This past weekend at the CLPP conference, Amanda Allen, a Legal Fellow from the Center for Reproductive Rights, gave a quick-and-dirty breakdown of the legislative shenanigans no reproductive rights activist could possibly have failed to notice. Amanda tracks these bills at the state and federal level as part of her fellowship. In addition to the kind of anecdotal evidence we’ve all been tossing around – she mentioned that no one at the Center can remember a legislative season which so clearly had it in for the health and choice of female-bodied persons – she’s got cold hard numbers that speak volumes; this amazing woman is tracking hundreds of anti-choice bills right now.
The hundreds of anti-choice bills, however, aren’t the big problem. There have always been anti-choice bills, if the numbers have perhaps been less staggering. The real problem, as Amanda noted, is that the last election cycle brought changes in state legislatures and, even more importantly, governorships, which means that bucket-o-crazy bills like the Ohio “heartbeat” legislation can now pass the state House and Senate and be signed into law. It’s that last bit – the actually-a-snowball’s-chance-in-hell-of-being-signed-into-law bit – that is relatively new, unusual, and highly alarming.
Amanda pointed to 5 distinct trends in the ever-evolving whirligig of fun that is the avalanche of anti-choice legislation we are currently facing:
1) Later abortion bans and complete abortion bans. The Ohio “heartbeat” bill, which would prevent abortions as early as 18 days into pregnancy, falls under this category, as does the Nebraska ban on abortions after 20 weeks. It is very possible that a challenge to these will eventually end up in the Supreme Court, where a 5 to 4 conservative majority that recently declared that corporations have the same rights as individuals could very well do the same with fetuses. I don’t mean to be alarmist here; this possibility is very real and in fact, in my opinion, very likely.
2) Personhood laws. These laws give a fetus the legal protections of a person. One of these bills passed the North Dakota House but died in the state Senate; more have been put forth in the last two weeks in Alabama. For my part, I would like it noted here that my spellcheck does not recognize “personhood” as a word. My spellcheck is probably pro-choice.
3) Insurance coverage. This is the Hyde Amendment taken to new lengths. There are currently 50 pending bills in 22 states that restrict or totally eliminate the ability for insurance to cover an abortion. This quickly renders them unaffordable at worst and destitution-inducing at… still worst.
4) TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers). Amanda referred to these bills as “insidious,” because they are serious limitations to access disguised as something reasonable or even pro-women*’s health. The Center for Reproductive Rights defines these as laws that, “single out the medical practices of doctors who provide abortions, and impose on them requirements that are different and more burdensome than those imposed on other medical practices. For example, such regulations may require that abortions be performed in far more sophisticated and expensive facilities than are necessary to ensure the provision of safe procedures. Compliance with these physical plant requirements may require extensive renovations or be physically impossible in existing facilities. TRAP laws may also allow unannounced state inspections, even when patients are present. These excessive and unnecessary government regulations… generally fall into one of three categories: health facility licensing schemes, ambulatory surgical center requirements, and hospitalization requirements. A number of states impose more than one of these types of TRAP laws on abortion providers.”
5) Strict, invasive, and unnecessary regulation of medical abortions. This is another one of those regulations that sounds imminently reasonable. It may require, for example, that drugs used to induce abortion be taken exactly according to FDA regulations. However, science-based evidence often suggests the best and safest way to use these drugs is off-label. As an example, Amanda mentioned drugs that according to the FDA label need to be taken once in front of a doctor, then again three days later, also with a doctor present. However, science, that pesky thing that makes use of actual medicine, patients, and facts, suggests that a much smaller dose is necessary than the one the FDA insists on, and that there is no reason a woman shouldn’t take the medication in the comfort of her home; in fact, it may be safer than a second trip, since the woman could experience a miscarriage en route to the clinic. These regulations require more medication, and are therefore more expense, but they can also eliminate access completely. Some women can’t afford a second visit or a second day off from work, but more importantly, some clinics cannot afford the doctor for a second day. In one clinic in North Dakota, doctors are flown in from out of state to perform abortions for just one day per week. If they have to be flown in for a second day to do “follow-up,” which involves watching a woman swallow one pill, that abortion simply isn’t going to happen. For that reason, the female-bodied people who can still have an abortion at all may be forced to do it surgically.
Oh yeah friends. There are levels. May we dream of the day the anti-choice movement has to categorize our hundreds of bills dedicated to reproductive justice into 5 easy-to-follow categories. Until that day, I’ll be the one with the laptop and the desperation in a local coffee shop near you.
*Given recent discussions within the movement on this, I would like to clarify that I use “pro-women’s health” here deliberately to convey the messaging around the bills, while fully understanding that people of many gender identities access reproductive health care and use, need, or fight for abortions. I generally prefer the term female-bodied and will always try to be conscientious of the distinction.