I’ve always been a bit of an optimist when it comes to the future of Roe and access to abortion, but I’m not so sure anymore. Sure, when it comes to the basic right to abortion, we’re still in decent shape in the Supreme Court. They don’t have the votes to overturn Roe. But all we need is an anti-abortion President to be elected in 2016 and, without the threat of a filibuster (thanks to the Democrats in the Senate), it may be a little more difficult to stop an extremist from being appointed to the Court. And, depending on which legal authority you subscribe to, all the antis need is maybe one vote to reverse Roe. Indeed, I really wish some of the older more liberal justices would resign now so Obama can at least make those seats secure.
But when it comes to access issues, there is no doubt the anti-abortion movement is on a legislative roll. In 2013 alone, 22 states adopted 70 different restrictions, including late-abortion bans, doctor and clinic regulations and limits on the use of the abortion pill. Twenty-four states have barred abortion coverage by the new health exchanges and nine of them forbid private insurance plans, as well, from covering most abortions. A dozen states have barred most abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy, based on a theory of fetal pain that has been rejected by major medical groups. Such laws violate the viability threshold and have been struck down in three states, but proponents hope the Supreme Court will come up with a new standard.
What’s most frightening, however, are the laws that on their face seek to “protect the health of women seeking abortions” by imposing severe regulations on the clinics. Such regulations include absurd requirements like mandating that hallways be a certain width (to get the gurney out when a woman has an emergency). Personally, I have never heard of a patient getting stuck in a hallway and it might not sound like a big deal to some to widen the hall, but when you think about how much it might actually cost to get the necessary permits, hire construction crews, etc., it’s an onerous and very expensive proposition. Some of the new laws also require the clinic to provide more parking spaces, as if that’s an easy thing to do, especially in a more urban environment.
We know that this is all a bunch of crap, that the antis do not give a hoot about making the abortion experience “safer,” but the anti-abortion legislators, like those in my home state of Virginia, are buying it. They just get their marching orders from their local “Right to Life” chapter and vote in lock step. Chalk up another victory for “women’s health!”
But, truth be told, these regulations are starting to severely restrict access to abortion services. For example, there is now only one clinic left in the state of Mississippi and in North Dakota and both of them are hanging by their fingernails in the face of a legislative onslaught led by the local anti-abortion forces.
The bottom line is that more and more clinics are closing and women are now travelling further to get abortions. Please note what I said – many of them are STILL getting abortions, even if it means having to miss several days of work to travel to another state. On the other hand, many other women are simply deciding to give birth to an unwanted child instead of losing three days of pay.
The only thing we can hope for is that ultimately there will be a backlash in this country on the political front and there is some evidence that that may be occurring. For example, right here in Virginia we recently elected an outspoken pro-choice Governor who will hopefully reverse some severe clinic regulations that were passed two years ago that threaten the existence of several clinics in the state. And the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League points to other recent successes on the political front.
Let’s hope it is not too late.