Yesterday, the Arkansas state legislature used their ability to override a veto by Gov. Mike Beebe to implement the harshest abortion restrictions in the nation. The restrictions, which prohibit abortions after 12 weeks, and the latest in a string of incidents in which state legislatures, dominated by (male) republican politicians, are assaulting women’s access to healthcare.
In the 50 states combined, legislators introduced more than 1,100 reproductive health and rights-related provisions, a sharp increase from the 950 introduced in 2010. By year’s end, 135 of these provisions had been enacted in 36 states, an increase from the 89 enacted in 2010 and the 77 enacted in 2009. (Note: This analysis refers to reproductive health and rights-related “provisions,” rather than bills or laws, since bills introduced and eventually enacted in the states contain multiple relevant provisions.)
Fully 68% of these new provisions—92 in 24 states—-restrict access to abortion services, a striking increase from last year, when 26% of new provisions restricted abortion. The 92 new abortion restrictions enacted in 2011 shattered the previous record of 34 adopted in 2005.
2012 kept up that feverish pace, and 2013 is off to its own awful start. All states except for Oregon now limit abortion access, and along with the Arkansas legislature’s action, we also saw Idaho’s ban on abortions after 20 weeks (which was just struck down, thankfully) and the last abortion clinic in Mississippi in danger of closing. Mississippi’s 2011 personhood bill failed, but another personhood bill, crafted by the very same backers, has just been filed again for legislation. Virginia adopted restrictive regulations for facilities providing abortions and for those wishing to receive abortions, including:
A woman must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided.
Health plans that will be offered in the state’s health exchange that will be established under the federal health care reform law can only cover abortion in cases when the woman’s life is endangered, rape or incest.
Abortion is covered in insurance policies for public employees only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest or fetal impairment
The parent of a minor must consent and be notified before an abortion is provided.
Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape, incest or fetal impairment.
A woman must undergo an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion; the provider must offer her the option to view the image. If the woman lives within 100 miles of the abortion provider she must obtain the ultrasound at least 24 hours before the abortion.
Let’s be clear about this: these restrictions are blatantly unconstitutional because they place an undue burden on women in obtaining access to abortion. Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which has been consistently upheld, forbids any restriction of abortion prior to viability. They fail to take into account the hurdles that women, especially poor women and women of color face in obtaining access even if abortion is still technically legal. It’s not an accidental oversight, either. Politicians are crafting these restrictions in a deliberate effort to undercut women’s access to healthcare. In the aftermath of a presidential election defined by women’s ability to access reproductive healthcare and in a social environment where the issue is still hotly debated, there can be no doubt of this fact.
These restrictions are not in line with any desire to protect life, as the chart below illustrates.
Furthermore, if these policies are crafted from a desire to legislate their interpretation of Judeo-Christian morality, whose official stance on the issue is hardly consistent and has changed greatly over time, that only speaks to the unconstitutionality of these measures. The concept of freedom of religion, the implicit freedom from religion, and the preclusion of the governmental establishment of religion are enshrined in our bill of rights.
The issue is not whether or not life begins at conception, although there’s hardly a consensus on that, anyway. The issue is women having autonomy over their own bodies and being able to access the health that they need to pursue a happy, healthy life, which is defined as a universal human right. And while certainly those whose life is in danger or who were victims of rape or incest should receive special attention, we should not frame the debate around which circumstances are acceptable for a woman to exercise control over her own body – she always has that authority and no one else can claim it. Period.
Bills like this are unacceptable and their harm is immense and immediate even if abortion technically remains illegal. These restrictions are not hurdles which prevent women from making rash decisions (which is a sexist, paternalistic thing to assume of a woman seeking an abortion anyway) but rather they are brick walls erected by bureaucrats to cut off access that women need to essential reproductive healthcare – access which is their right as a human being.