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Losing the Right to Abortion, Week by Week: Restrictions on Later-Term Abortions Harm Women

7:21 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Susan Yanow for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

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The landscape for access to abortion is shifting quickly, as state after state passes restrictive laws. Particularly affected by these new laws are women who need abortions later in their pregnancies.

In April 2010, Nebraska became the first state in the country to pass a restriction on abortion after 20 weeks, based on an unscientific claim that fetuses feel pain after 20 weeks gestation. The Nebraska law banned abortions after 20 weeks for any reason except if the pregnant woman’s life is in danger. Prior to the passage of this law in Nebraska, there were 21 states (plus the District of Columbia) where abortion was available after 20 weeks. Although in most of these states these services were dependent on one site and one physician, nonetheless the services existed. Since April 2010, legislation limiting abortions to 20 weeks has been signed into law in Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma and North Carolina. Bills making access to later abortion more difficult were passed in Missouri and Ohio.

Arizona’s lawmakers have gone even further. Although the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalized abortion through the second trimester, generally understood as 24 to 26 weeks, Arizona has redefined biology and the right to abortion. Last week Arizona signed into law new restrictions on abortion after 18 weeks. By any calculation, 18 weeks is the middle of the second trimester, and mid-pregnancy. The trimester construction of Roe is becoming irrelevant in many states.

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Now It’s Clear: “Pro-Life” Means “Pro-Imprisonment”

8:04 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Lynn Paltrow & Emma S. Ketteringham for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Last week, the Alabama Supreme Court agreed to consider an amicus (friend of the court) brief filed by the Liberty Counsel in support of the prosecutions of Hope Ankrom and Amanda Kimbrough. The Liberty Counsel describes itself as an organization whose mission includes protecting “the inalienable right to life guaranteed to all, including unborn children.” While a number of “pro-life” leaders claim that recognizing the rights of the unborn and re-criminalizing abortion should not and will not lead to the arrest or punishment of women, the Liberty Counsel has clearly and unequivocally taken the position that “restoring the historic right to life accorded to unborn children” requires that women, including new mothers who have given birth, go to prison.

Ms. Ankrom and Ms. Kimbrough are two of approximately 60 women who have been arrested under Alabama’s 2006 Chemical Endangerment law. The overwhelming majority of these women have given birth to healthy babies.

The Chemical Endangerment law originally was passed to create special penalties for people who bring children into methamphetamine labs. Despite the law’s clear purpose, prosecutors have argued, and the Alabama’s mid-level Court of Criminal Appeals has agreed, that the law may also be used to arrest and jail women who become pregnant, eschew abortion, and go to term, despite having used a controlled substance. In other words, the Court of Appeals has ruled that under Alabama’s Chemical Endangerment law a pregnant woman who has never been to a meth lab and who has never brought a child into a meth lab, can be punished for bringing a child into the world if she tests positive for a controlled substance—even one prescribed to her by her doctor. 

According to the Liberty Counsel, the “convictions of the Defendants under the chemical endangerment law properly protect unborn children as preborn human beings. . . .” Forty-seven medical, public health and legal advocacy groups and individuals, who filed their own amicus brief in these cases, disagree. 

These organizations and experts, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Nurses Association, have concluded that using the criminal law to address issues of drug use during pregnancy undermines, rather than protects, “unborn children.” One reason is that threats of arrest have been shown to deter pregnant women from drug treatment and prenatal and other healthcare that can help ensure maternal, fetal, and child health. Furthermore, if these prosecutions continue, pregnant women who are addicted to drugs and who cannot overcome that addiction in the short term of pregnancy will be pressured into having unwanted abortions to avoid criminal penalties. That is what happened in the Greywind case, in which a pregnant woman had an abortion in order to get the state of North Dakota to drop “fetal endangerment” charges against her.

So why would a group that claims to value life urge Alabama’s highest court to uphold an interpretation of the chemical endangerment law that coerces women into having abortions and punish the ones who don’t?

The answer, perhaps, lies in the Liberty Counsel’s brief that purports to document the historic view that the “unborn child is fully human” and protected by law. This brief references 19th century anti-abortion activists who firmly believed that the only proper role for women (white ones at least) is as wives and mothers. The Liberty Counsel’s brief quotes with approval one such activist who asserted that a woman who even considers having an abortion “. . .demoralizes her whole moral being. It is a prostitution of all her higher nature.”  

Whatever the Liberty Counsel’s reasons, this “pro-life” group argues that the Alabama Supreme Court “should uphold the convictions and thereby move toward restoration of the life-affirming worldview that predated Roe.” It is difficult, however, to see what is “life-affirming” about hauling off to jail new mothers who just gave birth and leaving their children motherless? Penalties under the Chemical Endangerment law range from not less than 1-year-and-1-day to up to 99 years (life) in prison.

Since 2005, National Advocates for Pregnant Women has documented hundreds of cases in Alabama and elsewhere in which women have been arrested for allegedly endangering their pregnancies including: Christine Taylor in Iowa who was charged with attempted fetal homicide after she fell down a flight of stairs while pregnant, Jennie McCormick in Idaho who was charged with having an illegal abortion, and Bei Bei Shuai in Indiana who has been charged with murder for suffering a pregnancy loss after a suicide attempt. 

The Liberty Counsel has established that the “pro-life” position is “pro-punishment,” not just for doctors who perform abortions, and not just for women who intentionally end their pregnancies and have abortions, but also for pregnant women who have no intention of ending their pregnancies and go to term.

Feminists for Life has, apparently, distinguished itself from this point of view. But what about all of the other groups including Priests for Life, Generations for Life, and Americans United for Life that have assured the public that women will not go to jail if their point of view becomes law? If “pro-life” does not mean “pro-imprisonment,” now would be a good time to speak up and stop the growing assault on the dignity, sanctity, and liberty of the women who bring forth life.

Where are they?

In Missouri, Legislators Fail to Protect Women’s Basic Rights, Undermining Justice for All

8:11 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Pamela Merritt for RHRealityCheck.org. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

On July 14, 2011, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon allowed two identical abortion restriction bills to become law. In a bizarre move toward the end of the 2011 legislative session, Missouri legislators passed two versions of the same restriction bill, one originally filed in the Senate and the other in the House. The passage of identical abortion restriction bills was likely fueled by more than one legislator wanting to take credit.

Often erroneously reported as banning abortions after 20 weeks gestation, HB213 & SB65 can more accurately be described as eliminating certain health exceptions that protected women facing serious pregnancy-related complications. The legislation changes the factors physicians must consider before performing a post-viability abortion and creates criminal penalties for physicians not following the new regulations. Governor Nixon, a Democrat who successfully ran as a pro-choice candidate in 2008, did not sign the abortion restriction bills into law nor did he veto the legislation.  The identical abortion restriction bills automatically became law once the July 14, 2011 veto deadline passed.

Reproductive justice advocates had hoped that Governor Nixon would veto the abortion restriction bills. In the weeks leading up to the 2011 veto deadline, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published an editorial that called on the Governor to do just that and send a message to state legislators that it is time to get serious and cease treating women’s health like a political football. The Post-Dispatch editorial points out that Missouri’s annual legislative pander to anti-choice special interest groups in lieu of focusing on prevention is both fiscally irresponsible and hypocritical; unintended pregnancies cost tax payers billions, while reducing the number of unintended pregnancies would also reduce the number of abortions. But as the hours ticked by Thursday July 14th it became clear that the Governor was not going to capitalize on this leadership opportunity to send a message through his veto.

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