Legal abortion: Still under attack, but supporters are fighting back

By Sue Davis 
January 28, 2019

Roe v. Wade,  the landmark Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion, turned 46 on Jan. 22. The yearly assault on women’s right to legal, safe, accessible abortion, led by the racist, misogynist minority headed by President Donald J. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, began as nearly half the states introduced anti-reproductive health care bills and the federal government proposed restrictions on the rights of women and transgender and gender-nonconforming people.

But those attacks are being countered in the states and in Congress. “2019 will be a watershed year, with many more proactive laws promoting women’s health care in the states and at the federal level,” predicted Lourdes Rivera, vice president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. She was a panelist at a Jan. 22 meeting in New York City, “Defending Roe: The Future of Reproductive Rights in America.”

Yamani Hernandez, executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, with 70 grassroots affiliates around the country, stressed that the privately supported fund is able to help hundreds of women pay for abortions each year. However, women have so many abortion-related expenses, with long-distance trips requiring money for gas, food, motel room and child care, in addition to paying for an abortion. She says a broader support system is needed, especially for women of color and young women.

Dani McClain, author of “We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood,” said that reproductive choice requires an intersectional approach: “a reproductive justice framework, where women have the right to not have a child, the right to have a child and the right to see that child grow up in a safe, caring society.” To provide quality health care for Black women and end the high rate of Black maternal mortality means “we have to challenge structural racism — white supremacy and poverty — in order to be able to raise our children in safe conditions.”

Rebecca Traister, author of “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger,” noted this country has a long history of controlling women’s bodies; women of color and women with disabilities were legally being sterilized beginning in the 1920s. She traced the current anti-abortion movement from the racist and class-biased Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976, that outlawed federal funding for most abortions via Medicaid. Only 15 states offer state-funded Medicaid coverage.

Asked to envision the future of reproductive health care, panelists were unanimous that there needs to be “widespread, generational cultural, economic and social change.” Hernandez wants to see the Hyde Amendment overturned and the government assume full responsibility for science-based health care for all women and gender-nonconforming people. McClain says achieving “reproductive justice requires a shift in how we think about the world — we need a human rights framework.” Traister suggests we need to “imagine new ways to bring about political, strategic change.”

Anti-abortion laws to be considered by states

Here’s a summary of the top four proposed state anti-abortion laws, among many others. (Statistics tabulated from Jan. 14 and 22 Rewire.News articles.)

Laws to criminalize and/or ban abortion, also called “fetal homicide bills” or “trigger bills” (which would automatically go into effect if the the Supreme Court overturns Roe), will be considered by eight states: Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 18 states already have laws that restrict legal abortion, similar laws in five states are currently on hold by court order, and nine states uphold the right to abortion.

Legislatures in 10 states, including Indiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina and West Virginia, will vote on banning use of the obstetrical procedure called D&E (dilation and evacuation) for second trimester abortions.

Five states will vote on laws to prohibit abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, estimated at about six weeks. They are Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Virginia.

Three states — Nebraska, North Dakota and Oklahoma — will decide if abortion providers must inform patients that it’s possible to reverse a medical abortion (from pills, not surgery). “Abortion reversal” is supported by the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists but no other professional medical organizations.

Laws that restrict the rights of transgender students — another example of patriarchal control — will be considered by two states, Indiana and South Dakota. These laws would ban students from using school restrooms that correspond to their gender identity. Through nine states considered such laws in 2015, none were passed.

Progress in New York state

On Jan. 22, the New York State Assembly passed the long-awaited Reproductive Health Act, which codifies federal protections of Roe v. Wade in state law. The bill authorizes licensed health care practitioners  to terminate a pregnancy within 24 weeks. This law reinforces that the goal of public health policy “should be to increase access to quality health care, not to place restrictions and undue burdens on patients and providers,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

A second piece of legislation, the Comprehensive Coverage Act, codified the Affordable Care Act requirement that health insurers provide cost-free coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptives prescribed by a provider. Another bill prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on their or their dependents reproductive health care decisions.

Newly elected governors in both Rhode Island and Vermont have stated they will sign similar acts in their states.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman reported that on Jan. 15 the NYS Senate banned so-called “gay conversion therapy,” calling it “a form of child abuse used to punish LGBTQ children for simply being different.” In addition, after a 17-year battle, the Senate passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which protects the rights of transgender and gender-nonconforming people so they can no longer be denied housing, employment or fair treatment.

Note: Proposed federal changes in reproductive health care will be covered in a later article.