Women

04.04.13

The Abortion Battleground Has Shifted From the Courthouse to the Statehouse

While France now covers abortion costs with social security, several states in the U.S. are moving to block the procedure.

As of this week, any woman who chooses to have an abortion will be reimbursed for 100 percent of the cost by state-sponsored social security, and contraception will be provided to any and all 15- to 18-year-olds free of charge. In France.

Meanwhile, in the United States, several American states have moved in to block access to the procedure. In just three months since the United States marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s landmark decision guaranteeing safe and legal abortions, states such as North Dakota, Alabama, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, and now Kansas have created legislation designed to gut Roe v. Wade.

Tuesday, the day after France passed its free-abortions measure, three of those states ramped up their restrictions. First, a bill defining fertilization as the beginning of life and discarding the preservation of a woman’s mental health as legitimate grounds for mid- to late-term abortions moved through the Kansas Senate. The bill, which also prohibits anyone associated with abortion providers—paid or volunteer—from providing public-school students with information on human sexuality and requires that abortion providers supply their patients with a guide to anti-abortion alternatives, is basically as good as passed. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has made it clear that he is ready to sign any anti-abortion legislation sent his way.

Just before midnight on Tuesday, the Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill requiring that abortion clinics ask patients younger than 16 to provide the name and age of the fetal father and mandating that all doctors who perform abortions possess the same license necessary to admit patients to a hospital. The bill’s next stop will be the desk of Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, who already has expressed support for the legislation, which critics charge is aimed at closing the state’s abortion clinics under the guise of protecting women’s health. Mississippi’s lone abortion clinic is currently under threat of closure as the result of a strikingly similar bill enacted in that state last year.

Meanwhile, Indiana’s House of Representatives approved a bill Tuesday to ban clinic providers from administering RU-486, the two-pill abortion medication also known as “the abortion pill,” unless they are fully equipped with surgical facilities. “This is a very emotionally charged issue, and I want you to understand that from the beginning my intent was to seek out a remedy to safeguard our young women who have chosen this path,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Sharon Negele. Rep. Linda Lawson, a Democrat, rejected that argument, insisting there is “not one person in this room that is pro-abortion.” The bill must now pass through Indiana’s Senate before Republican Gov. Mike Pence will have a chance to sign it.

Last month, a bill that would allow doctors to refuse to perform medical procedures that “violate his or her conscience or principles,” made its way through the Missouri House of Representatives. House Speaker Tim Jones, who sponsored the bill, insisted that it “will do absolutely nothing to affect anyone’s access to emergency medical services in the state.” The legislation specifically states that refusal-worthy procedures or research include “abortion, abortion-inducing drugs, human cloning, human embryonic stem-cell research, human somatic-cell nuclear transfer, fetal-tissue research, and nontherapeutic fetal experimentation.” Planned Parenthood issued a response to the bill, arguing that it would authorize the blatant denial of care for rape victims seeking emergency contraception or women with conditions such as ectopic pregnancies or miscarriages that aren’t immediately life threatening, but could become so if not treated promptly, among other at-risk patients. Whether the controversial so-called Conscience Rights bill becomes a law remains to be seen.

In the competition to pass the most sweeping and invasive restrictions on reproductive rights, Arkansas and North Dakota may have taken the prize.

At the beginning of March. The state’s Democratic governor, Mike Beebe, vetoed a ban on abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, on the grounds that it “blatantly contradicts the United States Constitution.” But the Republican-led legislature took advantage of Arkansas law to override that veto and see to it that the earliest and most restrictive abortion ban in the country be enacted this spring. Under the law, any doctor who performs an abortion on a woman who is not the victim of rape or incest or in danger of dying after 12 weeks will lose his or her medical license. The ban’s proponents argue that a fetal heartbeat can be detected at 12 weeks. James Bopp Jr., an anti-abortion lawyer and general counsel for the National Right to Life, told The New York Times that he opposed Arkansas’s law, because “as much as we would like to protect the unborn at that point, it is futile and it won’t save any babies.”

Just a few weeks after the Arkansas law passed, North Dakota approved a ban on abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy—again citing the fetal-heartbeat rationale. The fetal-heartbeat ban, along with another that outlaws abortions sought because of genetic anomalies and a new requirement that any doctor who performs abortions have hospital admission privileges, will go into effect in North Dakota on August 1.

Local abortion clinics, as well as national groups like the ACLU, have vowed to fight many of these laws. But as state legislatures continue to circumvent Roe v. Wade in the name of protecting women’s health, the United States—at least the red parts of it—looks poised to resemble a place more like Arkansas than France.