onslaught of anti-choice laws in u.s. continues a 30-year trend

For a long time, I've wanted to write a wrap-up of the latest anti-woman, anti-choice outrages going on in various US states. But there's so much of it! The post quickly became a monumental job that I never found time to tackle.

Long-time reader Andrea sent me a link to an article at CounterPunch, where author David Rosen has done the heavy lifting for us. I don't know if Rosen has compiled an exhaustive list, since new legislation is constantly popping up, but it does highlights some of the most disturbing and dangerous laws.

Rosen has written an excellent article and I appreciate seeing these issues highlighted in as many venues as possible. But his introductory critique of reproductive rights in the US surprises me, as it lacks recent historical perspective. He writes:
The U.S. is facing resurgence in the war against a woman's right to choose an abortion. Congress contained the Bush administration's more virulent anti-abortion efforts, especially after the 2006 election. Since Obama’s election and the Democrats takeover of Congress, abortion has been a hostage to political horse-trading as evident in the Stupak compromise restricting abortion from insurance coverage that finally got the health reform legislation passed.

Unfortunately, as national media attention has moved on to other matters, the battle over abortion and other culture-war issues has shifted from the Congress to state legislatures. Across the country, especially in what are known as red states, the Christian right has moved stealthily, yet aggressively, to further tighten restrictions on "legal" abortions. These efforts have been remarkably successful, likely foreshadowing a major campaign against Roe at both the federal and state levels following a likely strong showing by rightwing Republicans in the 2010 Congressional elections.

This new anti-abortion movement is a continuation of the old religious war against a woman’s right to choose and for sexual freedom, but with some important new twists. The domestic and foreign policy crises Obama inherited from the Bush administration, combined with Obama's own compromises, have provided a great cover for a refocused anti-abortion movement. The just-say-No Republican party, together with the inflammatory Tea-Party movement, has refocused the mainstream media away from abortion and other cultural issues to "big" government, the national debt and immigration.

The anti-abortion warriors have used this cover to wage campaigns...

I disagree. Having been involved in the pro-choice movement since 1981, I have followed the ongoing erosion of reproductive rights, almost all of it on the state level. While most federal lawmakers, the media and the public focused myopically on Roe v Wade, the right to abortion became a mere technicality, as the majority of US women lost access to abortion.

Anti-choice laws were passed in dozens of US states during the Reagan-Bush era. The trend barely slowed down during the Clinton years, then picked up renewed steam through the second Bush era. In other words, anti-choice legislation has been piling up in US state law - non-stop - for the past 30 years.

Three separate United States Supreme Court decisions have allowed most of these laws to stand: Webster (1989), Akron (1990) and Casey (1992). These decisions ruled as Constitutional laws requiring fetal viability tests, parental notification, mandatory waiting periods, and other obstacles designed to prevent women from exercising their human right to control our own bodies. The decisions opened the floodgates for anti-choice legislation, and left pro-choice advocates with few options except to battle each law, one at a time.

From the early 1980s until today, the anti-choice movement in the United States - quintessentially focused, organized, and well-fed by both the Catholic Church and the evangelical churches - has succeeded in passing hundreds of laws that restrict women's rights to control our own bodies. They didn't require the camouflage of tea-party protesters or racist anti-immigration fervor to get the job done. The media was always elsewhere. Whether it was O.J. or Tiger Woods, Janet Jackson's breast or Lady Gaga's genitals, or just the latest missing blond child, mainstream media has never lacked excuses to not report the news.

Even people who should know better, don't. When I was part of the Haven Coalition in New York City, most people I knew who were not pro-choice activists - educated, intelligent, engaged people - were shocked to learn that women in neighbouring states were forced to travel to New York City for abortions. Because after all, Roe has not been overturned, right?

For some details on abortion access in the US that pre-dates the tea-partiers, see my essays, For Millions of American Women, Roe Is Already History from 2005, and in "either margaret wente needs a fact-checker or the entire united states is a backwater" from 2008. Of course, since I wrote those, things have only gotten worse.

There are outrages on the federal level, too. The most visible was the Stupak Amendment, an extension of the Hyde Amendment, which has been in effect since 1976. These laws have successfully restricted a woman's right to abortion based on income. In between, there are things like repeated attempts to criminalize helping a young woman travel to another state to obtain an abortion.

I'm still searching for some evidence of Rosen's claim that "Congress contained the Bush administration's more virulent anti-abortion efforts, especially after the 2006 election." I'm not being snarky. I've been looking, but haven't found anything. If you know what the author might be referring to, please do leave the information in comments. I've been unable to find any positive developments in reproductive rights during the Bush years - although I did find a short list of what was lost.

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David Rosen's story at CounterPunch does give an excellent overview of the types of anti-abortion laws that are now being passed all over the US.

The most common category is insurance restrictions. Between the Stupak Amendment, the Hyde Amendment and specific state laws, most insurance coverage will be prohibited from including abortion in almost all states.

An increasing number of states are passing laws mandating waiting periods and sonograms. Many states are mandating that abortion providers engage in coercive tactics like detailed descriptions of fetuses. Missouri is requiring providers to offer anesthesia for the fetus.

Oklahoma stands at the forefront of the recent onslaught of anti-woman, anti-choice legislation. That state now requires pre-procedure ultrasound with mandatory viewing of images and hearing of a detailed description of the fetus, and a long series of obstacles that providers must clear before performing procedures. Another Oklahoma law prohibits patients from suing doctors who do not reveal fetal abnormalities during pregnancy. (Mary Alice Carr, with the National Institute for Reproductive Health, asks, "Oklahoma, what have you done?")

And there is always a slew of bills that are floated and not passed. Women in Iowa, for example, have been able to receive counseling and prescriptions for non-surgical abortions through videolink. Legislation has been introduced to restrict this.

For the most updated information on abortion rights both in the US and worldwide, always turn to the Guttmacher Institute. Their research is impeccable and their website is updated frequently.

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Despite what I may be overlooking or forgetting, the erosion of reproductive rights in the United States is not new. It is a continuation of a 30-year trend.

While it is technically true that a woman from Oklahoma can travel to New York City for an abortion, that technical right won't provide the Oklahoma woman who is burdened with an unwanted pregnancy with information, transportation, child care, time off from her job and the funds to make the trip and pay for the procedure. For American women - as for women around the globe - geography is destiny.

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