When Gov. Phil Bryant of Mississippi, a 53-year-old Republican man, delivered his State of the State address in 2014, he said, “On this unfortunate anniversary of Roe v. Wade, my goal is to end abortion in Mississippi.” Last month, Bryant signed into law the Gestational Age Act, which bans abortion after 15 weeks (when the fetus is about four inches long and, according to the pregnancy resource “What to Expect,” “the eyes are moving from the sides of the head to the front of the face”) “except in medical emergency and in cases of severe fetal abnormality,” making no exception for rape or incest. A judge has temporarily blocked the law, citing its “dubious constitutionality.”
Incidentally, in exchange for his public service, Bryant earns a taxpayer-funded salary of $122,160 a year. People in Bryant’s income bracket who find themselves needing or wanting an abortion after 15 weeks might not think it overly burdensome to travel out of state for medical care. As long as Roe v. Wade stays intact, people of means in any state will have the option to terminate a wanted but tragically nonviable pregnancy safely, will be able to reclaim dominion over their bodies after a rape, will retain access to the full scope of health care, will be free to decide what’s best for their futures.
But the median household income in Mississippi, as of 2016, was $40,528. Those without money do not deserve to be less free.
Conventional understanding of pro-choice politics tends to fixate on Roe v. Wade as the center of the fight for abortion rights. But though Roe faces genuine peril down the road if the Trump administration gets another Supreme Court appointment, state-level restrictions that aim to shut down abortion clinics are chipping away at the rights of millions of Americans this second. Legality doesn’t mean much without access. If abortion and reproductive health care are important to you, this is your fight.
“Currently, seven states have only one abortion care provider,” said Nikki Madsen, executive director of the Abortion Care Network. In five of those states — Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming — independent abortion care providers (clinics that are not hospitals, private physicians’ offices or national organizations like Planned Parenthood) operate the only clinic available. In four others — Arkansas, Oklahoma, Georgia and Nevada — independent clinics are the only facilities providing surgical abortions. “Without independent providers, abortion access in these four states would be limited to medication abortion within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy,” she said. According to data from the Abortion Care Network, nearly 30 percent of independent clinics closed between 2012 and 2017.
A pending lawsuit will decide whether Kentucky can shut down its single clinic and become the first state in the nation with no clinics at all. West Virginia’s only clinic is under similar attack from its Legislature. Each time a clinic closes, patients in that region are displaced, sometimes forced to travel hundreds of miles for care — an endeavor that might require missing work (and losing wages) on top of the cost of food, gas, lodging, child care and potentially the procedure itself.
“For women without means, women who live in rural areas or areas that don’t have providers, or states that are very hostile, they have to jump through hoops that no one has to jump through for any other kind of medical care,” said David S. Cohen, a professor at Drexel University’s Kline School of Law, on the undue burden placed on patients. “They have to wait, they have their judgment questioned, they have to be told about phony science, they have to get their parents’ permission if they’re minors, they have to go before a judge if they don’t want to do that, they have their procedure options restricted.” At last, if they manage to traverse all those hoops and find a clinic that has managed to stay open, they’re often harassed by a gauntlet of extremists just for approaching the building.
“Growing up, the wise older women in my community in the South, when there would be a civil rights setback, one of the things they would say is, ‘In times like these, there have always been times like these,’” said Dr. Willie Parker, the author of “Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice,” and an obstetrician and gynecologist who performs abortions throughout the South. “Which is to say that people who do this work, they understand that this assault on reproductive rights is incessant. However, as long as clinics are open, people endeavor to be there to provide the services that women are showing up for, and when there’s a challenge to the viability of a clinic, those of us who can step up and participate in the legal mechanisms to push back on those restrictions.”
Mississippi’s remaining abortion clinic, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights that challenges the Gestational Age Act as well as dozens of other restrictions aimed at obliterating access to abortion for the state’s most vulnerable populations. Broadly speaking, these restrictions fall into two categories: gestational bans like the 15-week limit and what are known as TRAP laws, or Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, intended to burden abortion clinics with financially and logistically onerous bureaucracy. Before the Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt struck it down in 2016, the TRAP law HB2 closed over half of the abortion clinics in Texas. Only a few have managed to reopen.
So how is it constitutional to deny people access to a constitutional right? That’s what lawsuits like the one filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights in Mississippi aim to argue, according to Cohen, who also sits on the board of the Abortion Care Network. The Whole Woman’s Health decision will, hopefully, be a fruitful tool for challenging state policy — it argued that an overly burdensome law with no clear medical benefit or state interest should be unconstitutional. “That’s what the Center for Reproductive Rights and other organizations are trying to weaponize,” Cohen explained.
But “overly burdensome” is subjective, and, Cohen pointed out, plaintiffs face a chasm of privilege in the upper courts. “From their lofted perch, these things don’t seem difficult,” he said. “Waiting another 24 hours, to a justice in Washington, D.C., who’s always had access to the best health care, it’s no big deal. Talking to your parents, when, you know, these people are in their 60s, 70s, 80s, that doesn’t seem like a big deal. Having to drive a couple hours. That doesn’t seem like a big deal. Because it’s not the world they know.”
It can be easy if you’re a progressive living in a progressive coastal city to fall into your own privilege gap — to say, “I believe in abortion, and I’ll fight for Roe when the time comes,” then feel like you’ve done your pro-choice due diligence and overlook regressive legislation in places far from where you live. But having the choice of if, when and how to fight is, in itself, a monumental privilege. The right to abortion is not intact — it needs defending now — if it is not accessible to all. If you opt out of the fight when rights are being stripped from impoverished women, rural women, women of color, women who are far away from you, but envision yourself charging in if the right wing ever comes for people like you, you’re not fighting for a principle — you’re fighting for yourself.
Donate money to clinics and abortion funds. Donate time as a clinic escort. Bother your local and state representatives. Go to medical or nursing school and become an abortion care provider. Fight to dismantle abortion stigma in your family and community (the real political long game is culture change). Madsen said that because of stigma, it can be difficult to find professionals — “plumbers, website consultants, contractors” — to do work for independent clinics at fair prices. Can you build a website? Unclog a pipe? Reach out and ask what providers in your community need.
And vote. Vote in every primary and every general election.
“We can lament that laws are passing,” Dr. Parker said, “but if you’re not voting — I really don’t want to hear people talking about, or going to rallies or going to marches, if you’re not voting.”
via New York Times https://nyti.ms/2gVZ2VB
April 11, 2018 at 01:03PM