Welcome to The Week in Reproductive Justice, a weekly recap of all news related to the hot-button issue of what lawmakers are allowing women to do with their bodies!
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ Fox News town hall this week has drawn a lot of attention—mostly directed at a glorious moment when its hosts surveyed the audience on their support for Medicare for All, and the majority of audience members seemed on board—but another particular moment, in which Sanders spoke of later abortion, also made waves on the internet, as anti-abortion news outlets seized on the opportunity to generate fear-mongering headlines, and reproductive rights advocates used Sanders’ response as a learning opportunity.
Sanders was asked by town hall moderator/Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum whether he believes “that a woman should be able to terminate a pregnancy up until the moment of birth.” He responded: “I think that that happens very, very rarely, and I think this is being made into a political issue. … But at the end of the day, I believe that the decision over abortion belongs to a woman and her physician. Not the federal government, not the state government, and not the local government.”
It was obviously a well-meaning response: Indeed, women must absolutely be trusted with their health care decisions, from the beginning to the end of pregnancy and beyond, but this question came from a place of bad faith and bad information, and Sanders should have acknowledged that from the get-go. Abortions don’t happen “up until the moment of birth” rarely—they never happen. That is not how later abortion works, and dignifying such questions not only advances the ignorance and hatred that they’re rooted in, but also further arms the right with dangerous, inflammatory talking points.
Sanders’ response to the question, in which he failed to dismiss it as utterly removed from reality and politically motivated, has already led to important dialogue on Twitter and social media among reproductive rights advocates, and this dialogue will hopefully better prepare other Democratic presidential candidates and politicians to answer questions like this, which they’ll inevitably face at some point in this political climate, which has made later abortion such a salient—and misunderstood—issue.
The Center for Reproductive Rights and the U.S. Supreme Court
With a seemingly endless influx of anti-abortion bills striking state legislatures across the country recently, we’ve increasingly come to rely on lawsuits to fight back. In many cases—such as a judge’s decision to strike down a 20-week abortion ban in North Carolina earlier this month—with Roe v. Wade in place, these efforts have been successful, but under the Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Senate, the ideological makeup of not just the Supreme Court but courts across the country is shifting quickly, placing reproductive rights in an increasingly precarious position as anti-abortion laws continue to flood the judicial system.
As of this week, the Center for Reproductive Rights has asked the Supreme Court to overturn a Fifth Circuit decision upholding a Louisiana law that would require every doctor who provides abortion services to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. This law would effectively shut down at least one of Louisiana’s three remaining abortion clinics.
On top of being medically unnecessary, the law also advances the myth that abortion is dangerous and therefore requires close proximity to a hospital, despite how abortion is objectively safer than colonoscopies and certain dental procedures. Because it’s so plainly rooted in obstructing abortion access, laws like this were ruled unconstitutional in the 2016 Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt ruling.
But, of course, since 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court has seen the addition of two conservative, anti-abortion Justices appointed by President Trump. If the Supreme Court opts to hear the Center for Reproductive Rights’ case on the Fifth Circuit’s decision, there are several possible outcomes. One could be that the court overrules the Fifth Circuit’s decision and respects the precedent set by Whole Woman’s Health—but the court may also uphold the Fifth Circuit decision, effectively overturning that 2016 precedent and shuttering abortion access in Louisiana and other states that implement similar laws.
If the endless abortion ban proposals by state lawmakers haven’t made things clear enough, this is a precarious time for abortion rights, and so long as Donald Trump and Mike Pence are in office, appointing the judges who will rule on these abortion bans and restrictions, it’s growing increasingly difficult to trust that the judicial system will protect women.
“Born alive” anti-abortion bills see mixed results
Just days before North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a fear-mongering, anti-abortion “born alive” bill, Texas legislators advanced a similar bill, to receive final votes in the House and Senate soon. “Born alive” bills are rooted in the uniquely bizarre, disturbingly ignorant anti-abortion myth that “babies” can “survive” abortions later in the pregnancy, and mandate that doctors do everything they can to “save” these babies’ lives, or potentially face criminal charges. Of course, none of this ever happens, and it’s all just so ridiculous, contrived, and politically motivated that I can’t believe I’m even writing about this.
Since the start of this year, when state lawmakers in New York and Virginia moved to codify existing protections of the right to later abortions in the event that Roe is overturned, right-wing politicians have seized on the opportunity to demonize later abortion and equate all abortion with infanticide. “Born alive” bills literally do nothing, because the scenario they supposedly address simply doesn’t happen, but what they do achieve is the further demonization of later abortion care.
There’s obviously a lot to unpack here, from the objective rarity of later abortions (92 percent of abortions take place in the first trimester), to the importance of protecting women’s fundamental privacy rights, to the reality that extreme health circumstances are always going to arise, and later abortion must always be a safe, legal option. But what we urgently, desperately need to talk about is the reality that “born alive” bills and anti-abortion rhetoric about later abortion, in general, is going to get doctors and abortion providers killed.
We’ve already seen a jarring uptick in violence and violent threats targeting abortion providers during Trump’s tenure, and a subsequent emboldenment of all anti-abortion politicians and extremists. Rhetoric that quite literally, unabashedly represents abortion as murder isn’t just dishonest, compassionless, and plainly ignorant—it’s dangerous.
And there is no way to separate violent rhetoric from the violent acts that affect abortion providers on a far too frequent basis.
Oklahoma lawmakers pass “abortion reversal” bill
The anti-abortion lies don’t end with “born alive” bills. This week, the Oklahoma state legislature passed an “abortion reversal” bill to the desk of its anti-choice Governor Kevin Stitt. Abortion reversal laws, which are currently active in four states, require doctors to tell medication abortion patients that medication abortion, which involves taking two separate pills to induce a miscarriage, can be “reversed” if, after taking the first pill, the patient consumes large amounts of progesterone.
This is objectively false: The chance of maintaining a pregnancy when taking the first, but not the second, medication abortion pill is the same whether progesterone is taken or not. Of course, the difference between taking the first pill and not the second, and taking the first pill and then undergoing “abortion reversal” treatment, is that the “reversal” treatment can have a dangerous impact on women’s health.
Abortion reversal bills are all about forcing doctors to lie to patients and perpetuating the myth that those who have abortions should regret their decision. The bill, of course, isn’t forcing medication abortion patients to undergo abortion reversal, but by mandating that doctors literally lie to their patients, it erodes the fundamental trust that is so necessarily in health care—and especially reproductive health care.
Bernie Sanders’ answer to a “late-term abortion” question sparks important conversation
Tune in next week to see what lawmakers will try next in their never-ending mission to derail reproductive justice!
(image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Kylie Cheung writes about feminism and politics, with a focus on reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kylietcheung, or learn more about her writing at www.kyliecheung.tumblr.com.
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