2013 has been a historic year for LGBT civil rights — Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Delaware passed marriage equality, making 12 states and the District of Columbia that allow gays and lesbians to marry. The Boy Scouts of America voted in May to lift an archaic ban on openly gay scouts. And just this week, the United States Supreme Court overturned DOMA, and reinforced the ruling of a lower court that determined California’s Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional.
But as gay-rights activists hug and kiss and wave our little rainbow flags, a subversive battle is taking place over women’s access to contraceptive health care. One that progressives are quite handily losing.
A week before DOMA, the House of Representatives passed the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” Republicans were quick to rush in a woman, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), to moderate the House floor debate even though she doesn’t sit on the Judiciary Committee that had jurisdiction over the debate (this is because, well, no Republican women sit on the Judiciary Committee). The bill, seeking to ban abortions after 20 weeks due to the widely disputed science of “fetal pain,” passed Tuesday in the 88% male House on a 228-196 party-line vote.
The day before, Texas State Representative Wendy Davis rocketed to Democratic celebrity by waging a truly spectacular, exhausting 11-hour filibuster against a similar bill crawling its way through the Republican-packed Texas legislature, one that promised to shut clinics and enforce a similar ban on late-term abortions. Governor Rick Perry has promised to hold another special session to give his caucus another chance to take a hatchet to women’s reproductive health care.
(The Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based reproductive health research organization, reports that of the 1.2 million abortions performed in 2009, 1.3% of them, or 15,600, occurred 20 weeks after the fetus was conceived. These tend to be due to unexpected medical complications for the mother or fetus.)
And then comes Ohio, the Buckeye State, whose officials have worked multiple anti-abortion restrictions into a budget bill, of all things. The provisions would require mandatory ultrasounds for women seeking abortions, would defund Planned Parenthood, would make it harder for women to get medically necessary abortions in the event of emergency, and would transfer funds from Temporary Assistance to Need Families (TANF), a welfare program, to better fund anti-abortion pregnancy centers. But most astoundingly, in a sort of legalized slight-of-hand, the bill would also require that abortion clinics have admitting privileges in area hospitals (a frequently-used trick tucked into many anti-abortion bills), but then prohibits public hospitals from engaging in such deals. It is estimated this would result in the closure of four of Ohio’s 12 clinics, leaving approximately half the state without access to care.
The bill passed on Thursday morning. Republican Gov. John Kasich will have until Sunday evening to decide whether or not to execute a line-item veto, but he has yet to take a stand on the clause.
Not to be outdone, Ohio State Rep. Ron Hood is hard at work on a big bloated crap-bag of a bill, dubbed the “Ultrasound Access Act,” that The Atlantic describes as “the biggest and baddest piece of anti-abortion legislation to make its way throughout the laboratories of democracy yet.”
Hood’s bill already has 35 co-sponsors in the 99-member State House of Representatives. 32 of those are men. All are Republican.
Ohio State Rep. Ron Hood (R)
Hood’s bill to “protect mothers” from “the negligent care of abortionists” imposes a number of truly frightening measures determined to forcibly insert Hood & Co. into the private discussions and personal decisions that ought to be left between woman and doctor. Ultrasounds would mandatory, even for rape survivors. Doctors would be required to inform women of a widely-discredited link between abortion and breast cancer (which, The Columbus Dispatch notes, has been refuted by both the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the American Cancer Society). Ohio’s current 24-hour waiting period for abortions would be doubled. And most ludicrous, doctors would need to disclose their finances, explaining to the woman the amount of money they would lose each year if they didn’t perform abortions.
Doctors who don’t comply would be subject to first-degree felony charges, and fines of up to $1 million.
“I’ve never seen anything like this bill before,” says Jordan Goldberg, of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “It’s a felony if you fail to force a woman to listen to her ultrasound or give her a conflict of interest disclaimer designed to make a doctor look like he’s doing this for the wrong reasons? It’s illogical and intended to demonize doctors who provide essential care, as if they’re not legitimate in the way that other doctors are.”
Illogical, yes. And brazen. And opportunistic, inappropriately capitalizing on the heinous charges against one rogue provider in the interest of restricting access for all. And most of all it’s coercive. It is worth pointing out that ultrasounds aren’t actually medically necessary, and though they can be diagnostically useful in detecting rare fetal abnormalities, fetuses that experience ultrasounds are no healthier or better off than those that don’t. Ultrasounds are a cultural practice, not a medical one. They transform woman into mother, partner into parent, and fetus into child. And Hood knows it.
“Ultrasounds not only make life visible inside the womb,” he says, “but unveil the truth of the unborn child’s humanity and connect the mother with her unborn child.”
This bill, taking all the pseudo-scientific cues of those before it, is politically-motivated Big Government coercion masquerading under the guise of informed consent. It is demeaning to women and insulting to medical professionals, turning a deeply personal decision into a political game.
“I’m very worried about the detrimental and potentially disastrous effects of this legislation, should it pass,” said Dr. Jason Melillo of Columbus’ Kingsdale Gynecologic Associates, one of a number of OB/GYNs who made a trip to the State House to testify against the dangerous non-science which Hood is trying to turn into a statewide script. “The bill essentially mandates misinformation.”
“The idea that a fetus feels pain or that abortions cause breast cancer, these are not evidence-based facts,” explains Dr. Anita Somani. “These are not facts that are supported by any of our scientific literature. We as obstetricians cannot tell you when a fetus can feel pain, so how can this bill tell us that we should tell our patients that?”
It’s a curious irony that the nationwide march to directly challenge Roe v. Wade so closely mirrors that to expand marriage equality. The last few months have seen marriage passed in Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Delaware, just as restrictive anti-abortion laws slip through Republican-dominated state legislatures in North Dakota, Kansas, Alabama, Arkansas, and Arizona (a federal court struck down Arizona’s proposed ban, but multiple other cases are pending). And maybe Texas, if Perry tries again (which he will). And probably Ohio.
What better indicates the unusual culture war unfolding throughout the country than this slow and steady march towards expanded equality for LGBT families in the blue states, and decreased rights for women in the red ones? It’s a disturbingly elegant duality that indicates everything that’s right about the gay-rights strategy, and everything that’s broken about the pro-choice one.
“We don’t want a country where abortion is simply outlawed,” Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) explains. “We want a country where it isn’t even considered.”
At least he’s honest.