First, it was the slurs against Mexicans; then the attempted ban on Muslims and the attack on all immigrants. Now it’s war against women. The latest salvo came in Alabama, with a virtual ban on abortions. Other red states are falling in line. Trying to take away women’s reproductive rights usurps our freedom to control our bodies, our economic lives and, with that, our power for self-determination. This cannot go unchallenged.
This is not just a women’s issue. It’s a racial issue. The abortion rate in the black population is dramatically higher than for white women. Forty percent of all abortions are of black fetuses. And, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 60 percent of abortions in Alabama were on black mothers; in Mississippi, it was a staggering 78 percent. Given the relative difficulty of finding adoptive families for black babies, more end up in the challenged foster care system. And, since many pro-lifers act on their beliefs only from conception until birth, money is severely lacking for social services, child care, and for foster care and adoption services. The anti-choice legislators are often those who have opposed expansion of Medicaid to pay for the Affordable Care Act and who regularly attack Planned Parenthood.
This is also a class issue. If the clock is turned back and abortion is virtually banned, wealthy or even middle-income white women will find a way to get to states or other countries for safe abortions.The poor, black and white, with unwanted pregnancies will be driven to “back alley” pre-1973 abortions, where unsafe conditions will likely lead to higher mortality rates. Unwanted pregnancies also entail social costs.
In Alabama, 25 white men and a docile female governor determined that, unless women’s lives are “seriously” at risk, they may not get abortions, even in cases of rape and incest. Doctors who perform abortions could go to jail for up to 99 years, a longer sentence than that imposed on a rapist or incest predator. In Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio and Mississippi, new laws will ban abortions after doctors can first detect a fetal heartbeat, which can happen before many women even know they are pregnant. Missouri and Louisiana are taking similar action.
These efforts are the spear of the Trump/Federalist Society attack on the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. Until the court’s recent tilt to the right, anti-choice activists were content to chip away at abortion rights, passing restrictive regulations on clinics, increasing waiting periods, requiring certain ultrasounds and more. With all the new constraints, many clinics providing abortion as one part of women’s health services have simply closed, making abortions harder to obtain in a number of states. These Draconian measures also end up limiting women’s access to diagnosis and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and certain kinds of cancer, birth control and emergency contraception.
Now the patchwork quilt of new abortion-limiting laws is certain to end up going to the Supreme Court. Watch out, ladies. If you once thought you had a right to determine your own medical choices and decide when you wanted to plan a family, you are on the brink of losing your agency. Small wonder that pro-choice activists demonstrated Tuesday in all 50 states. They know that the decision about whether and when to terminate a pregnancy is a deeply personal matter. The choice is not an easy one, but it is one best decided between a woman and her doctor. Every year, millions of women do choose to terminate pregnancy, which is reflected in a Wall Street Journal-NBC poll last July found that 71 percent of registered voters support preserving Roe. A recent CBS poll put that support at 67 percent.
There are many unintended consequences that must be addressed if these horrible restrictions are allowed to go forward. If a fetus is labeled a person, would a mother who terminates a pregnancy be charged with murder? Would an embryonic “person” entitle parents to a tax deduction? Should child support start when the embryo is implanted in the uterus? Will fetal “persons” be included in the census? Will they be declared citizens before birth?
Before we go down the road of these linguistic and legalistic questions, the immediate challenge is to stop these restrictions in their tracks – by judicial action, protest, advocacy, pressure on lawmakers, and, above all, engagement in the political process. It is essential that outrage at this attack on women be sustained and animate Presidential, Congressional and state legislative races. There is much at stake on so many issues, but the right of women to receive quality reproductive health care and decide on their own medical treatment must remain high on the list.
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