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Forty Years After Roe, “Choice” No Longer Means Much in Michigan

9:43 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

From my vantage point in Michigan, celebrations of Roe v. Wade‘s 40th anniversary have felt decidedly bittersweet. Earlier this month, Governor Snyder signed HB 5711 into law — Michigan’s anti-abortion super-bill, which will prohibit the telemed prescription of medical abortion, force all women seeking safe abortion care to undergo “coercion screenings,” and enact a number of costly regulations on abortion clinics and providers, inevitably forcing many clinics to close their doors. All of this is in a state that already required a 24-hour waiting period before obtaining an abortion, where minors cannot obtain an abortion without parental consent, and where 87 percent of counties do not have a single abortion provider. The meaning of “choice” here in Michigan — as in many other states in the country — has eroded a great deal since that day 40 years ago when the Roe decision was handed down. How did we end up here? And more importantly, how do we move forward?

Under the language of the Roe v. Wade decision as it was written in 1973, it was extremely difficult for states to pass laws restricting access to abortion care, at least during the first two trimesters of pregnancy. Though the decision fell short of guaranteeing abortion access as a right, it did not allow for state intervention in regulating abortion except in cases where such regulations could be shown to be of clear medical benefit. In 1976, the Hyde amendment dealt a massive blow to abortion access by prohibiting the use of federal Medicaid funds for abortion; in the years between Roe and Hyde, approximately 295,000 abortions annually were paid for with Medicaid funds. With Hyde’s passage, access to abortion instantly became a privilege, out of reach to many who needed it most. But it was not until the early 1990s that state legislatures gained the authority to restrict abortion in the myriad ways that have become so familiar to us today. In the 1992 Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court ruled that states were free to place regulations and restrictions on abortion access so long as those restrictions did not impose an “undue burden” on a woman’s ability to choose. State lawmakers were no longer required to argue that abortion restrictions had medical benefits; on the contrary, they became free to openly acknowledge the ideological basis behind their proposed restrictions on abortion access. Suddenly, it was open season for creating barriers between women and abortion. And the murky question of what, precisely, constitutes an “undue burden” remains open to interpretation.

At the same time as states were granted this far-reaching power, a cultural shift surrounding abortion had taken place. Twenty years after Roe, a generation had come of age taking legal abortion for granted. In the days before Roe, it was necessary for abortion-rights activists to speak of abortion in terms that were bold and affirmative. But in the years that followed, as legal abortion became a given rather than something to fight for, even those who identified as pro-choice began to increasingly speak of abortion as a necessary evil rather than celebrating it as an essential ingredient for women’s equality. Bill Clinton was lauded as the first unabashedly pro-choice president, yet he popularized the now oft-heard refrain that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” Legal abortion was defended most often on the grounds that without it, women would simply be endangered by illegal abortions, either self-inflicted at the hands of “butchers.” This notion — that abortion must remain legal only because it will happen anyway, and it’s safer this way — is a far cry from the notion that women have a right to bodily autonomy, and that without access to safe abortion care, women cannot be entirely free in a world where we cannot control our own reproductive lives. Even Planned Parenthood, when threatened, tends to publicly respond by downplaying its abortion services and focusing instead on the other health services the organization provides. And it is this ambivalent treatment of abortion — as an unpleasant, shameful, but necessarily legal thing — which invites support for all manner of restrictions.

Perhaps nowhere is this ambivalence about abortion as evident as a state like Michigan. We are not a Southern state, known for our biblical conservatism — the kind of environment where extreme restrictions on abortion are expected. We are, in many ways, the quintessential Midwest: blue-collar, working-class, and characterized, if anything, by a desire to be polite and reasonable. We are a state that does not want to rock the boat, that does not want to talk about religion and politics at the dinner table. It is precisely the kind of environment where people want abortion to remain legal, but are generally uncomfortable with the topic, and are easily persuaded that abortion restrictions are simply good common sense. Though at this particular moment we are governed by both a predominantly Republican legislature and a Republican Governor, anti-choice Democrats are easily elected here, and those who do claim to be pro-choice are often still supportive of restricting access to safe abortion care. It was a democratic former Governor, James Blanchard, who signed our parental notification requirement into law. And years later, yet another Democrat, Jennifer Granholm, signed off on the “informed consent” legislation mandating 24-hour waiting periods and requiring that any woman in need of an abortion be given state-produced materials detailing the current developmental stage of the embryo or fetus she is carrying. We are a state, in other words, where the dividing line between “pro-choice” and “anti-choice” is often not so clear, and where that divide certainly does not fall neatly along partisan lines.

For many years now, even many who identify as “pro-choice” have been all too willing to accept any and all abortion restrictions so long as abortion remains at least officially legal. But what does it mean for abortion to be technically legal if it is inaccessible to the majority of women who need it? Many people today don’t realize that legal abortion did take place in America before Roe v. Wade. But obtaining one required the often traumatic and dehumanizing process of going before a hospital “abortion board” to request permission for a legal abortion. Or, alternatively, in the late sixties and early seventies, women with the resources to do so could travel to one of the states where abortion had been legalized pre-Roe. The majority of Americans do not wish to see Roe v. Wade overturned. But the restrictions we are living with today have, in essence, already returned us to a pre-Roe era: one in which legal abortion exists, but is extremely difficult to come by. The purpose of the fight for Roe was not simply to make some abortions available for some women in positions of privilege. The purpose was to make abortion equally available to all women who need them. And the state of Michigan today — along with many other states in the country — falls extremely short of this ideal.

If we are to truly defend abortion rights — not simply preserve legal abortion in an empty sense — we need to reclaim the urgency of those before us who fought to legalize it in the first place. We need to stop treating abortion as a dirty word, but instead be willing to positively affirm it as a vital component of reproductive health care. We need to stop taking abortion access for granted, and to stop living with the illusion that so long as Roe has not been overturned, abortion is available for the women who need it. And we need, finally, to reclaim the dialogue surrounding reproductive rights. Abortion access always has been, and always will be, a key component to women’s equality. And it’s time we get back to speaking boldly about abortion in terms of women’s liberation, not fetal personhood.

If there were actual, serious talk of outright banning abortion in America, I believe there would be a massive outcry of resistance. But we need to realize that, at least in many states, the situation is just this dire. If we are to build the kind of social movement that’s strong enough to fight back against these attacks on reproductive freedom, we must begin by fully recognizing just how serious the consequences of these restrictions are. If we want to honor the legacy of Roe, let’s do so by remembering the spirit and the intent of those who fought for it. Let’s not continue to believe we are honoring Roe by sitting by and allowing it to be stripped of all real meaning. “Choice” means nothing in a world where there is no access. As Michigan faces a future with few remaining clinics, higher abortion costs, and a rapidly increasing list of obstacles women must pass through before being permitted to obtain an abortion, that world without choice is not some far off, conservative dystopia. It is here now. And we must first recognize the severity of the situation we’re in if we are to find a way out.

Five Things I Learned About Abortion by Checking My Assumptions at the Door

12:18 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

This post is part of Still Wading: Forty years of resistance, resilience and reclamation in communities of color, a blog series by Strong Families commemorating the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade.

Originally posted at Colorlines.

Five - Fünf - خمسة - Cinco - Cinq - Пять - पांच - 五 - חמש - Pět

Five

When it comes to the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I have this deep, yet complicated sense of gratitude to people who poured their hearts into the issue of making abortion a legal right. It is humbling to think about all the work that came before this moment in the civil rights, social change, and social justice movements.
As a young woman of color and an activist, it can feel like being a tiny, relatively unimportant drop in a formidable tide of change. But one thing makes me certain I must continue to do this work: somehow, women of color, young women, low-income women, immigrant women, and women in rural areas are still waiting while barriers to sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion, continue to trump legal rights and provision of health services, human dignity, and self-determination.

After college, while working on public policy related to reproductive health, I began to see a gap in the way our institutions treat people of color, and believe that I must do something to help change the situation. I volunteered for ACCESS Women’s Health Justice in 2007, providing rides and housing to women traveling long distances because they could not access abortion services in their area. On a very basic level, I volunteered because, were I to need help, I would want someone to be there for me.

I grew up in a conservative area and had internalized some challenging attitudes about abortion, poverty, and the death penalty — attitudes aligned with policy that worked against my (and my family’s) interests. Still, I discovered that I was ready to drop everything for a friend who needed my help. Eventually, I learned to hold this level of compassion for complete strangers, too.

While volunteering, I had the honor of meeting incredible, resilient women who chose to terminate their pregnancies. The most striking part of this experience was when I realized that despite how seemingly different each woman is, we are also all deeply connected by the human experience, and that I needed to check my assumptions at the door.

Here are some things I learned when I began to leave my assumptions behind.

1) Teens often include their parents and have their parents’ support in making decisions.

One of the first young women who came to stay with me was still in high school. She came to the San Francisco Bay Area on a bus with her mom. They didn’t have a suitcase and had to borrow her mom’s boyfriend’s duffle bag and cell phone to make the journey. The mother was exhausted from a long bus ride from the Central Valley, but she really needed someone to talk to about her daughter. The mother also told me that she got pregnant and had her daughter at her daughter’s age. Things had been difficult raising her daughter, and she wanted a better life for her. At least, she wanted her daughter to have the opportunity that she never had — to graduate from high school. It was hard for her to see her daughter pregnant, feeling sick, and vomiting, knowing that this was only the beginning.

2) Real life is not a movie or a story with a neat conclusion.

The same mother and daughter both called me to say they felt relieved and exhausted after the daughter’s pregnancy termination. They had made it all the way home, but someone stole their bags, including the lunches I packed for them, their clothes, their money, and the mother’s boyfriend’s cell phone. The mother and the daughter were moving forward, but the lost phone and bag seemed like it would put a strain on their relationship with the mom’s boyfriend. I quickly learned that helping someone access abortion services is but one moment in their broader lives.

3) Many women who get an abortion already have kids.
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The Originalist Argument for Abortion Rights: Compulsory Childbearing During Antebellum Slavery and Its Relevance Today

10:03 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Killing the Black Body

In Killing the Black Body, Dorothy Roberts discusses the racist origins of reproductive control over women.

On the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade we can expect to hear the perennial criticism that the Court’s decision is insufficiently grounded in the text of the Constitution. Even among commentators who agree a woman has a fundamental right not to remain pregnant against her will, many are critical of its grounding in the right to privacy, locating it instead in explicit Constitutional guarantees like the right to equal protection before the law. The most vehement critics of Roe, however, are so-called originalists who not only deny there is any right to privacy, but are certain abortion cannot be protected by any constitutional provision based on the “original meaning” of the text.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who famously rejects interpretive methods that entail identifying the values the Constitution protects, purports to instead decide cases based on the meaning of Constitutional text when written. According to Justice Scalia, abortion is an “easy” case. There is no mention of abortion in the Constitution so it can’t be protected. However, in a recent essay, Andrew Koppelman challenges this assertion on originalist grounds: forced reproduction was intrinsic to slavery, which the framers of the Thirteenth Amendment sought to prohibit.

As Dorothy Roberts writes in Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty, “[t]he essence of Black women’s experience during slavery was the brutal denial of autonomy over reproduction.” Female slaves’ ability to produce more slaves was central to the economic interests of slaveowners and, once the importation of slaves was banned, to the perpetuation of the institution of slavery. A woman’s reproductive capacity figured into her price on the market and was as valuable as labor in the fields. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “I consider a woman who brings a child every two years as more profitable than the best man on the farm.”

Slaveowners beat women who did not reproduce or sold them, separating them from their families. Some engaged in slave-breeding, forcing slaves considered “prime stock” to mate in order to produce particularly valuable new slaves for labor or sale. Evidence exists that slaves resisted slaveowners’ demands that they reproduce by using herbal and other makeshift contraceptive and abortive methods. Slaveowners were free to rape slaves with impunity and the children who resulted increased their wealth. A slave women’s child was not her own, but the property of her master. Even prior to conception, a slaveowner held a property interest in a woman’s future children that could be bequeathed by will.

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New Study Shows Anti-Choice Policies Leading to Widespread Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women

2:47 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Read additional 2013 coverage on the personhood of women here.

The full table of contents for Volume 38, No. 2, of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law can be found here. Articles in this edition will be available for public access for a full month here.

Pregnant woman

A new study cites hundreds of instances where pregnancy cost women their constitutional rights.

On Tuesday, January 15th, the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law will publish our study, “Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health.” This study makes clear that post-Roe anti-choice and “pro-life” measures are being used to do more than limit access to abortion; they are providing the basis for arresting women, locking them up, and forcing them to submit to medical interventions, including surgery. The cases documented in our study through 2005, as well as more recent cases, make clear that 40 years after Roe v. Wade was decided, far more is at stake than abortion or women’s reproductive rights. Pregnant women face attacks on virtually every right associated with constitutional personhood, including the very basic right to physical liberty.

Our study identified 413 criminal and civil cases involving the arrests, detentions, and equivalent deprivations of pregnant women’s physical liberty that occurred between 1973 (when Roe v. Wade was decided) and 2005. Because many cases are not reported publicly, we know that this is a substantial under count. Furthermore, new data collection indicates that at least 250 such interventions have taken place since 2005.

In almost all of the cases we identified, the arrests and other actions would not have happened but for the fact that the woman was pregnant at the time of the alleged violation of law. And, in almost every case we identified, the person who initiated the action had no direct legal authority for doing so. No state legislature has passed a law that holds women legally liable for the outcome of their pregnancies. No state legislature has passed a law making it a crime for a pregnant woman to continue her pregnancy to term in spite of a drug or alcohol problem. No state has passed a law exempting pregnant women from the protections of the state and federal constitution. And, under Roe v. Wade, abortion remains legal.

Yet, since 1973, many states have passed feticide measures and laws restricting access to safe abortion care that, like so-called “personhood” measures, encourage state actors to treat eggs, embryos, and fetuses as if they are legally separate from the pregnant woman. We found that these laws have been used as the basis for a disturbing range of punitive state actions in every region of the country and against women of every race, though disproportionately against women in the South, low-income women and African-American women.

Women have been arrested while still pregnant, taken straight from the hospital in handcuffs, and sometimes shackled around the waist and at the ankles. Pregnant women have been held under house arrest and incarcerated in jails and prisons. Pregnant women have been held in locked psychiatric wards, as well as in hospitals and in drug treatment programs under 24-hour guard. They have been forced to undergo intimate medical exams and blood transfusions over their religious objections. Women have been forced to submit to cesarean surgery. They have been arrested shortly after giving birth while dressed only in hospital gowns. And, despite claims by some anti-choice activists that women themselves will not be arrested if abortion is re-criminalized, women who have ended their pregnancies and had abortions are already being arrested.

Consider the following:

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Response to Time: What Choice? OUR Choice

2:09 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

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

Time cover of a chair with stirrups

Time Magazine's recent cover story on the dwindling right to choose.

It is always exciting when one of our colleagues is featured in an important article such as Time Magazine’s Cover article What Choice? Many thanks to Abortion Care Network member Tammi Kromenaker and all her staff and patients at the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, ND for inviting this journalist into their daily routine and letting her see firsthand both the caring provided by an independent abortion provider, and the ridiculous hoops that patients have to jump through. Tammi made sure that the journalist understood some of the complex reasons that women choose abortion. Pickert noted that when a patient wasn’t sure about her choice she was given more time to consider what she wanted to do. She shared many statistics that the public may not be aware of, for example that independent clinics provide the majority of abortions, and that most of the women who have abortions already have children.

But I was sorry to see that, like so much journalism, this article seemed determined to focus on conflict and failure, rather than on the extraordinary energy and transformative gifts of the movement for women’s reproductive choice have yielded over these past forty years.

I know Kate Pickert had access to another perspective of the movement because I had a lengthy interview with her. I shared the fact that there is really nothing new about the Reproductive Justice concept — that what the early women’s movement worked for was a panoply of changes including access to excellent child care; health care; housing; freedom from violence; access to credit; equal pay; progressive divorce laws; an end to forced sterilization; access to understandable consent information for any medical procedures; safe birth control; and, yes, safe and legal abortion. Of course we didn’t see abortion as separate from other aspects of women’s’ lives. What we wanted is what we still want — a society that supports the ability of women to make real choices about their lives — not one in which women have children they don’t want to have because they don’t have access to abortion; or have abortions they don’t want because they can’t afford to have children. I acknowledged that over the years political and legal attacks on abortion have backed us into a corner in which we have often felt we have to protect the most fundamental right to an abortion, and the movement for Reproductive Justice reminds us that we cannot sacrifice any of our fundamental rights without putting them all in jeopardy.

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