Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion in 1973, took a beating in 2015. Yet despite all the attacks limiting access to abortion passed by the states, especially in the last five years, the ruling still will stand, on Jan. 22, its 43rd anniversary, as a testament to the struggle for women’s reproductive rights.
Of nearly 400 anti-abortion bills introduced in the states in 2015 — up from 335 in 2014 — 57 of them were ultimately passed, mostly in southeastern states, according to statistics compiled by the Guttmacher Institute. These included regulation of medication abortions, mandatory waiting periods and parental consent, bans on abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation and all-out bans on the most common method for second-trimester abortions after 14 weeks.
The most devastating attack on women’s right to access safe, legal abortions took place in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Nov. 27, when Robert Dear murdered three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic and injured nine. (While this and other state and federal attacks on Planned Parenthood were clearly motivated because the organization is the largest provider of abortion services in the U.S., the ongoing attempts by federal and state governments to defund Planned Parenthood were not specifically tied to those services.)
That brings the total to 11 people murdered due to their association with abortion services — the majority physicians, health care professionals and clinic workers. Such domestic terrorism began in 1993.
One possible result of 12 bills restricting abortion in Tennessee is that Anna Yocca attempted to self-induce a miscarriage at 24 weeks with a coat hanger in September and was charged with attempted first degree murder on Dec. 9.
Cherisse Scott, founder and CEO of SisterReach, a reproductive justice group in Memphis, Tenn., told RH Reality Check: “Our greatest fear has come to pass, and it could have been avoided. Women are attempting to self-abort due to restrictive abortion and punitive fetal assault legislation.” (Dec. 14)
Meanwhile, some court rulings affirmed Roe regulations when judges struck down Arkansas’ ban on abortion after 12 weeks, Idaho and North Dakota’s 20-week bans, and Alabama and Wisconsin’s laws requiring abortion providers to secure admitting privileges at a hospital.
The most pro-active move for abortion rights occurred in Congress on July 8, when Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), along with more than 64 congressional co-sponsors, introduced the EACH Woman Act. The bill would ensure health coverage for abortion for every woman, no matter how much she earns or however she is insured. Backed by 36 national and state organizations, the campaign initiated by “All* Above All,” a reproductive justice organization run by a multinational group of mostly young women, would effectively overturn the Hyde Amendment. Passed in 1976, Hyde denies Medicaid coverage for abortions for poor women, who are disproportionately women of color, young, immigrants, victims of domestic violence, women with disabilities and those living in rural areas.
Supreme Court to rule on Texas law
Attacks on the right to abortion “could get worse in 2016,” predicted Elizabeth Nash, a Guttmacher Institute state policy analyst. “It does not appear that the pending U.S. Supreme Court case is slowing down abortion opponents.” (Mother Jones, Dec. 30) The court will hear arguments from both sides about the Texas case on March 2. Their decision is expected in late June.
The Supreme Court agreed on Nov. 13 to hear a suit brought by abortion providers in Texas — Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole — which challenges Texas’ HB 2 law. Two provisions of that law limit access to abortion services. One is that all clinics in the state meet standards for “ambulatory surgical centers,” including regulations concerning buildings, equipment and staffing. The other requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
While Texas officials say these provisions are needed to protect women’s health, providers say they are expensive, unnecessary and intended to put many clinics out of business. In fact, the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists assert that this provision is “medically unnecessary,” while providers note that running an ASC costs about $600,000 to $1 million more than running a facility that met prior standards.
In their case against the restrictions, which will be argued by the Center for Reproductive Rights, abortion providers state: “A woman in Texas is currently 100 times more likely to die from carrying a pregnancy to term than from having an abortion in a licensed abortion facility.” Providers note abortion complication rates are very low — rarely do they need to admit patients to hospitals.
The 62-page brief that the plaintiffs filed on Dec. 29 on behalf of 5 million women of childbearing age in Texas, stated unequivocally that the requirements are intended to reduce women’s access to legal abortion. “Together, the requirements would close more than 75 percent of Texas abortion facilities and deter new ones from opening. Indeed, more than half of these facilities are currently closed because the admitting privileges requirement is largely in effect. The impact of these closures has been dire, delaying many women — and preventing others — from obtaining a legal abortion. This, in turn, has led to an increase in abortions later in pregnancy and in illegal abortions.” (msnbc.com, Dec. 30)
On Jan. 5, a dozen Latino/a health and civil rights advocates, representing 2.5 million women of reproductive age in Texas, filed a friend of the court brief supporting the providers’ case. In a press conference that morning, Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, stated that the effects of HB 2 on Latinas are “direct, documented and disproportionate. For many the burdens imposed by HB 2 act as a de facto ban on abortion.”
Lucy Felix, the Texas Latina Advocacy Network senior field coordinator for NLIRH, testified during a Fifth Circuit appeal hearing last year, which led to the current case, that the law has “already had a devastating impact on Latinas’ ability to access safe and affordable health care in the Rio Grande Valley. For immigrants, mothers, low-wage workers and Latinas who are all three, securing an abortion means navigating a state-created obstacle course. If the challenged provisions are not struck down, more clinics will close [only 17 out of 41 are currently open], women will have to wait even longer, and many will face higher costs to access the abortions they need. Those unable to overcome these obstacles will be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term or take matters into their own hands.”
How will the Supreme Court rule? That hinges on the concept of “undue burden,” which Justice Sandra Day O’Connor originated in the 1992 ruling she authored in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The “undue burden” concept will be discussed in future WW articles.
Davis is a longtime reproductive justice activist and author of the pro-choice novel, “Love Means Second Chances.”