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FEATURE | FALL 2013

"Get Out of My Exam Room"

Fighting back against outrageous anti-woman state restrictions


By ROBIN MARTY

"We won't go back."

Those words reverberate from every corner of the country as feminists and their allies— including union and civil rights leaders, pro-choice public officials, doctors and women’s health specialists—declare themselves ready to protest lawmakers who have spent the last three years focused on taking away a woman’s right to control her body.

They were heard in Columbus in October when 65 Ohio women’s, labor, civil rights and civil liberties organizations joined with local physicians, state legislators, college students and hundreds of other pro-choice activists for a “We Won’t Go Back” rally on the steps of the Capitol. The rally, organized by long time feminist activists Lana Moresky, Kathy DiCristofaro and Cindy Demsey, condemned the GOP-dominated state Legislature’s sneak-attack budget amendments that created some of the most restrictive antiwomen state laws in the country. Showing the importance of the Ohio fight nationally, Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority, and Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, were featured speakers.

The Ohio amendments include provisions requiring ultrasounds before all abortions, creating a priority system for family-planning funding that will result in taking away funds from Planned Parenthood and adding funding for crisis pregnancy centers (which oppose abortion and promote ineffective “natural” family planning) and banning public hospitals from entering into state-required transfer agreements with abortion clinics for emergency care. Three of the new Ohio provisions are now being challenged in state court by the national and Ohio American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the basis of Ohio’s “single subject” rule, since they were adopted as part of an unrelated budget bill.

“I’m here today…to demand that Ohio politicians get out of my exam room,” said Cleveland gynecologist Lisa Perriera at the rally, holding her 2-week-old son in her arms. She told demonstrators that she recently counseled a young woman and her husband on the need to end her pregnancy for medical reasons, and had to force her to undergo an unnecessary ultrasound and listen to her fetus’ heartbeat. But under Ohio law, Dr. Perreira could not perform the lateterm abortion and had to send the couple to a neighboring state. She was outraged that Ohio had placed yet another difficult, unnecessary burden on this suffering couple.

On top of that, the Ohio Legislature is considering a bill that would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected—which could be as early as six weeks, before many women even know they are pregnant. The Legislature is also considering a bill requiring doctors to tell patients that abortion leads to breast cancer and that fetuses feel pain, although both are scientifically unproven.

Ohio women’s rights activists aren’t alone in their response to new War on Women laws:

  • As Ms. reported in its last issue, a massive demonstration was held at the Texas Capitol this past summer.
    At West Virginia’s Capitol and across the state, a coalition of women’s rights and pro-choice groups led by West Virginia Free mobilized “I Stand With West Virginia Women” rallies in opposition to Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s plan to introduce new abortion clinic regulations.
  • In North Carolina, citizens held a vigil outside the governor’s mansion to protest abortion and birthcontrol restrictions tucked into a “motorcycle safety” bill signed by
    Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. The protesters demanded health care; the governor responded by bringing them a plate of cookies.
  • Supporters of the Falls Church Healthcare Center in Virginia gathered by the Arlington courthouse steps to speak out against the new TRAP law and Ken Cuccinelli, the state’s attorney general, who steamrolled the regulations through the state Board of Health. “We’ve lost two clinics this year to these politically motivated, trumped-up regulations,” said feminist activist Michelle Kinsey Bruns, a board member at NARAL Pro Choice Virginia Foundation. “We’re rallying because we know anti-choicers intend to see the other 18 in Virginia closed, too.”
  • And this November, a Road Rally for Reproductive Rights, supported by 12 Kentucky organizations, will caravan from Louisville and other localities to the Capitol rotunda in Frankfort to protest assaults on abortion access.

Restrictive measures and massive cuts to family planning have also taken a toll on family-planning centers. Texas has lost more than 60 familyplanning clinics, most of which provided birth control, screening for sexually transmitted infections and other services, not abortions.

The landscape would be even bleaker if courts hadn’t acted to block many of the restrictive abortion and birth-control laws since 2010. Courts in Arizona, Idaho, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Texas have declared unconstitutional some of the laws. Other restrictions have been temporarily blocked in 12 states by both federal and state courts while cases challenging the laws are working through the judicial process.

Some of these cases will end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. One of the first may be a law passed in Oklahoma (and 12 other states), which bans using telemedicine to administer medical (pill) abortions. The U.S. Supreme Court has asked Oklahoma’s Supreme Court to clarify its ruling declaring the law unconstitutional. The U.S. court is also hearing a case this term concerning the Massachusetts buffer-zone law, which protects abortion clinics, their staff and patients from harassment and violence by anti-abortion extremists.

Anti-abortion organizations and lawmakers are also trying to use ballot measures to pass more restrictions. So-called personhood state constitutional amendments that would grant rights to fertilized eggs—and could ban abortion in cases of rape, incest or to save a woman’s life; ban in vitro fertilization and most birth control; and could prevent women’s
access to essential medical treatments— will be on the 2014 ballots in Colorado and North Dakota. There might also be an abortion-funding ban in Oregon, a repeal of a state
constitutional-privacy protection in Tennessee and an abortion insurance coverage ban in Michigan.

Albuquerque, N.M., citizens will vote on a citywide 20-week-abortion ban with no exceptions for rape, incest or women’s psychological health, a campaign lead by Operation Rescue. The City Council placed it on a Nov. 19 special election ballot despite the city attorney issuing an opinion that the ban would be unconstitutional.

Public outrage against these antiwomen power plays is boiling over. Throughout the country, women and men are determined to stop the War on Women, echoing the sentiments of those in Ohio: We won’t go back.

Reprinted from the Fall 2013 issue of Ms. To have this issue delivered straight to your door, Apple, or Android device, join the Ms. Community.

Comments on this piece? We want to hear them! Send to letterstotheeditor@msmagazine.com. To have your letter considered for publication, please include your city and state.


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