Republicans in the state have made it a priority to take away health insurance coverage for women.
A recent New York Times editorial made the case that there is no coincidence in all this: “This rash of radically unconstitutional bills is appearing by design. The anti-abortion movement has been trying to pass pre-viability abortion bans, like the Ohio bill, hoping that efforts to overturn them would lead to a challenge of Roe v. Wade that would end with the 45-year-old decision’s reversal in the Supreme Court.” Indeed, Trump has been buoyant about having named one Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, who likely would support overturning Roe, and has said repeatedly that one more appointment will make so a likely outcome.
Opponents have become equally focused, challenging all of the state actions in federal court. One danger in all this is that as bills become more extreme, alternatives that are slightly less extreme might sneak through. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the state’s Republican governor, for example vetoed a 2016 bill that would have banned abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detectable, perhaps six weeks, but signed a bill that set the ban. Meanwhile, abroad new study of the nation’s abortion services by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine shows abortion increasingly is already being performed early in pregnancy, when it’s safest to the woman. The study suggests that laws like than in Missouri that requires a 3-day wait between counseling and abortion (other states require delaying tests or other procedures) simply delays abortions, making them less safe.
Nationwide, both the number of abortions and providers is dropping. The abortion rate of about 29 per 1,000 women of reproductive age in1980 dropped to about 15 in 2014, with a higher proportion of low-income women. Better contraception, fewer unintended pregnancies and state restrictions may have played a role, the report said. About 90% are performed by 12 weeks, and a growing number far earlier as more women are turning to medical abortion pills.
There are 25 states that have five or fewer abortion clinics. About 17% percent of women travel more than 50 miles to obtain an abortion.
It does show that if the Trump administration believes something is important, they can get the various spokes of government actually to show up and pursue the goal. Unfortunately, this particular campaign is aimed at taking away choice from women.