The Fight for Reproductive Rights: New Threats, New Activism

By Pettway, Alice | The Progressive, April-May 2017 | Go to article overview

The Fight for Reproductive Rights: New Threats, New Activism


Pettway, Alice, The Progressive


Andrea Lees had never before considered running for office. But faced with the reality of what a Trump Administration might mean for reproductive rights--and civil rights across the board-she's reconsidering. Lees is now meeting with others about a possible run for local office.

"Honestly, I've never seen myself running for anything," she says. "But it's so important to at least look into it, to see how I can get involved, on any level."

Across the country, people like Lees who have little to no experience with activism or public office are stepping up to support reproductive rights. In Kentucky, protesters gathered in the capital in January, pushing back against a twenty-week abortion ban and ultrasound law. In Ohio, activists hung coat hangers on the statehouse fence to express their opposition to a law banning abortions after six weeks. The idea for the Women's March on Washington--which flooded the capital and cities across the United States with more than four million people on January 21, many of them marching for reproductive rights--was conceived of by a retired lawyer in Hawaii.

One could easily read the message as "enough is enough"--a reasonable reaction, given the legislative trends of recent years. Kelly Baden, the interim senior director of U.S. policy and advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights, says that since 2010, the rate of attacks on reproductive rights has significantly increased. "State by state, bill by bill, we have seen the creation of a pipeline of legislators who have built a career out of banning abortion."

Since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, states have passed more than 1,000 restrictions on abortion access, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that tracks reproductive rights. More than a quarter of those were enacted between 2010 and 2016. Legislation concerning medication abortion, private insurance coverage, later abortions, parental involvement, and abortion counseling constitute more than 50 percent of the regulations passed between 2011 and 2015, the institute reported.

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"There are some parts of this country where it's as if Roe v. Wade never existed," says Brigitte Amiri, a senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Unions Reproductive Freedom Project. "The layers upon layers of abortion restrictions have really taken away a woman's ability to access abortion on a practical level, even if the right remains on paper."

The Hyde Amendment has restricted federal spending on abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or endangerment of the woman's life since 1976. These same restrictions on funding are also in force in thirty-two states and Washington, D.C. And similar regulations prevent military personnel, prisoners, Native Americans, people with low incomes, and Peace Corps volunteers--all groups who rely on the federal government for their medical needs--from easily accessing abortion services.

Restrictions on private insurance plans' coverage of abortion are on the books in eleven states. Individual health care providers may refuse to provide abortion services in forty-five states; institutions may refuse in forty-two. In twenty-seven states, there is a mandatory waiting period for women seeking an abortion; many of these waiting periods are long enough to essentially require two individual trips to the clinic. More than half of the women in twenty-five states live in a county that lacks an abortion provider.

And politicians continue to push for new restrictions. "Even if they know courts will strike down the extreme legislation, they still want to pass it for symbolic reasons, perhaps to show how anti-abortion they are," Amiri says. "A lot of this is about controlling women and their decision-making, shaming women, stigmatizing abortion, and intimidating abortion providers and trying to shut them down."

State legislatures, adds Baden, can also serve as a testing ground for abortion restrictions. …

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