In the forty years since Roe v. Wade was passed, there has been an increasing trend on the part of states to circumvent the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion by restricting women’s access to the procedure and penalizing doctors who perform it. Now the federal government is getting in on the anti-choice action.
Last week, The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The bill would narrow the window currently set out by federal law and the Supreme Court, which bans most abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy. H.R. 1797, known as the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” was crafted by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and passed in the GOP-led House this week by a vote of 228-196.
The ban was originally crafted to apply to Washington, D.C. only and failed in the House last year, but after the conviction of Dr. Kermit Gosnell last month on three counts of first degree murder after babies were born live and subsequently killed at his Philadelphia abortion clinic, Franks expanded its scope to apply the ban nationwide.
To be clear, Gosnell was performing illegal late term abortions, and pro-choice activists – including Planned Parenthood – have unilaterally condemned his actions. Using the Gosnell case in an unconstitutional attempt to restrict women’s access to the services they need is shameful political exploitation and grandstanding of the worst kind. The bill, would not have its intended effect of ending abortions after 20 weeks if it becomes law. It would instead have the opposite effect, forcing women to visit providers like Gosnell who prey on desperate women because they would have no other place to turn.
In a statement issued after the Gosnell verdict, Eric Ferrero, Planned Parenthood Federation of America Vice President for Communications said, “This case has made clear that we must have and enforce laws that protect access to safe and legal abortion, and we must reject misguided laws that would limit women’s options and force them to seek treatment from criminals like Kermit Gosnell.” This bill would do exactly what Ferrero warned against.
President Obama threatened to veto the bill in a statement issued Monday:
The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 1797, which would unacceptably restrict women’s health and reproductive rights and is an assault on a woman’s right to choose. Women should be able to make their own choices about their bodies and their health care, and Government should not inject itself into decisions best made between a woman and her doctor.
Forty years ago, the Supreme Court affirmed a woman’s constitutional right to privacy, including the right to choose. This bill is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and shows contempt for women’s health and rights, the role doctors play in their patients’ health care decisions, and the Constitution. The Administration is continuing its efforts to reduce unintended pregnancies, expand access to contraception, support maternal and child health, and minimize the need for abortion. At the same time, the Administration is committed to the protection of women’s health and reproductive freedom and to supporting women and families in the choices they make.
If the President were presented with this legislation, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto this bill.
He should do just that. A majority of Americans now believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a NBC/WSJ poll. What’s more, seven in 10 respondents oppose Roe v. Wade being overturned, which is the highest percentage on this polling question since 1989.
Yet conservative activists in many states have been successful in passing laws that are putting increased restrictions on a woman’s right to make choices about her reproductive health. The paternalistic tone of recent state anti-abortion laws is evident to anyone who cares to look beyond the thin veneer of a press conference or a gubernatorial signing statement. Using the government to regulate women’s bodies – and what they choose to do with them – in accordance with a particular set of beliefs is the obvious motive. And now some in Congress would like to do the same.
The intended outcome of these types of laws, both state and federal, is to severely restrict – and for some women, effectively abolish – a right that was established 40 years ago.
Because they can’t get abortion outlawed outright, state legislators swayed by anti-choice activists are attempting to legislate abortion clinics out of existence. For example, there are four states in the U.S. with just one abortion clinic, according to the Guttmacher Institute – Mississippi, Arkansas, South Dakota, and North Dakota.
The sole clinic in Mississippi was issued a temporary reprieve this spring after being told it could be shut down due to failure to comply with a controversial state law that requires all OB-GYNs who perform abortions at the clinic to have privileges to admit patients to a local hospital. The sole abortion clinic in North Dakota has sued to block a similar law, while Alabama passed the same type of law in April.
Admitting privileges can be difficult to obtain as many hospitals will not grant them to out-of-state doctors, and both MS and ND rely heavily on traveling physicians to perform the procedures. The law on hospital privileges was only one of several abortion measures signed into law in North Dakota in April, including the country’s most restrictive law, one which bars abortions at six weeks of pregnancy, which will be challenged in court as an unconstitutional violation of Roe v. Wade.
If women cannot get to a clinic that offers the procedure (or if doctors are prevented from performing it) do they really have the “choice” that Roe says they have? No they do not. The lack of available providers can effectively abolish choice for low-income women, who cannot afford to travel. The cost of gas money, time off from work, arranging childcare for other children she may have while she has to travel – these are all practical considerations of lack of access to a nearby facility that would weigh on any woman seeking an abortion, but they would weigh far more heavily on low-income women, who would then be forced to carry a pregnancy to term into poverty.
Additionally, many states have recently passed laws requiring physicians to be in the physical presence of the patient when prescribing mifespristone — a pharmaceutical drug that induces an abortion at a very early stage of pregnancy — effectively prohibiting doctors from prescribing the medication over the telephone and reducing access to abortion in rural areas.
Regulatory restrictions placed specifically on abortion providers, known as Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws, bans on the coverage of abortion by health insurance policies that will be offered through state exchanges as part of the Affordable Care Act, and laws requiring abortion providers to perform ultrasounds and show the image of the fetus to their patients before the procedure have also been common in the last two years. This is very troubling to Elizabeth Nash, the state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, which seeks to advance the cause of sexual and reproductive health through research, policy analysis, and public education.
According to Nash’s research, in 2000, one-third of women lived in a state that was openly hostile to abortion. By 2011, that figure had jumped to half of all women. “What we’ve seen over time is a wholesale change in the abortion landscape,” Nash said. “Particularly in the last two years, we have just seen a tidal wave of restrictions rolling across the country.” According to Nash, 92 new restrictions were enacted in 2011 and 43 were enacted in 2012, the highest and second-highest number of annual restrictions ever.
This cannot continue. State legislators and lawmakers in Washington, D.C. must look at the public shift in attitudes regarding this issue and stop their attempts to effectively nullify Roe v. Wade with these restrictive laws. The majority of Americans do not support this trend, but they are being drowned out by a vocal minority that wants to impose its own set of beliefs on everyone else. It is time for the majority to get vocal and fight back – before it’s too late.
Amy Lazenby is the associate opinion editor at FITSNews. She is a wife, mother of three and small business owner with her husband who splits her time between South Carolina and Georgia. Follow her on Twitter @Mrs_Laz or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.