A volatile year for women’s reproductive rights continues. Tom Price, Donald Trump’s recent pick for Health Secretary is a vehement critic of the Affordable Care Act and he joins Vice President-elect, Mike Pence, in his goal to defund Planned Parenthood. While there will be much to fear at the federal level after January 20th, it is state governments that are currently the biggest threat to the right to choose. Buoyed by Donald Trump’s conservative cabinet appointments and his vow to appoint a pro-life Supreme Court justice, several states have recommenced their attacks on abortion access. In Texas last week a new law was passed that stipulates that hospitals, health centers, and abortion providers may no longer treat fetal remains as medical waste and must provide cremations or burials for the fetal remains of women who have abortions or miscarriages (no matter the gestation period). Yesterday in Ohio, a bill reached the governor’s desk that would ban abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is often as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. If passed this “Heartbeat Bill” would be the strictest time-based anti-abortion law in the country.
Stay informed about reproductive rights. Read below to learn about what’s happening in Texas, Alaska, Missouri, North Carolina, and Ohio.
Texas has seen various ups and downs this year in the fight to defend the right to choose. On June 27th, in a 5 to 3 ruling, the Supreme Court threw out HB 2, a 2013 Texas TRAP (Target Regulation of an Abortion Provider) law that imposed stringent regulations on abortion clinics in Texas. Conditions of H.B.2. included holding clinics to hospital-like standards and stipulated that doctors performing abortions had to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Although anti-abortion advocates maintained that the restrictive rules were for the protection and safety of women, the amount of money that it costs to upgrade clinics to meet the requirements of the law meant that half of the clinics in Texas were forced to close.
The Supreme Court ruling against H.B.2. was a giant victory for the reproductive rights of Texan women. However, in the same month the fetal remains law was proposed in the state. Since June, more than 35,000 comments were submitted to health officials in Texas concerning the fetal remains law but on November 28th, Governor Greg Abbot Texas signed the law into effect. Abortion rights advocates view the bill as the latest transparent attempt to criminalize abortion and many in the medical industry fear the law’s financial implications.
Burials and cremations can cost up to several thousand dollars each. Keeping in line with the T.R.A.P law trend we could infer that mounting costs of burials could lead to the closure of clinics. The state’s Health and Human Services Commission maintains that fetal remains rules will lead to “enhanced protection of the health and safety of the public.” However there is not concrete evidence to back this claim. As the the law does not apply to abortions or miscarriages that take place at home it could in theory contribute to a decline in health and safety. Faced with the prospect of a mandated fetal burial, some women may choose to try and seek abortions outside of proper medical settings, a decision that often has dire medical consequences.
In reality the fetal remains law is yet another religious attack on abortion that makes an incredibly tough decision and situation even harder for women. Abbot has made clear for months that his “LIFE Initiative, ” which includes the fetal remains law, is based on his own beliefs. In a fundraising email addressing his supporters he wrote, “I believe it is imperative to establish higher standards that reflect our respect for the sanctity of life. This is why Texas will require clinics and hospitals to bury or cremate human and fetal remains….My “LIFE Initiative” will enact changes like this to help make Texas the strongest pro-life state in the nation.” The new law will go into effect on December 19th and is sure to set a long battle of litigation in motion. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas and the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) have both said that they are prepared to take legal action against the law.
ALASKA, MISSOURI, & NORTH CAROLINA
Meanwhile the ACLU and the CRR have joined forces with Planned Parenthood to defend abortion access in Alaska, Missouri, and North Carolina. On November 30th in an online statement written by Jaweer Brown, the ACLU’s Communications Manager for Reproductive Rights, the organization officially announced that they have filed three separate legal challenges to anti-abortion measures in the states. Currently Alaska and Missouri have enacted T.R.A.P laws that have led to clinic closures. In Alaska regulations mandate that clinics are prepared with the equipment and staff for “major surgery.” The unclear requirements mean that practicing clinicians are unaware of what violates the regulations. Missouri currently has a law similar to the now failed HB 2 bill in Texas, which requires clinics to maintain “hospital-like standards,” a requirement that was too costly for most clinics to adhere to so now only one licensed provider is available to the women in the state. In North Carolina, a law is in effect that bans almost all abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, with very few exceptions.
Ohio is vying with Alaska, Missouri, North Carolina, and Texas to become the strictest anti-abortion state in the country. Yesterday HB 69, the “Heartbeat Bill,” was passed by the state legislature. It is now waiting to be signed into action by Ohio Governor and former Repulican presidential candidate, John Kasich, who has ten days to approve or veto. If approved, the bill would have disastrous effects on abortion access in the state as it would criminalize abortions performed after a fetal heartbeat is detectable, which could be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Many woman do not even know they are pregnant before six weeks and most birth defects can only be detected further into a pregnancy (including the Zika induced, Microcephaly, which is best detected via ultrasound at around twenty-eight weeks). Physicians who perform abortions after a heartbeat is detected or who fail to check for one could face a year in prison.
The “Heartbeat Bill” was tacked onto an unrelated child abuse bill, HB 493, at the last minute. Controversial bills are often folded into more easily passible legislation but the pairing of the anti-abortion bill with the child abuse bill is a disturbingly ironic example of this practice because the “Heartbeat Bill” does not include exceptions for abortions in the case of incest or rape. Similar bills had been considered by Ohio state legislators in other years but failed to pass the senate. However, now that we are moving out of the Obama years and into the reign of Trump, state legislators are more confident in their ability to pass such amendments. Following the vote to pass the “Heartbeat Bill,” Ohio Senate President, Keith Faber stated, “A new President, new Supreme Court justice appointees change the dynamic, there was a consensus in our caucus to move forward…I think it has a better chance than it had before.”
It is unclear whether Governor Kasich will pass the “Heartbeat Bill.” In the past he has expressed doubt as to whether such a law would be constitutional, however, his political record paints him as staunchly anti-abortion, although he has stated that there should be exceptions for rape or incest. While many Republicans and Democrats would have preferred Kasich to Trump for president, the Ohio Governor is actually much more clearcut on his pro-life stance. When it comes to reproductive rights, Kasich’s political record is almost as threatening to women as that of Vice President-elect, Mike Pence, who cut Planned Parenthood funding in Indiana and believes there is a difference between normal rape and “forcible rape.” Since 2011, Kasich has signed sixteen measures that cut funds for organizations that provided family planning and abortions. In his time as governor, almost half of the Ohio clinics that provided abortions have closed.
— ACLU of Ohio (@acluohio) December 7, 2016
Even if he does not pass the “Heartbeat Bill, “there is another anti-abortion measure in Ohio that is vying for space on the governor’s desk. SB 127 is another time-based abortion ban. It would criminalize most abortions after twenty weeks (currently Ohio’s limit is twenty-four weeks). It has been passed by the Senate is currently waiting to be voted on in the House of Representatives.
If Kasich does approve the “Heartbeat Bill” it would go into law early in 2017. Next year may end up being an extremely busy year for the ACLU, the Ohio chapter of the organization has vowed to take legal measures against the bill if it were to go into effect.
Sign a petition to Kasich to veto the “Heartbeat Bill” here and support the organizations that are fighting to product women’s reproductive rights. Head over to the official websites of Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union, to learn about how you can help.
*Update: As of December 13th, Senator Kasich vetoed the “Hearbeat Bill” but signed SB 127, the twenty-week ban.
-Jasmine Williams for The Untitled Magazine