Tag Archives: reproductive rights

The State of Reproductive Health Legislation in 2017 Is Not Exactly What You Would Expect

Mother Jones

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At the beginning of 2017, reproductive rights advocates feared that the election of President Donald Trump and the Republican sweep in many statehouses would embolden anti-abortion legislators at the state level. By mid-January, four states had already introduced late-term abortion bans, while others—Missouri, for instance—had filed a significant number of anti-abortion-related legislation ahead of this year’s legislative session. As the first quarter of the year comes to a close, a new report released this week by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research and advocacy think tank, finds that the policies introduced so far this year paint a more complicated picture.

The institute’s report finds that state legislatures across the country have introduced some 1,053 reproductive-health-related provisions since January, and that of those proposed measures, 431 would restrict access to abortion services, while 405 would expand access to reproductive health services—the report does not categorize the remaining measures.

Five states—Kentucky, Wyoming, Arizona, Arkansas, and Utah—have already passed at least one abortion restriction this year—with a total of 10 new restrictions becoming laws. In Kentucky, a ban on abortions 20 weeks post-fertilization was signed by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin after a sprint through the state Legislature. Utah now requires doctors to tell women that medication abortions can be “reversed” after the first dose in the two-dose protocol, a claim that, as with many abortion counseling requirements in other states, is not supported by evidence. Arizona became one of the first states in the country to detail specific requirements for how doctors must work to preserve the life of the fetus after an abortion procedure, a law that some critics have challenged for possibly prolonging the pain of nonviable fetuses.

“There is this competition to the bottom that has been happening with state legislatures and abortion over the past six years,” says Elizabeth Nash, the state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute and the lead author on the report. But in 2017, she adds “the scale has changed.” She explained that compared with the same period from 2011 to 2016, “we haven’t been seeing as much activity on abortion as we have seen.” Rather than suggesting a diminished interest in abortion restrictions, Nash explains that given the onslaught of new abortion restrictions in the past six years, some states might simply be running out of measures to introduce. But beyond that, health care reform, state budgets, and the opioid crisis might have caused conservative state legislatures to focus their attention elsewhere at the beginning of their legislative sessions, suggesting that anti-abortion activity might pick up later in the year.

As a result of this reduced activity, Nash says, “we have been seeing less in the way of trends” when looking at the types of abortion restrictions introduced in 2017. There are still some commonalities among the various restrictions introduced in the states, particularly concerning “abortion bans” that prohibit abortions being sought for certain reasons—such as a genetic anomaly or the sex of the fetus—or after a specific point in the pregnancy.

In 28 states, legislators have introduced some 88 measures that would either ban abortion completely or prohibit it in specific circumstances. In Arkansas, for example, a law was recently passed that bars doctors from using a common second trimester abortion procedure known as “dilation and evacuation.” Similar restrictions have passed at least one chamber in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas. The “20-week abortion ban” was passed in Kentucky and has cleared at least one legislative chamber in Iowa, Montana, and Pennsylvania. Six-week abortion bans, also known as “heartbeat bills,” are also being introduced in several states, possibly in response to Ohio legislators successfully presenting a version to Gov. John Kasich last year; he vetoed the bill but signed a 20-week abortion ban into law.

Nash notes that some of the legislative support of abortion bans may be motivated by an interest in getting a case before the Supreme Court in the next few years. “They are thinking about being the state that overturns Roe v. Wade and the way to do that is to adopt something like a 6-week abortion ban or a 20-week abortion ban and then send that up through the courts,” she says.

The Guttmacher report notes that abortion restrictions continue to be introduced at a relatively steady, if somewhat lessened, rate, but proactive reproductive health legislation has seen an increase, with 21 states and the District of Columbia considering measures that would expand reproductive health services. “The number of proactive measures grew from 221 in 2015 and 353 in 2016” to 405 in 2017, the report notes. The report suggests that this development is likely “in anticipation of the possible dismantling of the Affordable Care Act and loss of its contraceptive coverage guarantee.” So far Virginia is the only state to enact a proactive measure; the state will now require that insurance plans covering contraceptives allow enrollees to receive a year’s supply at once.

Proactive legislation on the state level is likely to become increasingly important as the Republican-controlled Congress and other conservative-led legislatures continue to use funding to target reproductive services providers such as Planned Parenthood. Last week, Trump signed into law a measure allowing states to withhold public funds used for family planning—also known as Title X funding—marked for contraception and other nonabortion services from groups that also provide abortions. The move nullifies an Obama-era rule protecting Planned Parenthood and other groups from losing federal family-planning funds.

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The State of Reproductive Health Legislation in 2017 Is Not Exactly What You Would Expect

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Republicans Scramble to Advance Bill Targeting Planned Parenthood

Mother Jones

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Vice President Mike Pence and a Republican senator recovering from surgery were whisked onto the Senate floor on Thursday to help advance legislation that would allow states to withhold federal family planning funds from health care providers who also offer abortions, including Planned Parenthood.

Two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted against the bill, leaving it with just 49 votes. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), who had been recovering from back surgery at home in Georgia, arrived at the Capitol to cast the 50th vote. That resulted in a tie that allowed Pence to cast the tie-breaking vote on a procedural motion on the bill, which can now advance to a final vote.

The bill would overturn an Obama administration rule that prohibits states from withholding federal family planning money from abortion providers like Planned Parenthood. The use of federal funding for most abortions is already illegal thanks to the Hyde Amendment, a budget rider first passed in 1976. The Obama-era rule protects funds for health care services like contraception, cancer screenings, and annual gynecological exams for low-income patients.

“Mike Pence went from yesterday’s forum on empowering women to today leading a group of male politicians in a vote to take away access to birth control and cancer screenings,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement. “Four million people depend on the Title X family planning program, and this move by DC politicians would endanger their health care. This would take away birth control access for a woman who wants to plan her family and her future.”

Last month, the House voted to approve its version of this measure. If the Senate passes the bill, it will move to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature. On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly promised to defund Planned Parenthood.

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Republicans Scramble to Advance Bill Targeting Planned Parenthood

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Trump Offers to Let Planned Parenthood Keep Its Funding—If It Stops Performing Abortions

Mother Jones

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The Trump administration has reportedly tried to cut a deal with Planned Parenthood: You can keep your federal funding—maybe even increase it—if you stop providing abortions.

The informal proposal was revealed Monday by the New York Times.

Not surprisingly, the White House offer was a non-starter. Planned Parenthood executive vice president Dawn Laguens told the Times that the women’s health care organization rejected the idea out of hand. “Offering money to Planned Parenthood to abandon our patients and our values is not a deal that we will ever accept,” she said.

Currently, several proposals to defund Planned Parenthood are moving through Congress. One was approved by the House, another was introduced in the Senate, and a third cropped up in a draft of the proposed bill to repeal Obamacare. The measures would make Planned Parenthood and any other clinic that offers abortions “prohibited entities” for the use of Medicaid. This means that low-income patients with Medicaid coverage would be barred from using their federally funded benefits at Planned Parenthood—even to obtain non-abortion health care, such as pap smears, cervical cancer screenings, STI testing, and contraception. It is already illegal for Medicaid to cover most abortions, and it has been for more than 40 years.

In the last Congress, a broader bill to deny federal funds to Planned Parenthood passed both chambers, but it was vetoed by then-President Barack Obama. Donald Trump, however, said repeatedly on the campaign trail that defunding Planned Parenthood would be a priority for his administration.

Since Inauguration Day, it’s become increasingly apparent that even some Republicans are worried about the political repercussions of defunding Planned Parenthood, particularly through the Obamacare repeal. “We are just walking into a gigantic political trap if we go down this path of sticking Planned Parenthood in the health insurance bill,” said Rep. John Faso (R-N.Y.) in leaked audio of a closed-door meeting obtained by the Washington Post in January.

It would seem that the deal-maker-in-chief is trying to avoid any possible backlash over a crackdown on Planned Parenthood funding. The Times reported that White House officials have even offered a possible increase in federal money for Planned Parenthood if it stops providing abortions.

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Trump Offers to Let Planned Parenthood Keep Its Funding—If It Stops Performing Abortions

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“Jane Roe” Has Died. Abortion Rights Might Not Be Far Behind.

Mother Jones

Norma McCorvey, the “Jane Roe” plaintiff in the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in the United States, died Saturday at at an assisted-living facility in Katy, Texas. She was 69.

McCorvey was a complicated symbol for the political fight over abortion rights. Following the high court’s 1973 decision, she became the face of the pro-choice movement. At the time, she represented the struggles faced by ordinary women confronted with unwanted pregnancies. Abortion was illegal in Texas in almost all cases when she learned she was pregnant in 1969. Poor and with a ninth grade education, she didn’t have the means to seek abortion across state lines. The legal battle dragged on for three years; by the time she won, she had long since carried the pregnancy to term. She gave the baby up for adoption.

But in 1995, McCorvey reversed her stance on abortion after discussing the Bible with Pastor Flip Benham, the director of Operation Rescue, an aggressive pro-life group that had moved in next door to the women’s health clinic where McCorvey worked. She soon quit her job at the clinic and was baptized by Benham. She became a spokeswoman for the anti-abortion movement, penning a book about her ideological transformation and traveling the country giving speeches to religious groups.

Like McCorvey’s own views on abortion, popular opinion about a woman’s right to choose has been the subject of much conflict and debate since the landmark 1973 case. And while a strong majority of Americans still agrees with the Roe decision, dismantling the right to an abortion is now an explicit objective for both the new administration and the Republican-led congress.

In the month since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, GOP lawmakers have put forward measures aimed at pulling federal family planning funds from Planned Parenthood and repealing the Affordable Care Act, including its requirement that insurance plans cover contraceptives. They have also introduced bills that would make abortion illegal after 20 weeks of pregnancy and would ban the standard abortion method used by doctors in the second trimester.

A Supreme Court majority that would be open to overturning Roe is becoming increasingly likely, as well. This is something Trump promised repeatedly during the campaign as part of his largely successful effort to win over skeptical evangelical voters. As a candidate, he made four promises to the anti-abortion community: He pledged to nominate anti-abortion justices; defund Planned Parenthood; sign the 20-week abortion ban; and permanently enshrine into law the Hyde Amendment—a 40-year old budget rider that Congress has repeatedly used to bar federal tax dollars from funding most abortions. Assuming that Judge Neil Gorsuch is confirmed this spring, it may only take the departure of one pro-abortion-rights justice to tip the balance on the court against Roe.

During the campaign, the formerly pro-choice Trump brought on Mike Pence to shore up his anti-abortion bonafides. As governor of Indiana, Pence signed some of the country’s strictest abortion restrictions into law, including a measure requiring burial or cremation of aborted fetus remains and a ban on abortions due to fetal anomaly. In a September 2016 speech, Pence told an evangelical conference in Washington, DC, “I want to live to see the day that we put the sanctity of life back at the center of American law, and we send Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history, where it belongs.”

Last month, Pence became the highest-ranking government official to ever address the annual March for Life in person. “Life is winning again in America,” Pence said at the anti-abortion gathering, pointing to the “historic election of a president who stands for a stronger America, a more prosperous America, and a president who, I proudly say, stands for the right to life.”

Roe has been seen by many as an imperfect decision. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the foremost legal warriors for gender equality, has criticized the decision for changing too much, too quickly. After founding the ACLU’s women’s rights project in the 1970s, Ginsburg focused on fighting sex discrimination with an incremental strategy. She brought several cases to the Supreme Court, building up a body of court victories that together established a sweeping legal and moral understanding of sex discrimination as something that is both illegal and wrong. Roe, she said at a conference in 2014, “established a target” for abortion opponents because it ditched this incremental approach, instead imposing a drastic change on states across the country. She suggested that if the high court had moved a little more slowly, today the idea of reproductive choice wouldn’t be so controversial. “A movement against access to abortion for women grew up, flourished, around a single target,” Ginsburg said.

After her victory as Roe’s main plaintiff, McCorvey joined the movement that sprung up to oppose Roe. Her death comes at a time when that movement, with help from the Trump White House, could achieve many of its long-held goals.

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“Jane Roe” Has Died. Abortion Rights Might Not Be Far Behind.

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Congress Just Got a Lot Closer to Defunding Planned Parenthood

Mother Jones

On Thursday afternoon, the House voted to approve a resolution that is widely seen by advocates as a step towards defunding Planned Parenthood. Should it become law, the measure would weaken contraceptive access across the country.

The bill, HJ Resolution 43, allows states to withhold Title X family planning funds—about $300 million distributed to states annually—from providers who also offer abortion care, a group that includes Planned Parenthood affiliates. In December, Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services finalized a rule that anticipated this sort of effort by prohibiting states from withholding Title X family planning money from Planned Parenthood and other providers. This House resolution proposed overturning that HHS rule via the 1996 Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to repeal new regulations within 60 days of their passage. A version of this bill is also moving through the Senate.

At a House committee hearing earlier this week, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) called this bill “the most serious threat women have faced so far this Congress.” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) called this the Republicans’ “first salvo” in defunding Planned Parenthood.

This development comes on the heels of several actions by the Trump administration and Congress that threaten women’s health care. They include Congressional efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s mandate requiring insurance coverage for contraception; the approval by the House of a bill to codify the Hyde Amendment, which prevents the use of federal funds for most abortions; and Trump’s expansion of the global gag order, which prohibits health providers overseas from receiving any US funding if they so much as mention abortion as an option for patients.

In the last Congress, a broader bill to deny federal funds to Planned Parenthood passed both chambers, but was vetoed by then-President Barack Obama. In contrast, Trump’s campaign said often that defunding Planned Parenthood would be a top priority for his administration.

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Congress Just Got a Lot Closer to Defunding Planned Parenthood

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