With a few weeks left to close out this shitshow of a year, Ohio and Texas have made strides to make abortion as inaccessible as possible in 2017. Yeah sure, this is what Trump’s America looks like — but also these laws have been years in the making, thanks to Republicans attacking reproductive rights with every new legislative session. In Ohio, strict abortion legislation was sneakily passed as an added amendment to a child neglect bill through the Senate and is now on its way to Governor John Kasich’s desk to be approved. If signed, which is highly possible, the bill would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected — which can occur as early as six weeks, before many people even know they’re pregnant. The House also approved a much-anticipated 20-week abortion ban on Thursday.
Starting December 19, Texas will require facilities that perform abortions to bury the fetal remains instead of disposing of them like other medical waste. In addition to passing this law, Texas debuted their new pamphlet called “A Women’s Right to Know” which, under state law, is given 24 hours before a person gets an abortion. The pamphlet features debunked science and links abortion to an increased chance of breast cancer, despite research that says otherwise.
The so-called heartbeat bill came as a surprise for many; the Senate made the amendment and slipped it into an unrelated bill before it was swiftly passed by the House. Kellie Copeland, Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said they had been fighting this type of bill for five years now. This is the first time both chambers approved the bill, which had been trying to pass for years but was always stopped in the Senate.
What was different this time around? Well, you could say Republicans were emboldened by Trump becoming president and his vow to appoint Supreme Court Justices in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade. “New president, new Supreme Court justice appointees change the dynamic,” Senate President Keith Faber told local reporters.
If Kasich signs the bill, it could challenge past Supreme Court decisions that support a woman’s constitutional right to abortion to the point of vitality — considered to be up to 24 weeks. Ohio is the third state to try to pass a law like this. In the past, courts in Arkansas and North Dakota found similar laws unconstitutional, with the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals upholding those laws and the Supreme Court declining to hear a further appeal. Anti-abortion organizations have declined to support legislation like this so-called heartbeat bill because the current Supreme Court would most likely find it unconstitutional. However, since there’s an open spot on the Supreme Court now, they think they have a better shot at making abortion basically illegal.
Mary Ziegler with the Washington Post believes it won’t be very easy to upend Roe v Wade due to a variety of unpredictable variables, but she also notes that anything can happen.
Certainly, Trump has a chance to transform the court. But whether that happens will depend on any number of unknown variables: the retirement or death of sitting justices, the loss of conservative as well as liberal members of the court, even Trump’s ability to predict how a nominee will vote. (After all, the decision that saved Roe the last time, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, depended on the votes of Republican nominees Sandra Day O’Connor, David Souter and Anthony Kennedy.) Trump may have just as little luck guessing ahead of time how any nominee will act when legal abortion is on the line. Likewise, Trump will replace the late Antonin Scalia, but even assuming that Trump picks a judge who cannot wait to overrule Roe v. Wade, Ohio lawmakers still probably jumped the gun. An additional vote to overrule Roe would probably leave the court divided, with a majority in favor of preserving legal abortion. Kennedy, one of the authors of Casey, just joined an opinion making it harder for legislators to restrict abortion at all, much less ban it outright for most of pregnancy.
It’s more likely Republicans will continue to pass laws that make abortion logistically very difficult to obtain, banning it in effect rather than explicitly, as well as chipping away at abortion rights with legislation like the 20 week abortion ban (that will most likely pass) which narrows the window of abortion access.
Back in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott was behind the rule to bury or cremate fetal remains. The rule was quietly proposed in July after the Supreme Court overturned Texas’s 2013 abortion restrictions that would have severely cut the number of abortion providers in the state. The Texas Health department finalized the rules last week. The health department clarified that the new rules only apply to hospitals, abortion clinics, and other health care facilities, and not to individual citizens who have miscarriages or abortions that happen at home. A birth and death certificate aren’t required to bury the remains either.
The new rules apply to healthcare facilities, but the facilities alone can’t absorb the costs for burying/cremating every abortion. This means the costs associated with burying fetal remains could increase abortion costs to individual pregnant people — an estimated additional $2,000 according to the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Texas— adding another blow to low-income women seeking abortions in Texas. From Bitch Media:
“Economic aspects of bills like these highlight a tremendous class divide when it comes to abortion in America, and it’s one that it only becoming more extreme as states crack down on abortion access. The harder it gets to obtain an abortion, the more money you need — and the more money you have, the more insulated you are from hardship. In coming years, wealthier patients and those with large safety nets will be able to get the reproductive health care they need, even if it includes frivolous and clearly suppressive caveats and riders like waiting periods or restrictions on disposition of fetal tissue. Meanwhile, low-income patients will suffer, which in a sense is precisely the point. Legislation like this punishes people for seeking abortions, and drives the upward trend in DIY abortion in places like Texas.”
In addition, Texas health officials updated and revised their “Women’s Right to Know” pamphlet after 13 years and still printed inaccurate and misleading information like linking abortion to an increased risk of breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, “the scientific evidence does not support the notion that abortion of any kind raises the risk of breast cancer or any other type of cancer.”
Republicans are working harder than ever to make abortion nearly impossible. Unfortunately, the people who are dealt the hardest blow are low-income rural women of color who don’t have the means to combat these abortion restrictions and whose options are limited. At this point, it’s difficult to fathom how things could get worse for abortion access. But unfortunately as we enter a new year with a new president and Republican-controlled everything, there’s still room for even more unfortunate possibilities.