Many of us can’t believe we’re having a conversation, let alone a full-blown debate, about this issue in the year 2012, but here we are, watching women get shut out of this week’s hearing on the subject, listening to men wax poetic about the “good old days” when low-cost birth control meant holding an aspirin between one’s knees and enduring childish rants from a cabal of overly powerful Catholic bishops who, in the astute words of Jon Stewart, have “confused the war on…religion with not always getting everything [they] want.“
But attention-grabbing as the anti-birth control crusade may be, it is not the only regressive, anti-woman, anti-science battle being waged in this country. In fact, right-wing politicians are attempting to roll back reproductive rights across the nation. One year ago, we reported on a number of state-level reproductive rights battles. Today we check in with many of those states (plus some new ones), only to find that the war on women has not let up at all and abortion bans being introduced to legislatures are getting more scary, more intrusive, more punitive and in some cases, gaining more traction.
This brutal combined assault on family planning and abortion rights, if it continues to be successful, will hit disadvantaged women the hardest, and result in an environment of compulsory pregnancy for many of the nation’s women.
1. Kansas considers letting doctors lie to patients seeking abortions.
The entire year for reproductive rights in Kansas has been extremely rough. Last summer, the state came perilously close to shutting down the three remaining abortion providers in the state; a move that would have effectively banned abortion in Kansas, even though abortion is legal in the United States. The proposed law would have required abortion providers to conform to ridiculous standards for things like room temperature and the size of janitorial closets (not a joke).
Those plans may have been thwarted, but now state lawmakers are considering several new pieces of anti-abortion legislation that are even broader and more nefarious. Planned Parenthood of Kansas spokesperson Sarah Gillooly called one of the bills “the largest and most sweeping overhaul we’ve seen to date,” which is saying something in Kansas. Worse yet, most lawmakers only learned of that bill’s existence six days before the legislation went up for debate last week, giving the impression that Republicans were trying to ram the legislation through.
Supported by anti-choice groups like Kansans for Life and Republican lawmakers including Rep. Lance Kinzer, the recent legislation includes a dizzying array of abortion restrictions. Among them, via the HuffingtonPost and the KansasCity Star:
- Women would be required to undergo a sonogram and listen to the fetal heartbeat before receiving an abortion.
- Physicians would be exempted from malpractice lawsuits if they withheld information that could prevent an abortion. In other words, a physician could choose not to tell a woman something important about her own health if the doctor thought the woman might seek an abortion because of that information. If the woman then suffered health problems, she would have no legal recourse. (Though it is little consolation, her family could still sue the doctor if she died.)
- Abortion providers would be required to inform women of a link between abortion and breast cancer and reproductive health problems — links that have been widely discredited over many years by the medical establishment.
- Providers would be required to inform women that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks, another widely discredited myth anti-choicers have been propagating for years.
- Physicians would no longer be eligible for tax credits and exemptions for abortion-related insurance, drugs and expenses.
- Groups that perform abortions would be banned from providing sexual education materials for teenagers in schools.
2. Virginia’s infamous “rape by the state” provision.
Like Kansas, Virginia has seen a number of attacks on reproductive rights over the past year. The latest is a bill, passed by the state legislature this week, that will require Virginia women to endure an ultrasound before being allowed to get an abortion. For women in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, the news is even worse, as they will be required to undergo a trans vaginal ultrasound procedure.
The trans vaginal ultrasound requirement, which is also being considered in Texas and Iowa, has been characterized by many in the pro-choice community as state-mandated rape. And indeed, under the law, Virginia women seeking abortions will be vaginally penetrated without their consent and for no medical reason, an act that is illegal under the state’s own rape laws.
During the floor debate on Tuesday, Del. C. Todd Gilbert announced that “in the vast majority of these cases, these [abortions] are matters of lifestyle convenience.” (He has since apologized.) Virginia Democrat Del. David Englin, who opposes the bill, has said Gilbert’s statement “is in line with previous Republican comments on the issue,” recalling one conversation with a GOP lawmaker who told him that women had already made the decision to be “vaginally penetrated when they got pregnant.” (I confirmed with Englin that this quote was accurate.) *
That’s the same logic that animates the bill’s sponsor in the House of Delegates, Del. KathyJ. Byron, who insisted this week that, “if we want to talk about invasiveness, there’s nothing more invasive than the procedure that she is about to have.” Decoded, that means that if you are willing to submit to sex and/or an abortion, the state should be allowed to penetrate your body as well.
To make matters worse, Virginia lawmakers are also considering an unconstitutional “personhood” bill that would give legal rights to fetuses. Although the bill’s sponsor says the legislation would merely provide a “legal framework for mothers to sue if anything happens to her unborn baby,” many individuals in the legislature and beyond worry that the law could pave the way for women and abortion providers to be prosecuted as murderers for terminating a pregnancy.
3. Oklahoma moves toward making an embryo a legal person.
Considering the overwhelming rejection of the “personhood” concept — that a fertilized embryo is a full person under the law — by the voting public of several states, including Colorado (twice) and even Mississippi, you’d think the extremists behind this movement would finally see it as futile. But some speculate that their end-game is to get such an abortion ban passed so that it ends up being challenged legally, and thus challenging Roe, which would stand on shaky legs given the makeup the Supreme Court.
Now they’ve found a potentially far more successful way to get these measures made into law: find states with extremist GOP legislatures, and let them pass there. Case in point: Oklahoma, where a personhood bill may become state law very soon after passing both legislative chambers. Reuters reported on Thursday, February 16:
The Republican-controlled state Senate voted 34-8 to pass the “Personhood Act” which defines the word person under state law to include unborn children from the moment of conception.
The measure now goes to the state House where pro-life Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than a 2-1 margin.
Oklahoma’s Republican Governor Mary Fallin, who signed every anti-abortion bill sent to her last year, did not issue a reaction…
The consequences of passing “personhood” are obviously manifold, which explains: by defining “conception” as the start of personhood, such measures threaten the legal standing of everything from in vitro fertilization to the morning-after pill to miscarriages to many kinds of birth control — and this particular bill has no rape or incest exceptions.
In a less legal sense, it pathologizes women who struggle with fertility (are their bodies murderers?), and contrary to its name, makes them into less than full persons. If this bill gets signed into law, it will be the first genuine personhood law that goes into effect.
4. Iowa considers a bill making abortion a felony punishable by 10 years in jail.
During the first wave of the “war on women” in 2011, Iowa banned most abortions after 20 weeks. But now a new bill is up to vote thanks to one of the most extreme members of that state’s elected Tea Party officials, and it’s one of the most draconian yet — a full-on ban that scrubs out all references to abortion in Iowa law and sends everyone involved in providing abortions off to jail. The bill:
would eliminate all mentions in Iowa law to allowing abortions, such as references to parental notification when pregnant teens seek abortions and in regard to health insurance coverage.
The bill would amend the code to make feticide — performing or causing an abortion — a Class A felony at any time during a pregnancy, not only after the second trimester. A Class A felony is punishable by up to 10 years and fine of no more than $10,000.
At Think Progress, Alex Seitz-Wald tells us a little bit about the bill’s sponsor: “Kim Pearson, a freshman Tea Party lawmaker so extreme that she’s already drawn scorn from fellow Republicans and decided not to run for re-election.”
There is a silver lining to the Iowa situation; the Iowa Senate is still majority Democrat. But as we’ve seen in Oklahoma and Virginia, elections can have dire consequences. A few seats gained or lost, and Iowans could be living in a vastly different state.
It was a little under 13 months ago that we started writing about a “war on women” being waged in legislatures across the country where the Tea Party and the GOP had swept to power. Rachel Maddow has described the efforts, collectively, as a “bulldozer,” but whatever name we give it, the result has been the restricting of abortion, attempts to de-fund family planning, and as we’ve recently seen, an attempt to stigmatize Planned Parenthood and keep insurers from being required to cover contraception. There has also been a series of austerity budget cuts that decimate options for women who are already mothers, which creates a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t environment for women weighing reproductive options.
The above examples make it clear that the GOP is continuing to throw anti-women measures against the wall to see what sticks — and thus attempting a piecemeal chiseling away of women’s bodily autonomy. The result is that even if the more extreme provisions go by the wayside, women’s rights continue to be siphoned off. Even more insidiously, what we have is an attack from all sides with a very clear aim, which Melissa Harris-Perry described chillingly last year:
Women who can’t control their fertility will be unable to compete for degrees or jobs with their male counterparts. Likewise, without affordable childcare women would be less likely to work outside the home. And without basic rights to organize, women teachers, nurses and other public sector workers would be compelled to accept lower wages and harsher working conditions, shoving many women out of the workforce altogether.
In other words, this isn’t just a war on women’s bodies, but on women’s participation in the public sphere.