The Abortion Series: Abortion Wars, State by State
I almost don’t even know where to begin. State by state, the RNC seems to be masterminding dozens of bills in various states that will (and some already have) place severe limits on the accessibility of abortion. In February, I threw myself out there and called this organized effort to slowly strangle abortion and reproductive rights a war on women. But in the last month and a half, it seems obvious that Republicans and social conservatives really are conducting a war on women and womens’ rights. From Virginia to South Dakota to Indiana to Ohio there are absurd and ridiculous bills before state legislatures which seek to limit access and availability of abortion procedures. Here, state by state, are the terrifying bills—some of which have since passed.
March 22, 2011 South Dakota’s governor Dennis Daugaard signed House Bill 1217, which requires women to wait 72 hours between contacting an abortion provider and having an abortion. The law also implements a requirement that abortion providers provide women seeking abortions with “the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of all pregnancy help centers.” But the law goes further: “prior to the day of any scheduled abortion the pregnant mother must have a consultation at a pregnancy help center at which the pregnancy help center shall inform her about what education, counseling, and other assistance is available to help the pregnant mother keep and care for her child, and have a private interview to discuss her circumstances that may subject her decision to coercion.”
Having read this bill, I am floored by how rife it is with paternalism and misogyny. The text of the bill states that this law is necessary because “such practices [abortion] are contrary to the best interests of the pregnant mother and her child and there is a need to protect the pregnant mother’s interest in her relationship with her child and her health by passing remedial legislation.” The motivations behind this bill are clear: women cannot be trusted to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy because they are weak and susceptible to coercion and brainwashing by evil abortion doctors and radical feminists (or whoever you want to blame it on: Planned Parenthood is another popular scape-goat). Gov. Daugaard commented on the passage of the bill, stating “I think everyone agrees with the goal of reducing abortion by encouraging consideration of other alternatives…I hope that women who are considering an abortion will use this three-day period to make good choices.” Basically, he hopes women will “choose” to not abort their pregnancies. How this bill reduces “coercion” is beyond me, because by requiring women to receive “pre-abortion counseling” and imposing waiting periods for this medical procedure, it seems to be pretty clear the government of South Dakota is the one doing the coercing.
In another spectacular example of governmental misogyny and paternalism, we move on to Indiana and House Bill 1210. This charming bill requires women to carry pregnancies past 22 weeks to term, even if the father of the fetus is their rapist or family member. State representative Gail Riecken (D) tried to amend the bill to include exemptions for rape and incest and for women whose lives are threatened by pregnancy or when pregnancy would cause “serious and irreversible physical harm,” but it was defeated. In speaking against Rep. Riecken’s proposed amendment, Rep. Eric Turner (R)—the author of the bill—argued that the exemption should be defeated because it would create “a giant loophole.” What, exactly, is this loophole, you ask? What’s that, Rep. Turner? You say women who are “desirous of an abortion could simply say that they’ve been raped or there’s incest”? Oh, but it’s okay to call women who want access to safe, legal abortions liars, because you prefaced your statement with a caveat, saying you “don’t want to disparage in any way someone who’s gone through the experience of a rape, or an incest” and then went on to instead disparage all women.
But H.B. 1210, Rep. Turner, and his pro-life agenda doesn’t stop there. H.B. 1210 also requires the following:
- Women seeking a first-trimester abortion must be notified they may have an increased risk of breast cancer if they have an abortion, and that giving birth protects them from breast cancer (this is false: there is no medically proven link between abortion and an increase risk of cancer).
- Women seeking an abortion must be informed “orally and in writing ” that “human physical life begins when a human ovum is fertilized by a human sperm.” Additionally, women must be told the “probable gestational age of the fetus” at the time of the abortion, as well as a “picture or drawing of a fetus,” the dimensions of the fetus, and any “relevant information on the potential survival of [the] unborn fetus.”
- Women must also be advised that “medical evidence shows that the fetus can feel pain at or before twenty (20) weeks of…age”  and notified of the availability of “fetal ultrasound imaging and auscultation of fetal heart tone services to enable the pregnant woman to view the image and hear the heartbeat of the fetus and how to obtain access to these services.”
- Before an abortion is performed, women must be notified of “abortion alternatives and must certify—in writing—that she was offered the opportunity to view an ultrasound, and whether she accepted or refused to view it. However, women will be forced to view an ultrasound and hear the fetal heartbeat unless they certify—in writing—that they do notwant to see the ultrasound/hear the heartbeat before an abortion is performed.
In Florida, we have Senate Bill 1414, which if passed would be devastating for the women in that state, and for family planning in general. SB 1414 would prohibit health insurance policies from covering abortions if the insurance policies were purchased with any state or federal funds, effectively making abortions prohibitively expensive for women who need them. The bill would also prevent insurance policies purchased with state or federal funds through the exchange created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act from covering abortions. SB 1414 generously allows health insurance companies to provide abortion coverage at an additional cost, but because this would require another layer of administration and expense, it is unlikely than many women in need of abortion coverage would be able to afford separate coverage for the procedure. I guess we should just be grateful that there is an exception for when a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
But it doesn’t end with SB 1414. There is HB 1127, also known as the “Women’s Right to Know” Act, which recently passed the House Health and Human Services Quality Subcommittee. HB 1127—like Indiana’s HB1210—would require women to have an ultrasound before they can have a legal abortion. HB 1127 states that the “person performing the ultrasound must allow the woman to view the live ultrasound images…[and] must contemporaneously review and explain the live ultrasound images to the woman before the woman gives informed consent to having an abortion procedure performed.” Women have the right to decline to view the ultrasound, but it would be difficult to have an ultrasound performed and have a physician describe the fetus and then decline to see the images. Which, of course, is the intent of the bill. It is sexist and abhorrent to require women who want to abort their pregnancies to be forced to watch an ultrasound before having an abortion, and to implement such a law under the guise of acting in the best interest of women. According to Rep. Elizabeth Porter (R)—the bill’s sponsor—this isn’t about guilting or shaming women into not having abortions, its about women’s rights:
This about the right of a woman considering the termination of a pregnancy to possess all of the relevant information made available to her so she can make a fully informed decision…Knowledge is never a bad thing.
Rep. Scott Randolph (D) spoke in opposition to the bill and pointed out that earlier that day Republicans voted against laws that would require individuals to have health insurance because “it intrudes on the doctor-patient relationship” and were then going on to vote in favor of the ultrasound bill. Rep. Randolph stated: “Is this legislation not practicing an ideology of convenience or are we just being hypocritical?”
A woman can request an ultrasound if she wants to. But bills like this, which frame ultrasound requirements before abortions as a component of “informed consent” make strong implications that women who want or need abortions are (a) not in their right minds and (b) not capable of making an informed medical decision about their own bodies.
Oh Alabama: bills like SB 301 are one of the most significant reasons why I would never consider moving down South, no matter how bitter, cold, and long the Maine winters are. SB 301, sponsored by Senator Phil Williams (R), is short and not so sweet as it would amend the Alabama Code of 1975 to change the definition of a “person” to “include all humans from the moment of fertilization.” Representative John Merrill (R) decided that Sen. Williams didn’t need all the lime-light and drafted his own version of the legislation, HB 405. Rep. Merrill then took all of this nonsense to another level in presenting HB 409 which, if passed, would amend the Alabama Constitution to define persons to “include all humans from the moment of fertilization.” If this legislation were to pass, it would stand in violation of federal law, and would most certainly be challenged in the Federal Courts. I think it is unlikely it will pass, but in a time when Republicans and social conservatives are railing against reproductive care and reproductive rights for the poorest among us by trying to repeal Title X (which would, ironically, result in more abortions), I’m not certain of much anymore.
The attack launched by conservatives in Virginia’s legislature is similar to proposed legislation in Florida. Virginia’s HB 2434 would also ban insurance companies from covering abortion using state or federal funds to purchase health insurance in the federal exchange created by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Again, this would make it more difficult for women to be able to afford abortion coverage.
Then we have SB 924, which was signed by Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and would essentially shutter abortion providers and clinics in the state by mandating that the Virginia Board of Health issue regulations requiring abortion clinics performing five or more first-trimester abortions per month to be categorized as hospitals. This would subject physicians who provide abortions and abortion clinics to be subjected to heavy, undue regulation, much of which would be unaffordable. According to Katherine Greenier, Director of the Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project at the ACLU of Virginia, “We estimate that 17 of the 21 clinics here in the state would have to shut down due to an inability to meet the costly and unnecessary requirements placed on them.” SB 924 would single out abortion providers as subject to increased regulation, regulations that aren’t required for similar medical procedures in the state. It is fairly certain that the law will be challenged, probably by the ACLU, but its hard to how the Federal District Court of Appeals will rule.
Arizona is really doing its best to become the most backward state in the country, and H.R. 1822 known (disgustingly) as the “Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2011” was signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer (R). H.R. 1822 prohibits abortions from being performed due to the race or gender of the fetus. But its seems that Arizona is protecting the unborn from something they weren’t endanger of in the first place because there is no scientific evidence that fetuses are being aborted in the United States because their race or gender is undesirable. But H.R. 1822 claims to be protecting equality and women’s rights by preventing women from having “sex-selective” or “race-selective” abortions. If a woman wants to have a legal abortion, it is none of the state’s business as to why she wants an abortion. That is a decision to made between women and their physicians. Most women seek abortions not solely on the race or gender of their fetus, but because of socio-economic limitations among many other reasons.
Gov. Jan Brewer also signed HB 2416, which prevents medication abortions from being prescribed by anyone other than a licensed physician, which means many reproductive health clinics—which are mostly staffed by nurse practitioners—would be unable to prescribe medication abortions like RU-486. This will only serve to make it more difficult for women to access and afford abortions, which is certainly the aim of this law.
Oh, Kansas. I hear you are a really nice state, but based on your abortion laws, reproductive rights history, and the murder of Dr. George Tiller, I’m not left with a warm and fuzzy feeling. On April 12th, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback (former 2008 Presidential candidate) signed into law HB 2218. HB 2218, known as the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” bans abortions performed after the 21st week of gestation unless the mother is at risk of death or “substantial injury.” There is no exception for rape or incest. The text of the bill argues that fetuses can feel pain as early as 20 weeks, and therefore it is immoral to abort a fetus later than 21 weeks. As I have said before, there there is no conclusive scientific evidence that fetuses do in fact feel what we would recognize as pain at such an early state. Scientific consensus has not been reached and this issue is by no means settled. But the Kansas state legislature sees no need to wait for consensus. They obviously know what’s best. This is, after all, the state whose Board of Education mandated that Intelligent Design must be taught as a legitimate alternative to Evolutionary Theory. Similar bills are before the Indiana legislature (as discussed above), as well as the legislatures of Minnesota, Oklahoma, Florida, Iowa, Idaho, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon and South Carolina.
Lastly, we have Ohio. Ohio’s HB 125, sponsored by Lynn Wactmann (R), would be the most restrictive abortion law in the country if it passes the legislature and is signed into law. HB 125 would “prohibit an abortion of an unborn human individual with a detectable fetal heartbeat.” Fetal heartbeats are not detectable at a standardized time or date of gestation; some fetuses’ heartbeats are detectable earlier in gestation, some later. This bill also has no exception for rape or incest.
HB 125 got a lot of press because the hearing on the bill included the “testimony” of two fetuses. They “testified” by having their ultrasound presented at the hearing. The bill would also require a women seeking a legal abortion to “sign a form acknowledging that the pregnant woman has received information from the person intending to perform the abortion that the unborn human individual that the pregnant woman is carrying has a fetal heartbeat and that the pregnant woman is aware of the statistical probability of bringing the unborn human individual that the pregnant woman is carrying to term.” Legally mandated guilting—otherwise known as coercion—by the state of Ohio.
This is not hype. This is not fear-mongering on the part of rabid feminists who want abortion on demand. This is a real, concerted effort by Republicans across the country to curtail reproductive rights, access to abortion, and ultimately, to overturn Roe v. Wade. If you live in any of the states mentioned in this article, and if you believe in reproductive choice, then you must call your state representatives. Bills like these succeed and are enacted into law if constituents don’t voice their objections. People these days often believe their votes, their opinions, don’t matter. But they do. Your elected officials are elected by you. They are beholden to serve their constituents as public servants. And if they don’t hear from you, they will not respond to your needs. Abortion rights and reproductive rights—and through that, the right of privacy—are under serious attack state by state and nationally, and these bills and laws will succeed if there is no public outcry.
 This is also not true. When a fetus can feel pain is not a settled issue in the scientific and medical community; there is of yet no evidence for the claims put forth by H.B. 1210 and pro-life advocates.