Late Night Outrage: War on Women’s HealthPosted: May 28, 2011
We’ve been watching state after state wage a coordinated war against women. Here’s a summary of this year’s assault on women’s health by NYT’s Emily Bazelon. Women better wake up and smell the threat to their right to self-determination.
Ever since Republicans took control of half the country’s statehouses this year, the anti-abortion movement has won one victory after another. At least 64 new anti-abortion laws have passed, with more than 30 of them in April alone. The campaign is the largest in history and also the most creative. Virginia started regulating abortion clinics as if they were hospitals. Utah, Nebraska and several other states have stopped private health insurers from covering abortions, with rare exceptions. South Dakota will soon tell women that before they go to an abortion clinic, they must first visit a crisis pregnancy center whose mission is to talk them out of it.
It’s amazing to me that after 8 years of Republican focus on the war on Terror, their focus turns towards turning the clock back decades for American women. What is behind these reactionaries? What is fueling the fantancism? Why have they suddenly switched strategies?
Instead, lawyers representing their side have been challenging the laws that hurt women most — which are also the ones most likely to sway public opinion back to their side. Can it really be good politics for a state to tell private health insurers what kind of coverage for women’s health they can and can’t provide? Or to take away the money that allows Planned Parenthood to prescribe birth control and treat S.T.D.’s? Quinnipiac and CNN polls from earlier this year both found majority support for continuing government financing of Planned Parenthood. There’s also a clear argument against laws like the ones that permit Virginia to regulate abortion clinics like hospitals or that allow Louisiana to immediately close an abortion clinic for any technical rule violation. In making early abortions more burdensome and costly, these laws take aim at the ordinary version of the procedure that women experience and for which support is greatest. In a 2007 poll, Gallup found that twice as many people favor making late-term abortion illegal than favor overturning Roe (72 percent versus 35 percent).
Abortion rights advocates are also trying to prevent South Dakota from mandating that women wait a full 72 hours for an abortion. This comes on the heels of a lawsuit that challenges the requirement that mandatory counseling include the claim that abortion is linked to an increased risk of suicide (there is no reliable evidence to support this). In Casey, the Supreme Court allowed states to impose only a 24-hour waiting period and to require counseling that accurately explained the stages of fetal development. The South Dakota law is far out enough that when I asked Yoest about it, she said only, “That’s not one of our pieces of legislation.” If the battle reaches the Supreme Court, there’s presumably little chance that Justice Kennedy would sign off on requiring doctors to read a script of made-up data posing as facts.
These are precisely the kinds of cases that lawyers in support of reproductive rights should pursue, because they portray abortion foes as radical. The South Dakota fight shows that in the name of protecting women, abortion opponents are willing to demean them — by forcing them to visit a crisis pregnancy center and listen to unsupported medical claims. (According to a 2006 Congressional investigation, most of these centers give out inaccurate information about abortion’s health effects.)
At this point, there seems to be no organized women’s movement to get us off the defensive and put us back on the offensive. Religious activists have worked hard to ensure that nearly all Republican candidates are not pro-choice. The entire Republican contingent in the U.S. House of Representatives from a solid anti-choice block. It’s time for those of us that support a women’s right to make a decision regarding her own body to go on the offensive. We need to recruit and support more pro-choice candidates.