The 2019 war on reproductive rights

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Wikimedia Commons/ Tony Webster

Technically speaking, abortion is legal in all 50 states. However, since the big Republican victories in the 2010 elections, state legislators have passed hundreds of restrictions on abortions. Dozens of abortion clinics across the South and Midwest have been closed as a result.

The restrictions have been diverse and far-reaching. Abortion rights advocates point to what they call “Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers” (TRAP) laws. Anti-abortion politicians claim these laws are designed to protect “women’s health.” They routinely say that abortion is dangerous. However, national data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that induced abortion and miscarriage are actually the safest outcomes of pregnancy. The risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion.

Physician organizations such as the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists oppose TRAP laws because they don’t improve patient safety. Abortion providers already are subject to strict evidence-based regulations, which were created to ensure patient safety. The TRAP laws impose medically unnecessary, expensive and burdensome regulations.

Now the anti-abortion movement is escalating. Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute notes on the organization’s website that: “Between Jan. 1, 2019, and May 20, 2019, 378 abortion restrictions have been introduced across the nation, and 40 percent of them have been abortion bans. … A total of 17 bans have been enacted across 10 states so far this year.”

Guttmacher Institute is a leading research and policy organization committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights in the United States and globally. According to the institute, abortion is quite common. Almost one in four women in the United States (23.7 percent) will have an abortion by age 45. By the age of 30, 19 percent of women will have had an abortion, and 4.6 percent will have done so by the age of 20.

In other words, abortion is a pretty normal medical procedure, which is unfortunately stigmatized. Now the Supreme Court has a five-justice conservative majority, and the anti-abortion movement hopes that Roe v. Wade will be overturned and abortion will be completely banned.

This month, the Women’s Health Protection Act was introduced in Congress by Rep. Judy Chu (D-California) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut). It is designed to protect abortion access across the country by prohibiting states from imposing restrictions on abortion that are medically unnecessary. The bill was first introduced in 2013 and has been reintroduced in each congressional session since.

On Wednesday, May 22, during the bill’s announcement outside the U.S. Capitol, Chu said the bill “enshrines” in federal law “a woman’s right to receive abortion services and a provider’s right to perform abortion.” She stressed that the bill, which has 169 sponsors in the House, “prohibits any non-medical restrictions on our bodies — that means no heartbeat bills, no requirements that clinic doors be a certain width, no waiting periods or unnecessary ultrasounds. It means no abortion bans.”

Blumenthal said he had worked at the Supreme Court in 1974 as a clerk for then-Justice Harry Blackmun who wrote the court’s majority opinion in Roe v. Wade. “(W)e thought then that this issue was settled,” he reflected. “That women’s reproductive rights as a guarantee were enshrined in our law. And the fact is, this battle is continuing, and the danger is even more dire today than it was then. We need to sound the alarm — in fact, we face a five-alarm fire in the danger to women’s reproductive rights, and we need to command the urgency and immediacy that all our lives are at risk.”

Recently, a coalition of anti-abortion groups addressed a letter to Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel asking GOP officials to “reconsider decades-old talking points” about being against abortion except when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. They were inspired by Alabama’s new law, which prohibits abortion at all stages of pregnancy without any rape or incest exceptions. It would imprison doctors convicted of violating the law to prison for up to 99 years.

According to public opinion polls, most Americans don’t want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. But will that happen? Many legal experts argue that it will more likely die by a thousand cuts. In 2017, political scientist Jeffrey Segal told the website FiveThirtyEight, “They might not overturn a precedent right away, but they start chipping away at it until they can say, ‘Look, this precedent just isn’t workable and it’s time for it to go.’” He speculates that in the case of Roe v. Wade, this might mean upholding many state-level restrictions on abortion over a number of years. “It’s not overruling a decision so much as eviscerating it,” he added.

Whatever happens, Trump and the Republicans have made abortion a crucial issue in the 2020 elections.  

this opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.