Thursday, September 1, 2011

Eroding abortion rights state by state

The year 2011 has thus far brought a sharp and alarming increase in legislation aimed at restricting reproductive rights. Specifically,many states have strongly pushed to limit the circumstances under which a woman can have an abortion. According to the Guttmacher Institute, as of July 13, 2011, 50% of 2011 state legislation related to reproductive health endeavored to curb access to abortion services, compared with 26% in 2010.

Nineteen states imposed a variety of restrictions including mandatory counseling and waiting periods, banning abortions at 20 weeks' gestation, banning abortions as soon as there is a fetal heartbeat, removing abortion coverage from insurance plans, and defunding family planning organizations such as Planned Parenthood.

I've been following this explosion of anti-abortion legislation and thought for roughly five seconds about what accounts for the drastic increase. The answer was clear: the (seemingly) all-powerful Tea Party. Since November of last year, when a surprisingly large number of Tea Party candidates were elected to state office, anti-abortion legislation has skyrocketed. I find this infuriating because of my belief in a woman's right to choose, but also because the Tea Party promulgates, among other things, the severe downsizing of government so that it is less intrusive in the lives of American citizens. In fact, two of the Tea Party's "non-negotiable 15 Core Beliefs" are "government must be downsized" and "intrusive government stopped." I'd really appreciate it if someone could explain to me how this isn't entirely contradictory. The same group touting the importance of less intrusive government makes it their priority to use government to intrude upon the reproductive rights of women in an attempt to control one of the most intimate aspects of their lives. It's simply sickening, and I wonder when we'll wake up from this nightmare.

Despite this abominable phenomenon, there are glimmers of hope. On Tuesday, a federal judge in Austin, Texas struck down provisions of a law that would have required doctors to describe in detail the results of a mandatory sonogram at least 24 hours before the abortion. The George H.W. Bush-appointed judge ruled that the provisions violated the First Amendment by "forcing doctors to engage in government-mandated speech." Governor Rick Perry (also Tea Party presidential favorite) made the law a priority during the previous legislative session, and was explicitly disappointed by Tuesday's ruling.

In Idaho, a woman who was charged with having an illegal abortion is challenging the constitutionality of a "fetal pain" Idaho law that bans abortions after 20 weeks. She claims it is unconstitutional because "it doesn't contain an exception allowing for abortions if necessary to preserve the mother's health, and because it prohibits some abortions even before a fetus has reached viability. Roe v. Wade barred states from prohibiting abortions done before the age of viability, and other legal rulings have since determined viability occurs at 22 to 23 weeks gestation."

As important as it is for anti-abortion legislation to be challenged as it has been in Texas and Idaho, it's also crucial that we recognize how this state of affairs shapes the narrative on the status of women in society. Many aspects of these laws, particularly the ones mandating sonogram viewings and descriptions, have the goal of changing women's minds about having an abortion - persuading them not to go through with it. These (mostly male) legislators believe that women who are considering abortion are incapable of making an informed decision without the "aid" of the government. Indeed, their perception is that women are incapable of making proper decisions and are generally inferior to men who clearly know what's best for women and their unborn children. If it's not best, at least they can use their lawmaking power to impose their personal and religious beliefs upon half of the population. If they could, they would ban abortion outright, but instead they are finding more and more ways to chip away at Roe v. Wade and further diminish a woman's right to choose.

As "far" as we've come since Roe v. Wade, it seems that we are in a frightening situation of regression. I can only hope that challenges to these outrageous laws result in more favorable rulings, as in Texas, but I am generally pretty skeptical. I suppose only time will tell...

1 comment:

tomindavis said...

Thanks, Girl Talk. This was a good piece of writing. You know, I was all set to write an identical blog post, having come across similar online reports and news articles about US states' massive uptick in anti-choice legislation. It is truly remarkable -- i saw that same Guttmacher report you cited in your post. It's quite astounding how far some legislatures are willing to stretch the scope of the term "undue burden." Then again, the analysis surrounding that term was so opaque and elusive to begin with, it kind of invited brazen misinterpretation.

Still, at heart, this is about radical-minded Tea Partiers and folks like Rick Perry making up their own mind what the US Constitution and the Supreme Court have really said is the law. It is not surprising that a sizable chunk of this far-reaching legislatures has been turned down by more sensible, and precedent-respecting, district court judges!