The escalating state-by-state attacks on reproductive rights these past few days, weeks, and months have us in a momentary state of shocked paralysis. It was one thing to write last year about where things were headed in theory; the reality, now that it is arriving on a daily basis, is still a horrific surprise. While we gather our wits and energy, we are so grateful to all the activists and organizations who have not paused for a second and are already deep in the fray, bringing lawsuits, protesting, forming help networks, donating to abortion access funds, and, yes, writing. We were especially touched to read the personal story of Carla Nordstrom in Huffpost Personal today. Ms. Nordstrom was a client of the Clergy Consultation Service who obtained an abortion in Pittsburgh–though this doctor certainly would have been removed from their referral list if anyone reported his dirty instruments. Thank you to the author and to all who are finding the strength to share their abortion stories, whether at length or in a #YouKnowMe tweet. For resources and ways to help, we recommend Robin Marty’s very practical Handbook for a Post-Roe America (Seven Stories Press, 2019), and we will be back in the fight by Monday morning, we promise.
Ohio’s legislature has passed a bill to ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Well, that’s at about 6 weeks, before many women even know that they are pregnant, so the effect is that abortion will be banned in Ohio. As we all know, that doesn’t mean that people won’t seek and find abortions however they can . . . it just makes those abortions much more dangerous.
New governor Mike DeWine has already vowed to sign the legislation.
Our opinion piece on the subject, with a short but instructive history of the Clergy Consultation Service’s experience, appears in the Cincinnati Enquirer today.
The election of Tuesday, November 6, brought mixed results for reproductive justice. Women–including many women of color–were elected to office around the country, and the House now has a Democratic majority. However, the Senate remains Republican, and thus retains power over judgeships.
Citizens in three states also voted on ballot measures that would create “trigger laws”–state laws or constitutional amendments that would take effect if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, leaving abortion regulation to states. In two of the three states–Alabama and West Virginia–the trigger laws passed, meaning that if Roe falls, abortion will become illegal or much less accessible in those states. Alabama’s law has even broader implications as it assigns embryos and fetuses “personhood” status. Oregon voters voted against a proposed trigger law. For details, see Macaela Mackenzie in her Glamour article and Irin Carmon in The Cut.
Meanwhile, an NBC exit poll taken on election day showed that two-thirds of voters favor keeping the Roe decision as the law of the land.
Photo: © Can Stock Photo / slickspics
The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled, 5-4, that so-called crisis pregnancy centers–places that are set up to look like medical clinics but usually don’t offer medical care and exist solely to dissuade women from getting abortion care–cannot be required to post a statement disclosing what they really are and how women can find actual abortion providers. California’s disclosure law had been upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court.
But the Supreme Court, in a majority opinion written by Justice Clarence Thomas, based its decision on the First Amendment, saying the law “targets speakers, not speech, and imposes an unduly burdensome disclosure requirement that will chill their protected speech.”
The court’s support of free speech rights for these specious crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) poses a question in our minds: If CPC staff have free speech rights and cannot be required to provide particular, legally-prescribed information to their clients, then the same must be true for actual medical professionals, right? Doctors, nurses, and counselors who provide abortion care are currently required in some states to read particular statements to their patients–and some of these legally-required statements contain outright lies. There are state laws requiring doctors to tell their patients that abortion may result in “post-abortion stress syndrome” (fictional), fetal pain (untrue), breast cancer (no), and other ill effects for which there is no evidence, or that a medication abortion can be reversed (not shown). Surely, forcing clinic staff to provide these particular, legally-prescribed statements to their patients violates their First Amendment rights.
We’d love to hear from some lawyers on this.
Photo (c) Can Stock Photo / slickspics
While one of us—D.A.—lives in the relative reproductive freedom of Canada, Pat lives in Ohio, a state that is sliding backwards in time and policy at an alarming rate and is threatening to drag the rest of the country along with it.
The latest in a string of bills that endanger women is Ohio HB 565, a fetal personhood bill that would make abortion at any stage murder, with no exception for cases of rape, incest, or danger to the woman. A total abortion ban, with a charge of murder attached. Oh, and did we mention that Ohio has the death penalty? “Pro-life” is apparently a malleable term.
Even the legislators (18 men and 2 women, names here for Ohio voters) who have sponsored the bill must know that its chances of passing and being signed—even by Gov. John Kasich—are slim. But, as the New York Times editorial board points out, such an outrageous bill can serve to make other, almost-as-radical bills seem reasonable by comparison.
On March 23, 2018, Jessie Hill, Judge Ben C. Green Professor of Law at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, who has served as attorney for Planned Parenthood, Preterm (an abortion provider in Cleveland), and the Ohio ACLU in reproductive rights cases, spoke at the ACLU in Cleveland about this and other recent abortion bills and laws in Ohio. It was a sobering recitation.
The Ohio legislature has passed—and Gov. Kasich has signed—legislation that prevents women from seeking an abortion because of Down syndrome. It’s a law that does nothing to improve access to resources for families of children with Down syndrome; it merely restricts women’s freedom to make their own reproductive decisions and to consult freely with their doctors. The Ohio ACLU and Planned Parenthood have won a preliminary injunction against the law, but the state will appeal.
A complete ban on dilation and extraction (D&E), the most common 2nd-trimester abortion procedure, has been proposed in the Ohio legislature. In effect, that’s a ban on any outpatient abortion after 13 weeks. Ohio is likely to pass the ban, Prof. Hill said, in spite of the fact that similar laws have been struck down in other states.
TRAP laws (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) have been highly effective in Ohio. In 1999, Ohio had 22 clinics that provided abortions; today there are only eight, and three are at risk of closing. Prof. Hill says that Cincinnati could become the largest metropolitan area in the country without an abortion provider. Although many clinics have been able to comply with requirements for ambulatory surgical facilities—way beyond what is needed for safety—some have not been able to get written transfer agreements with nearby hospitals. That’s because Ohio law does not permit public hospitals to make such agreements with abortion providers; Catholic hospitals refuse them, of course; and in recent years Catholic hospital systems have acquired many other private hospitals which then must comply with their religious restrictions on abortion. In Cincinnati, even The Jewish Hospital is now part of the Catholic Mercy Health system and so cannot provide a written transfer agreement with the remaining Planned Parenthood clinic. Of course, the transfer agreements are simply a ruse to close clinics; any hospital emergency room is required to treat a woman who needs emergency care. An initial challenge to the written transfer law was unsuccessful; Planned Parenthood has another in court right now.
A “heartbeat bill”—a ban on any abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be heard—is under consideration in the Ohio legislature again, in spite of the fact that Gov. Kasich vetoed a similar bill more than a year ago. Since a heartbeat can be heard at around six weeks after conception, the ban would be in effect before many women even know they are pregnant.
Around the country, states face the same kinds of challenges to women’s reproductive rights. The ACLU, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and other organizations and individual clinics are fighting the fight in legislatures and in court. From these cases, Prof. Hill pointed out one positive sign from the Supreme Court of the United States: in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the court ruled that states cannot place restrictions on abortion providers that impose an undue burden for women who seek abortion. The crucial part of that decision, Hill said, is that courts must balance the benefits of such restrictions against the burdens they cause—and, most importantly, that there must be evidence of the health and safety benefit of those restrictions. On that basis, there’s a clear path to fight TRAP laws and other such restrictions that offer no safety benefit at all.
If, in the panic after the 2016 election, you offered support to the ACLU and other such organizations for their legal work, please don’t forget to renew your support now. (Links above.) There’s a long legal road ahead in Ohio and around the country.
Photo: Ohio Statehouse, Columbus, OH © Can Stock Photo / tank_bmb
“Religious Freedom” is a catchphrase beloved by social conservatives, usually as a way to claim a right to refuse to care for or serve gay or trans people, or to refuse to provide legal medical services such as abortion. But real religious freedom must include the rights of people of any or no religion both to provide any legal service and to receive services and care to which they are entitled.
A reminder of this: The Washington Post’s Julie Zauzmer reports that area clergy recently gathered outside a Bethesda, Maryland, abortion clinic–one of the few remaining places where women can obtain a late-term abortion–to pray in support of the clinic’s patients and care providers. Rev. Carlton Veazey, a Baptist minister and past president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights, said, “The Supreme Court affirmed a woman’s right to choose an abortion. But before the Supreme Court did it, God had already done it, because it affirms a woman’s moral agency.”
The positive support of these ministers and rabbis is uplifting. But Zauzmer’s article ends with a dark reminder of the violence that abortion providers, supporters, and patients face from terrorists claiming to be “pro-life”: Dr. LeRoy Carhart, the physician who runs the Bethesda clinic, is a person of faith who has been forced to stop attending regular church services. Zausmer writes, “Carhart said he believes in God ‘very strongly,’ but he stopped going to his Methodist church when his pastor told him he was risking his safety by predictably appearing in the pews every week. . . . But even without church, he feels he is living out his faith by helping women through what is often the worst time of their lives — the illness or other devastating circumstance that leads them to his office. ‘I think in itself, that’s religious,’ he said. Most days, though, he doesn’t have a clinic full of clergy in their vestments to back up his viewpoint.” #ReligiousFreedom?
So many gems to recommend in the August 4 episode of the NPR program “On the Media,” which devotes itself entirely to the topic of abortion . . . Host Brooke Gladstone talks with with Harvard historian (and New Yorker writer) Jill Lepore about the 1950s and ’60s, when it was generally Republicans who favored access to contraception and abortion–and how that changed. Then Gladstone speaks with Sherri Chessen, now 85, about the obstacles she faced in 1962 when she, a “Romper Room” program host then known as Sherri Finkbine, sought an abortion after taking thalidomide during pregnancy. Chessen went public in order to warn other women of the dangers of the drug; she wound up setting of a media firestorm. Chessen speaks eloquently about her experience and its ramifications. Then the wonderful Dr. Leah Torres, a Utah OB/GYN describes with sanity and humor how she has dealt with restrictive state abortion laws, requirements that she provide patients with incorrect information, and the state legislators who made those laws. Finally, scholar Dorothy Roberts, author of Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty, gives one of the most compelling explanations we’ve heard for why reproductive justice, a term framed by women of color to encompass much more than just the legality of abortion, should replace the term pro-choice. We touched upon all of these topics in To Offer Compassion, and Brooke Gladstone has provided depth and color commentary. Highly recommended.