Feature image via Flickr/Fibonacci Blue.
Reproductive issues may not have been at the forefront of the news this election cycle, but several important votes and rulings across the country in the last few weeks have changed levels of access and care surrounding abortion. Here’s a quick rundown of what’s been happening and which fronts you should keep an eye on next.
The team told you yesterday about reproductive rights victories in Colorado and North Dakota, where voters took so-called “personhood” initiatives and threw them right in the trash. These efforts did fail, but just for funsies, let’s shake our heads forlornly at the straws proponents of Colorado’s measure were grasping to support, via The Huffington Post:
Amendment 67, would have amended the state’s criminal code to include fetuses in the category of “human” and “child.” Supporters of the measure said it would have more harshly prosecuted someone who caused a pregnant woman to lose her baby in a situation like a drunk driving accident.
Thankfully, voters said “no, thank you,” to what was the third personhood ballot initiative in Colorado in recent history. North Dakota voters similarly rejected an effort to add personhood-esque language to their state constitution.
In a similar instance of moderate victory, the U.S. Supreme Court declined on Monday to hear appeals in a case against a 2011 New York law requiring crisis pregnancy centers to inform women whether or not they employ licensed medical providers. In case you haven’t seen that episode of The L Word, here’s a rundown of how these kinds of clinics work, via Jezebel:
Often located near hospitals or legitimate abortion providers like Planned Parenthood, crisis pregnancy centers work by luring in women by appearing like a fully operational medical facilities. Staff wear nurse scrubs and many of the clinics provide ultrasounds, but, beyond that, they rarely provide any actual prenatal or women’s healthcare. Their main (and covert) purpose is to talk women out of getting abortions and, if that doesn’t work, put up as many roadblocks as possible to prevent a woman from terminating a pregnancy.
By declining to hear the case, SCOTUS has allowed to take effect an earlier ruling that is about equal parts good and bad. That ruling found that CPCs must in fact inform women if their staff are licensed or not, but it does not require them to tell visitors if they actually perform abortions OR that New York City health officials recommend all pregnant women visit a licensed medical provider. So they have to tell you if they’re not actually a doctor/nurse, but they don’t have to actually admit that they won’t provide you with reproductive services, including but not limited to abortion. Which is typically the kind of information you’re looking for when you wander into a place like this.
In New York, as in Colorado and North Dakota, things haven’t exactly gotten better on the reproductive rights front, but at least they haven’t taken opportunities to get significantly worse. I can’t say the same about Oklahoma and Tennessee, both of which have seen firmly anti-choice changes come into effect.
Oklahoma’s high court stepped in Tuesday to block two new abortion-restrictive laws that had recently come into effect, but not before one of Oklahoma’s three remaining clinics had to halt services. The first required clinic doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, and the second restricted the way doctors administer abortion-inducing medications. The court injunction temporarily halts the laws’ enforcement, but the matter won’t be settled until they are fully litigated in district court.
A similar battle is playing out in North Carolina, where officials are seeking federal approval to enforce a law requiring doctors to describe ultrasounds out loud to patients seeking abortions. This kind of law has been blocked before based on First Amendment rights, but state officials are fighting tooth and nail to do what they view as “informing women” before their procedures.
The scariest development in reproductive rights happened in Tennessee, where a voter referendum that passed last night has enshrined anti-choice beliefs into the state constitution. Here’s the text of the measure as approved by voters:
Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.
As The Atlantic‘s Emma Green explains at the link above, this amendment doesn’t actually change any of the existing rules about getting an abortion in Tennessee (which may be why so many voters approved it). Instead, it clears the way for the Tennessee legislature to enact more and more abortion restrictions, as long as they don’t explicitly break federal law, and ensures that the Tennessee Supreme Court will find them acceptable. Apparently, a 2000 ruling from that court had barred legislators from passing the anti-choice measures popular in other states, based on constitutional privacy language that essentially provided broader protections than Roe v. Wade. This new constitutional amendment does away with that, reaffirming the state’s right to restrict abortion access via things like waiting periods, hospital admittance requirements and mandatory ultrasounds. It’s a disappointing development that will likely lead to the state’s conservative politicians whittling away at abortion rights until the procedure is almost impossible to obtain.
Unfortunately, that seems to be the prevailing strategy for the anti-choice camp: wait until the majority is distracted, then pass some restrictive measures that are ostensibly about educating women or ensuring quality of care. The key to disrupting the pattern, as citizens, is to keep an eye on these battles as they play out, and to make our voices heard whenever we have the chance.