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The U.S. Is Becoming a Terrifying Nation for Women

Posted on Mar 17, 2016

By Sonali Kolhatkar

Tim Sackton / Flickr (CC-BY-SA)

Much is at stake in a Supreme Court case over a Texas abortion law. The nation’s highest court heard oral arguments last week in Whole Woman’s Health v. John Hellerstedt. The case challenges restrictions placed on Texas abortion clinics under a law known as HB2. That law uses medical arguments to restrict women’s access to abortion in a state that has already decimated clinics.

Meanwhile, Indiana passed a draconian bill last week that so severely curtails abortion access that it has horrified reproductive rights advocates. Gov. Mike Pence is expected to sign it into law soon.

Both laws represent what Jessica Pieklo calls “a Frankenstein’s monster of anti-abortion legislation.” Pieklo is the vice president of law and the courts at RH Reality Check, and in an interview on “Uprising” she explained that such a bill “takes a bunch of different provisions and stitches them all together.” Such omnibus bills have become increasingly popular among Republican-dominated state legislatures, and they offer a macabre menu of constraints on women’s reproductive rights.

In the Texas case, the Supreme Court is considering two provisions of HB2 that abortion rights advocates have appropriately deemed “TRAP” laws, an acronym for Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. The idea is to place such unreasonable requirements on abortion clinics—such as meeting architectural standards of surgical centers even if no surgeries are performed, and doctors having admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles—that the clinics will be unable to meet them and be forced to shut down. The legislators pushing such bills expect us to believe that they and their anti-choice allies simply want to “raise the health and safety standards” of providers and are innocent of any ulterior motives.


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Since 2001, according to Salon, 471 laws and regulations have been passed all over the country that chip away at women’s right to an abortion. It appears that many of the same conservative lawmakers who claim to uphold the U.S. Constitution see little irony in undermining the constitutional rights of women—including the right to terminate a pregnancy.

At a Supreme Court hearing March 2, Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller defended the law that would lead to a dearth of abortion clinics in his state by referencing a clinic just across the border in New Mexico. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg jumped on his words, saying, “So if your argument is right, then New Mexico is not an available way out for Texas, because Texas says: To protect our women, we need these things. But send them off to New Mexico [where clinics have more lax standards] and that’s perfectly all right.” Effectively undermining the medical argument Texas is making, she added, “If that’s all right for the women in the El Paso area, why isn’t it right for the rest of the women in Texas?” Critics have pointed out that “the mortality rate associated with a colonoscopy is more than 40 times greater than that of abortion,” yet we don’t see Republican lawmakers demanding more stringent health and safety standards for colonoscopists.

According to Pieklo, the Supreme Court has held that “an abortion restriction cannot place an undue burden on a woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy.” But, she added, “the courts have really mucked up the standards on what constitutes an ‘undue burden.’ ”

The Supreme Court is likely to deadlock 4-4 on the Texas law now that the anti-choice Justice Antonin Scalia has died. This would mean that the lower court’s decision stands—in this case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled in favor of Texas. According to Pieklo, however, the Supreme Court could rule that the current stay on the law remain in effect while the case works its way back up through the appellate court system, which would be tantamount to only temporary success. If abortion rights advocates lose, it would mean that in the nation’s second-largest state, only nine clinics would remain open to serve millions of women.

There are currently 23 states with laws similar to those in Texas. About to increase that number to 24 is Indiana, where the Legislature passed an anti-abortion bill known as HB 1337. Indiana is the state that brought us the horrific case of Purvi Patel, a young Indian-American woman who is serving a 20-year sentence after being convicted on a charge of self-inducing an abortion and other counts. Pieklo described some of HB 1337’s provisions as “particularly cruel” and “heartless,” such as the one requiring women who abort to pay for the burial or cremation of their fetal tissue. Writer Bob Cesca appropriately derided it as “the macabre notion of paying for a mini-funeral for what amounts to, in most cases, a microscopic clump of undifferentiated cells.” He asked a tongue-in-cheek question: “Given that sperm constitutes half the genetic material of human life, should legislators also require half-funerals every time men in Indiana have orgasms?”

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