The New Assault on Abortion Rights
Valenti, Jessica, The Progressive
In South Dakota, legislators proposed a bill that would make it legal to kill abortion providers. Yes, really. The bill would expand the definition of justifiable homicide to include those who killed to protect a fetus. (The bill made it out of committee before it was stalled, and the governor said he would veto it.) In Ohio, abortions could be banned once a heartbeat is heard, and in Iowa fertilized eggs could be given the same constitutional rights as people.
State abortion restrictions have always been a part of anti-choice strategy. But conservative legislators and activists--emboldened by the midterm elections--are now executing an increasingly radical state-by-state strategy that, if successful, would effectively make abortions illegal.
After all, you don't need to outlaw abortions if you just make them impossible to get.
According to a report by NARAL Pro-Choice America, state abortion restrictions have increased exponentially over the last fifteen years. Eighteen anti-choice measures had been enacted by 1995; by 2010 that number had jumped to 644. (For you math fans, that's a 3,478 percent increase.)
This year's are nastier than ever.
The Ohio "Heartbeat Bill," for example, would apply to pregnant women four weeks after conception. Taking into account women's irregular cycles or a lack of symptoms, some women would be restricted from having abortions before they even know they are pregnant.
"We are Ground Zero of what I believe will transform the pro-life movement," Janet Folger Porter, president of the anti-choice organization Faith2Action, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
In South Dakota, House Bill 1217 would not only require a seventy-two-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions--a serious burden for women traveling out-of-county or those who can't take multiple days off work--but also mandate that women visit an anti-choice crisis pregnancy center the day before the procedure. Such centers are well known for using deceptive practices and providing false information; many tell women that abortion causes breast cancer, a claim dismissed by every reputable medical association in the country. One Florida center featured in the 2010 HBO documentary 12th & Delaware, for example, was shown lying to women about how pregnant they were in an attempt to make patients believe they had more time to make a decision. In truth, they were becoming too far along to have legal abortions.
"It is just another attempt to ban abortion and undermine access to women's health care," says Sarah Stoesz, who heads up Planned Parenthood in the Dakotas.
In Georgia, Republican Representative Bobby Franklin introduced a bill that would require women who have had miscarriages to be investigated by the police to ensure that the miscarriage was "spontaneous." (In 2005, a similar bill in Virginia that would have required women to call the police within twelve hours of having a miscarriage or face jail time was withdrawn after public outrage.)
A bill in Kansas would require consent from both parents in almost all circumstances, and would tighten provisions for minors seeking an exception. Kierra Johnson, executive director of Choice USA, notes that while many young women talk to their parents or trusted adults about their abortion decisions, "There are many reasons why some may not be able to involve their parents," including abuse at home or incest.
The Kansas bill would also make private abortion records available to the district attorney or county prosecutors. Anti-choicers argue that violating patients' privacy is necessary to protect women--they claim the records will be used to prosecute statutory rape. But clinics are already bound by law to report any abuse of a minor, and Kansas does not have a stellar history on this issue. In 2006, then-state attorney general Phill Kline sought abortion records under the guise of protecting abused minors but demanded the files of adult women. …