UPDATED FEBRUARY 21
From the “guerrilla activists” trying to take down Planned Parenthood to the state and federal legislators (from both parties) further restricting women’s access to abortion, 2011 has seen more assaults on women’s most fundamental rights yet – even more even under the Bush years. There are 3 anti-abortion federal bills and more than 200 state level bills restricting access to abortion (and cutting funds for birth control, cancer screenings and other basic care for women into the attacks for good measure). Many of the state-level bills pose fundamental challenges to Roe v. Wade, paving the way for Supreme Court challenges down the line. What we need is an outpouring of resistance to this assault on the humanity of women!
Merle Hoffman, director of Choices Women’s Medical Center says: “the right to reproductive freedom is like the right to breathe: it transcends laws.” Why is that the case? And why must justice-loving people stand against this new wave of attacks on women? Listen to a conversation with Debra Sweet, Sunsara Taylor, Dr. LeRoy Carhart, Merle Hoffman and Carole Joffe on why abortion is such an important moral and political right.
Snapshots of the situation:
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Andrew Breitbart, James O’Keefe (both notorious for their attempts to bring down ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, through sending in actors and hidden cameras in an attempt to frame ACORN employees for aiding a pimp), and Lila Rose, a young activist claiming legitimacy by virtue of the fact that she’s a woman, have deployed almost identical tactics as Breitbart and O’Keefe previously used with ACORN in an attempt to show Planned Parenthood assisting underage sex traffickers through use of highly edited and manipulated video footage.
Jodie Jacobson at Rewire writes on how the whole set-up only proves Planned Parenthood provides health care and accurate information for women (which is, admittedly, rare, in today’s climate): Second “Explosive(!)” “Shocking(!)” Live Action Video Reveals… Health Workers Providing Care! Also see: Media Matters: A Refresher Course On Andrew Breitbart’s Dishonest Tactics
As dangerous as this is (the threat that these outlandish antics will result in legal actions to shut down PP nationally is not out of the question), this is not the only attempt to take down Planned Parenthood underway, as the anti-abortion bills currently being debated in the House would defund all of their work (which actually mainly consists of routine gynecological care and contraceptives). See Gail Collins: The Siege of Planned Parenthood for more.
The status quo has meant no federal funding goes to abortion services already – these new bills would codify the Hyde amendment, applying it to the new insurance law passed last year, making the Hyde amendment’s restrictions permanent and extending them to include private insurance plans and organizations like Planned Parenthood domestically and those internationally assisted by USAID. As a result, basic health care, birth control and sex education provided by organizations that receive US funds would be eliminated and hardly any insurance policies would cover abortion services in the US. The potential impact extends far beyond restricting abortion services for women.
Federal abortion bans and slash-and-burn assaults on contraceptives and basic medical care for women
The two specifically anti-abortion bills currently under debate differ only slightly from each other. One, “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion” is co-sponsored by a Democrat, Rep. Lipinski of Illinois. The other, the “Protect Life Act” (sic) is sponsored by Rep. Pitts (the Republican half from last year’s Stupak-Pitts amendment). Lipinski and his co-sponsor, Rep. Chris Smith claimed to have withdrawn language from their bill that would have redefined rape, allowing abortion coverage only in cases of “forcible rape” after a round of righteous protests (the language has not yet been removed as of this writing). However, they then went on to insert language that matched the Pitts’ bill, which would reverse standing law and authorize hospitals to refuse to provide abortions even when a woman’s life is in danger.
In other words, this would mean that a pregnant woman could present at an emergency room with a life-threatening condition and hospital staff could act on their “consciences,” refusing to either terminate the pregnancy or transfer her to a facility that could do so, even if that means that the woman will die. If you don’t believe they would really rather see women die than carry out life-saving abortions, look at the excommunication of a nun and the stripping of a hospital’s affliation with the Catholic Church by the Phoenix bishop this past year (yes, it was for saving a woman’s life). Also:
On February 18, the House of Representatives voted in favor (with the support of 10 Democrats) of sweeping aside Title X funds provided by the federal government that subsidize birth control, cancer screenings and routine gynecological care for low-income women through organizations like Planned Parenthood. According Planned Parenthood, 1 out of 5 women in the US visit their clinics at least once in their lives, receiving basic medical care and paying on a sliding scale. This action makes the anti-abortion movement’s larger agenda even clearer, as federal funds for abortion have not been available in decades. This attack on Title X, billed as a way to “eradicate” access to birth control by the “pro-life” movement, came separate from the larger budget cuts being proposed which will slash into programs like WIC which provide low-income women, infants, and children with food (which, it should be noted, make up a tiny fraction of military spending).
And at the local level
State legislatures across the country are debating new repressive laws. These are just a couple of examples:
In Kansas (Dr. George Tiller’s home state), a “fetal pain” bill similar to what forced Dr. Carhart to move to MD late last year is in the works, even though actual scientific research proves “fetal pain” is non-existent.
While in Wichita, a judge ruled against a local family doctor, Dr. Mila Means, who is preparing to provide abortions, arguing that her landlord could restrict her services out of fear of the protests that Operation Rescue is already mounting at her clinic. Local anti-abortion activists are also allowed space at the Wichita public elementary school. Must watch: Rachel Maddow’s interview with Dr. Means.
And, perhaps even more bizarrely… look at South Dakota, where a bill legalizing the murder of abortion providers is actually being debated. “Justifiable homicide” was considered as the defense for Dr. Tiller’s convicted assassin during his trial – and this law, outrageously, would provide an actual legal basis for murder (of an actual, real live person – again, this is coming from the “pro-life” crowd). Also in South Dakota, a law is in the works that would require women seeking abortions to first be subjected to a shaming ritual at a non-healthcare providing “crisis pregnancy center.” These centers are organized by anti-abortion activists, and while they sometimes provide desperate women who enter their doors with baby blankets, what they are mainly known for dispensing is religious lies about the consequences of having abortions.
In Ohio, an abortion ban starting “when there is a fetal heartbeat” (as early as 18 days from conception) is pending. This law stands out from many for it’s potential to pose a direct legal challenge to Roe, and to bring about a showdown in the Supreme Court.
Where is the opposition to all of this? Many pro-choice people are counting on these debates to be settled by Obama’s veto power. But that hope doesn’t even speak to the need to stop these measures coming at the state level, the threat represented by these attempts to frame Planned Parenthood for crimes or the undeterred mobilizations on the part of groups like Operation Rescue against current (or future!) abortion providers. Meanwhile, a group of anti-abortion Democrats have issued a plan for reducing abortions by 95% in 10 years, without even mentioning birth control.
Ashley Sayeau, looking at the situation in the US from the UK, writes, “while these bills do not decrease abortion, they do definitely degrade women’s political and social status – which may be the larger goal, anyway.”
Well, these restrictions may actually mean fewer abortions – and they may mean that some women will die – but the larger point is certainly true. The culture war far underway is about nothing less than the social role of women and our most basic rights. It time we start talking about it in these terms.