The abortion rights first set by Roe v. Wade are being slowly chipped away. (GIF: Priscilla De Castro for Yahoo)
It’s been a tough week … make that month … make that year for reproductive rights.
Abortion is a passionately-debated topic, but, when it comes to women’s health, medical experts believe that there is no debate: criminalizing abortion only serves to jeopardize patient safety. “Research and experience have shown that where abortion is illegal or highly restricted, women resort to desperate, dangerous means to end an unwanted pregnancy,” Mark S. DeFrancesco, MD, president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists,
recently stated. “We must not impose restrictions that will encourage this to happen.”
But that’s exactly what is happening, both at the state and federal level. Consider this:
1. On Thursday, South Carolina Senator and Republican presidential hopeful Lindsay Graham introduced the Pain Capable Unborn Child Act, which states that abortions after 20 weeks can no longer be done unless the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, to the Senate. The bill passed the House two weeks ago.
2. On Wednesday, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law a mandatory minimum 24-hour waiting period before being able to have an abortion. (The ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights have already sued the state of Florida, calling into question the law’s constitutionality.)
3. A mandatory 48-hour waiting period was made law in Tennessee last month, and a 72-hour waiting period is about to become law in North Carolina, as Governor Pat McGrory has already announced his intention to sign the legislation.
4. On Tuesday, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld HB2, the Texas law that places a series of regulations on abortion clinics and abortion providers that could reduce the number of abortion clinics in Texas from 40 to between seven and 10, requiring physicians performing abortion to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Nine-hundred thousand of Texas’ 5.4 million women of reproductive age may live more than 150 miles from the nearest health center should this happen.
And the hits just keep on coming.
5. Last week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced his plans to sign a 20-week abortion ban bill proposed by the state’s legislature into law, regardless of whether it includes exemptions for rape or incest — just a week after he called the mandatory ultrasounds required in his state before a woman may get an abortion “just a cool thing out there.”
Walker is presumed to be planning a presidential run.
6. The end of March brought about a law enacted in both Arizona and Arkansas that requires physicians to lie to their patients, informing them that medical abortions can be undone mid-procedure, a measure that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) describes as forcing “physicians to give patients non-scientific information about an unproven use of hormones purported to reverse a medication abortion.” Arkansas also made a 48-hour mandatory period bill into law in April.
7. And let’s not forget that Congress introduced six anti-abortion bills in its first seven days in session in 2015.
A report by the Guttmacher Institute released in early January found that over 50 percent of American women live in states “hostile to abortion.” In the past four years, 231 restrictions have been placed on abortion in various states and during the 2014 legislative session, 335 provisions to restrict abortion access were introduced.
The irony of this trend in women’s health, and American politics: Severing access to abortion and restricting their autonomy of their own reproductive health is anything but popular: A recent Gallup poll showed that Americans are greatly in favor of maintaining Roe v. Wade, with an abortion approval rating of 53 percent, versus 29 percent who disapprove. Furthermore, 52 percent of all Americans believe that abortion should be legal “under certain circumstances,” a stance that goes against many of the legislative restrictions introduced this past year.
Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) tells Yahoo Health, “I’m very concerned about the efforts we’re seeing across the country, and in Congress, to roll back women’s constitutionally guaranteed reproductive rights. We need to keep moving forward, not backward, on women’s health — and that’s what I’m going continue to fight for.”
Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, tells Yahoo Health, “"The abortion ban Lindsey Graham introduced in the Senate today has nothing to do with health or medicine — it’s all about politics. We’re seeing a total repeat of the 2012 campaign when the Republican primary was a race to the bottom on women’s health, which ultimately mobilized women voters. The overwhelming message from the Republican field for 2016 is that they would ban abortion, block women from getting care at Planned Parenthood, and take away insurance coverage for birth control.
“What’s different this year is that the attacks and restrictions on women’s health aren’t theoretical — they’re real, and they’re having a real impact on women’s lives,” says Richards. “We’re seeing the impact of these restrictions right now in Texas, where most of the state’s health centers that provide abortion have been forced to shut down. What’s happening today in Texas is what we’d see in all 50 states under the policies of Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, and the other Republican contenders for president.”