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Can You Hear Us Now?

Anti-choice abortion and birth-control legislation catalyzes national uproar


On July 18, the Republican Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, signed into law a bill that could shutter all but a handful of abortion clinics in the state. But in the weeks before that, pro-choice advocates put up a tooth-and-nail fight that inspired the nation and made state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Ft. Worth) a household name.

“Shame, shame, shame!” cried pro-choice advocates perched above the Texas Senate floor on June 25, as Senate Republicans tried to end Davis’ now-legendary nearly-13-hour filibuster against an earlier version of the anti-abortion bill.

The impassioned cheers from the crowd drowned out the vote that night, and when Perry called a second special session to revive the dead bill, reproductive-rights advocates, dressed in matching burnt orange, flooded the Capitol not just by the hundreds but the thousands.

“Gov. Perry and other state leaders have…chosen narrow partisan special interests over mothers, daughters, sisters and every Texan who puts the health of their family…ahead of politics,” said Davis.

In the end, the groundswell of activism could not stop the Republican-dominated state Legislature from passing the draconian legislation—which bans abortions after 20 weeks with exceptions only if a woman’s life is endangered, but not for health, rape or incest; requires abortions to be performed in ambulatory surgical centers; forces abortion clinics to have unnecessary transfer agreements with local hospitals no more than 30 miles away (hospitals must take patients even without such agreements); and requires doctors to be present when abortion pills are administered to patients (eliminating remote telemed options).

The costly and unnecessary surgicenter requirements, if enforced, would be a major cause of clinic closures, which could render access to safe abortions out of reach for many Texas women. Some experts predict that all but five of the state’s 42 abortion
clinics could close. Some 60 family-planning clinics that don’t perform abortions have already closed due to drastic state cuts in funding.
Interestingly, Gov. Perry’s older sister, Milla Perry Jones, is a board member of the Texas Ambulatory Surgical Center Society. And even though the legislators who pushed through the new law would have you believe they’re trying to make women safer, they’re not: The Department of State Health Services has noted that abortion clinics are already regulated more frequently (once a year versus every three to six years) than surgi-centers.

Texas is far from the only state that has attacked women’s reproductive rights this year. North Carolina Republican legislators launched a sneak strike on abortion rights just before the July 4 holiday, slipping in a surgi-center requirement, a transfer agreement requirement and a limit on abortion health-care coverage into an unrelated anti-sharia law bill. When the
legislators realized that Gov. Pat McCrory wouldn’t sign it, they switched tactics and attached abortion restrictions to a motorcycle-safety bill—which the Republican McCrory signed despite his 2012 campaign pledge not to sign any new bills to restrict abortion.

If North Carolina legislators thought they could avoid Texas-sized protests, they were wrong. Growing “Moral Mondays” demonstrations led by civil rights advocates have been held weekly since April, involving thousands protesting proposed restrictions on voting rights and draconian budget cuts impacting low-income people. The lively protests have been joined by women’s groups objecting to cuts in women’s health programs and proposed abortion restrictions.

Ohio, too, passed legislation that harms women—not just by limiting abortion access, but all sorts of health
services. Three bills promoted and signed on June 30 by conservative Republican Gov. John Kasich–who, in his inaugural speech, declared, “I am a servant of the Lord”—cut familyplanning funds from Planned Parenthood, redirect Temporary Assistance for Needy Families money to unregulated crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) and prevent rape-crisis centers from counseling women made pregnant by rape about abortion.

The new laws also force women seeking abortions to undergo invasive ultrasounds to detect a fetal heartbeat and require hospital transfer agreements—although, in a perfect catch-22, Ohio public hospitals are barred from entering into such agreements.

Dr. Martin Ruddock, an abortion provider of 34 years, was forced to shutter his Toledo clinic—which also offered basic reproductive health and family-planning services to some 1,200 women—because of the arbitrary rules. “The state is regulating [us] to death with TRAP [Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers] laws that are totally ridiculous and no one will be able to comply with…and
have nothing to do with quality of care that women receive. …[W]e’re going to end up with…a lot of unwanted, unplanned pregnancies, lots of premature births and [extraordinary] health-care costs.”

Abortion opponents have found success in states with Republican governors and legislatures dominated by Republican majorities—especially since 2010, when elections ushered in a virulent breed of Tea Party-aligned lawmakers. Today, more than half of the states have TRAP laws. Twelve states now have passed bans on abortions late in a woman’s second trimester—which are seemingly at constitutional odds with Roe v. Wade. Using one of the newer anti-abortion tactics, nine states have passed laws
that say a doctor must be in the room when a woman takes abortion pills.

But clinics and abortion-rights groups such as the ACLU, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood are fighting back in the courts. The 20-week abortion ban was challenged in Arizona and Idaho, and found unconstitutional by federal district courts; Arizona’s decision was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In Georgia, a state court has blocked a 20-week ban, and a ban on abortions after 12 weeks has been temporarily blocked in Arkansas. A federal judge in North Dakota placed a preliminary injunction on a postsix- weeks abortion ban, while a state judge permanently enjoined a law restricting medication abortions.

The requirement that doctors at abortion clinics obtain local hospital admitting privileges has been temporarily stopped in Wisconsin, Mississippi and Alabama. In Kansas, the state-mandated transition to ambulatory surgical centers is temporarily
blocked. And while Virginia’s surgicenter requirement won’t take effect until January 2014, the state’s busiest abortion clinic—NOVA Women’s Healthcare—has just closed because it couldn’t meet the new regulations; Falls Church Healthcare Center has
just filed a challenge to the regulations in state court.

In Oklahoma, the state Supreme Court found the legislative-imposed restrictions on medical abortion unconstitutional, but the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the state’s appeal. In June the Supreme Court asked for clarification on the law in question, and will proceed with the case pending a response.

Texas, too, hopes that the full effect of the new anti-abortion law won’t ever reach the ground. Describing the Texas legislation as “one of the most extreme bills” to date, the litigation director for the Center for Reproductive Rights, Julie Rikelman, is optimistic about its demise: “Based on what we’ve seen from the courts thus far…I think there is a very good chance all of these laws would be blocked if challenged.”

Others are not so sure. “It’s clear to me that there are five votes on the Supreme Court to uphold most stateimposed restrictions on abortion,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine Law School. “And although I doubt the court would go so far as to
overturn Roe v. Wade, the question is where they will draw the line.”
While the onslaught of anti-choice legislation nationwide is unprecedented, so, too, is the pushback. Davis’ remarkable display of determination— a move that many speculate will propel her to a gubernatorial bid—has bolstered an already unshakable grassroots movement.
As the senator put it—and while she was speaking about Texas, her words apply to the whole nation: “The fight for the future…is just beginning.”

MARY TUMA is a staff writer for the San Antonio Current.

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

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