Reproductive Rights Update – The Week in Review

This year’s spate of abuses in state legislatures eclipses any other in recent memory. Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas, North Dakota, Virginia, North Carolina… the dearth of responsible lawmakers is apparently a congenital disease spreading like a plague throughout the country.

In an era where we still have to have commissions at the international level to discuss systematic abuse against women based on religious beliefs, we have an eve more fundamental puzzlement: Why are we still arguing over whether a woman has a right to determine the use of her own body? Can you imagine the results if governments attempted to control the use of men’s bodies? The right to decide when and with whom to have children, whether to risk her life and health to reproduce, and to decide the number and spacing of children is a fundamental human right denied to women in many places, including the United States. Freedom does not apply to a pregnant woman.


Last Friday, in an astonishing moment of humane clarity, a federal judge in New York  ordered the Food and Drug Administration to make “morning-after” emergency contraception pills available without a prescription to all females of reproductive age. U.S. District Judge Edward Korman said the FDA’s rejection of requests to remove age restrictions to obtain the pill was “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.” Denial of emergency contraception dooms underage girls to an even grimmer future than to adult women who find themselves inadvertently pregnant. Judge Korman blasted the policies of the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services that deny emergency contraception to girls, saying that the policy was “politically motivated, scientifically unjustified, and contrary to agency precedent.”


This week, we look at Alabama’s war on women. Alabama’s governor signed a bill into law yesterday that makes abortions much more expensive and much harder to come by in that state. Apparently concerned that there is some assembly-line abortion provider somewhere that fails to change his latex gloves before moving to the next patient, Alabama now mandates that only licensed physicians can dispense abortifacient drugs and that facilities that provide abortion services have to meet the same medical standards as a surgical center. Furthermore, doctors providing abortion services have to have admitting privileges at a hospital. Existing abortion providers say they will have to invest a lot of money into unnecessary mandated facilities, relocate, or close down altogether because of the medically superfluous burdens imposed by the law. But, that was the whole point of passing excessively expensive, burdensome, and medically unnecessary requirements for abortion providers. Alabama social services will soon have to absorb increased numbers of poor women with children they cannot support.


Remember Savita Halappanavar? She was the 31 year old Indian dentist who died when Irish doctors refused to abort the fetus that was killing her last fall. She was 17 weeks pregnant and miscarrying when she went to Galway University Hospital on October 21. Because a fetal heartbeat could still be detected, Irish doctors did not abort the dying fetus, so both mother and fetus died. Witnesses at inquest into Halappanavar’s death this week dispute some of the facts as to why the abortion was denied her. During evidence on the opening day Monday, her husband Praveen said his Hindu wife repeatedly requested that doctors terminate the pregnancy when it was clear the miscarriage was inevitable, but they refused so long as a fetal heartbeat could be detected. The couple’s friend, Mrudala Vasepalli, and Ann Maria Burke, midwife manager at the hospital, corroborated Praveen’s testimony that the couple was told that since Ireland is a Catholic country, abortion would never be permitted. Dr. Katherine Astbury, the consulting obstetrician on Halappanavar’s emergency medical treatment, testified yesterday that the statement about Ireland’s Catholic ethos was never made, but because doctors believed there was “a small prospect the foetus would be viable” she could not terminate the pregnancy that was killing her patient. Dr. Astbury conceded that Irish “law does not permit termination [of pregnancy] even if there is no prospect of viability of foetus”.

Ireland’s abortion laws are under heavy attack because of this case, which has received significant international attention. Reforms may be forthcoming.


Gov. Sam Brownbeck of Kansas received about 1600 signed petitionson Tuesday, all asking him not to sign the sweeping anti-abortion legislation just passed by the legislature. The petitions have religious supporters. Rev. Joshua Longbottom of Plymouth Congregational Church in Lawrence, Kansas, said legislators and other religious denominations opposed to abortion should not restrict the right to abortion of people who don’t share their religious views. “I believe these women are the best moral agents for making those decisions without government intrusion,” Longbottom said. “The more difficult that abortions become the more young women’s lives will be put in danger.” More anti-abortion legislation was passed by the Kansas legislature last week, including a bill that declares life to begin at fertilization, and a ban on abortions performed solely because of the baby’s sex. The probability that arch-neoconservative, fundamentalist Brownbeck will actually listen? Zero.


Arkansas is following the ill-fated and ill-advised lead of its neighbor Texas in denying funding to Planned Parenthood, since PP is well known for providing assembly-line abortions at its drive-through abortion clinics. Rant follows.

We all hear that Planned Parenthood provides abortions, but what about the other 97% of its work? Screening for lots of cancers, including testicular and prostate cancers (yes, PP provides inexpensive MEN’S health services, too), colon, cervical, ovarian and uterine, and breast cancers; physicals for general health as well as athletic participation; routine reproductive health check-ups for both men and women; making birth control inexpensive and widely available; STD screening and treatment; male infertility treatment and counseling; body image counseling; testing for anemia, diabetes, thyroid disorders; help for stopping smoking; vaccines for things like tetanus and the flu; screening for high blood pressure; vasectomies; treatment for erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation; diagnosis and treatment of urinary tract infections; jock itch treatment; relationship counseling; diagnosis and treatment of yeast infections; sex counseling; and – yes – sex education. Because apparently there are still some troglodytes out there who think sex isn’t normal, natural, or something people have been doing since, well, since before they were even people. Planned Parenthood spends less than 3% of its resources on abortion counseling and services. Whether or not you want or need an abortion or emergency contraception, the notion of cutting off all its other services is not only ridiculous, it’s irresponsible – especially in an era where health care is expensive and hard to come by. /Rant.


Judges in several states have struck down or temporarily blocked laws that outlaw abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain. Predictably, that doesn’t stop the Rick Perrys of the world. Despite the fact that the state would be inviting litigation, Texas is considering the same burdensome ban on abortions after 20 weeks of gestation that 20% of its sister states have enacted. Unless the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, none of these laws will stand. Of course, the anti-choice bunch is aiming for Roe.


Alaska is wrestling with a somewhat different issue with respect to abortion. While state Medicaid funds are not to be used for “elective” abortions, the state legislature is struggling to define when an abortion is not deemed “elective.” The bill defines medically necessary abortions as those which needed to avoid serious risk to a woman’s life or physical health. Even where the fetus and mother are healthy, pregnancies resulting from rape or incest fall under the “medically necessary” category. While I certainly see the humane nature of aborting a healthy fetus that has resulted from rape, I fail to see how it is “medically” necessary.



Got a legal question? Email me at I’m a lawyer, but there’s only a 2% chance I’m licensed in your state. Whether I answer your question or not, sending me an email or reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship between us. I’m on Twitter as @aramink, and you can see my regular blog at, where I write book reviews, ruminate on Life, the Universe, and Everything, and occasionally – frequently – rant about Stuff.

  • unbound

    Because the gospels were almost entirely all about restrictions to reproductive health and no other significant message are to be found there. Oh wait…

  • baal

    Well that was depressing. Also, the Savita Halappanavar is a real life horror story. I cannot imagine knowing that you are dying from the pregnancy and are told you can’t have an abortion even though the fetus is doomed either way.

    In unrelated news, what does the bible say about fetus vs being a person?
    Exodus 21:22-23
    “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life”
    Translation – if you kill a fetus, that’s an event that needs to be compensated BUT if you injure or kill the woman, then it’s ‘life for life’ (aka, eye for an eye, retribution of kind). In other words, until born, the fetus does not have person rights.

  • Anne

    Religious people also point to Jeremiah 1:5, which says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” They think this means that because god knew Jeremiah in the womb, Jeremiah was already a person.

    That’s it. That’s all the Bible has to say about the unborn.

  • Happy Madison

    Kermit Gosnell is:

    A) An American horror story, worthy to be counted amongst the most brutal of serial killers,

    - OR -

    B) A good doctor doing his job for the poor and helpless who is being treated unfairly by the anti-choice zealots.


    • Glodson

      You are an idiot.

      He’s a disgusting person who only got by and had a “practice” because of the fucking restrictions on get abortions freely, a danger to everyone. Protests that discouraged women from going to a clinic with people actually qualified to provide abortion services, that had regulations and oversight. Most of us realize that you cannot abort a pregnancy if a birth has already happened.

      You pose two parts, trying to create a dilemma. You oversimplify, you don’t care why women went to the man. If they had the chance to go to a clean and safe clinic, he wouldn’t have a practice. His is the template for underground and illegal abortions. As abortion rights get more restrictive, as people seek to find ways to make them even harder to come by, people looking to make money off this human suffering will find a fertile grounds on which to thrive.

      The “pro-life” movement wants to believe that abortions will stop if made illegal. They won’t. More people will suffer at the hands of butchers like this. Fuck off.

      • Happy Madison


        Now: What’s the difference between a late-term abortion, performed one hour before the “thing” passes through the vagina (being “born”), and snipping the spinal cord after it has entered into the world” What difference does it make?

        Where is the line that separates an ethical abortion from an unethical one? Why should Kermie be considered “unethical?”

        Also: his habit of keeping dead baby parts helps me to understand the Governor on The Walking Dead.

        Fuck off.


        • Nate Frein

          No, you fuck off with your false equivocations.

          No one here has claimed that what Gosnell did was good or moral or just.

          Cite me one fucking case of a late term abortion carried out “on a whim” without any medical complications present.

          Fact is, when late term abortions happen, they happen for one reason: A medical emergency put the mother’s life in danger. Your use of late term abortions here is an obvious, dishonest scare tactic.

          Gosnell is a consequence of anti-choicer’s efforts to restrict the access to abortion. Data shows that abortion rates stay the same whether or not abortion is legal. Who the fuck do you think is gonna be giving abortions when it’s illegal?

          So you fuck off. Idiot.

        • Anne

          With all due respect, Happy Madison, I believe you’re missing an essential point.

          Viability – the ability of the fetus to live outside the womb – is the measure the Supreme Court uses to determine the point at which the states may restrict abortions. Prior to viability the fetus cannot survive without its natural life support system – a woman. The point of viability is not a clear, bright line for every developing fetus. Some fetuses delivered earlier may live, while some delivered later may not. Medical advances have made it more likely that younger, smaller fetuses can live if their families choose to exercise those so-called heroic measures.

          Furthermore, after a fetus is born alive – that is, after it becomes a baby at the magic moment of birth – certain rules go into effect. Those rules allow us to remove terminally ill, dying, doomed, and comatose from the medical interventions keeping them alive. There is no legal requirement that heroic measures be taken for anyone, regardless of how long they have been breathing. Why should there be a legal requirement that life support systems must stay in place simply because of the short length of time since conception?

          A fetus does not become a baby until it is separated from its mother and living on its own, even if “living on its own” means that some degree of medical intervention is necessary. No one condones severing the spinal cord of an already-born baby who otherwise is healthy and able to survive. If the news reports of the testimony at Kermit Gosnell’s trial is accurate, he may have killed healthy babies – not fetuses.

          There is a difference.

        • Glodson

          Now: What’s the difference between a late-term abortion, performed one hour before the “thing” passes through the vagina (being “born”), and snipping the spinal cord after it has entered into the world” What difference does it make?

          Passing through the fucking vagina, asshole. Let’s go further. Late term abortions happen because women are either denied earlier access, or due to medical reasons. Late terms abortions here being passed week 16, as recorded by the CDC. Which is 12 weeks before the earliest a fetus is viable.

          These are women who have wanted an abortion, had the access to abort restricted, and now had to deal with the worst conditions imaginable. And you think it is a rhetorical point in which to justify denying a woman’s bodily autonomy as you imagine these are equivalent. Further, in an actual abortion clinic which has actual rules and oversight, none of this would have happened.

          Let’s keep going in your poorly thought out post.

          Where is the line that separates an ethical abortion from an unethical one? Why should Kermie be considered “unethical?”

          Jesus Christ, this is stupid. It is the same difference between getting your appendix taken out by a doctor, and paying some jackass to hack at you with a knife. One is legal as it is done by a professional, in a regulated setting by people who are trained to do the procedure and with sterile equipment. This other is someone paying a guy to something dangerous that can easily lead to death of the patient, with no oversight and no regulation. One is legal, and the other isn’t.

          Oh, wait, you don’t give two shits about the women. Sorry, I mistook you for someone with a modicum of empathy. Here’s the difference asshole, both women have made the choice to terminate the pregnancy. One woman had free access to a clinic which was able to help her with her decision. The other woman had to provide income to a butcher, who ignored laws, and hurt people. Further, as noted by others, once a fetus is actually born, it is too late to abort. According to the grand jury report, if the allegations are correct, Gosnell did all he could to “complete” his vile acts.

          Again, this is the face of illegal abortions which will grow as abortion rights are restricted If you even get the remotest shit about this, then you shouldn’t be trying to frame this as a reason for restricting said rights.

          Also: his habit of keeping dead baby parts helps me to understand the Governor on The Walking Dead.

          What the fuck do that have to do with anything?

          Now, all we’ve gotten from you are stupid ass questions, and nothing else. You are spineless. You are, at best, ill-informed. I am thinking you are willfully ignorant, wanting to believe that this is what a typical abortion clinic is like. Otherwise, why even try to make the point? This is what illegal abortion is like. Harrowing conditions that aren’t good for anyone. Conditions in which women’s lives are in danger. Conditions that are illegal and unethical.

          Given that this man preyed on women who couldn’t get abortions elsewhere and let people suffer, what’s your argument here? What is your fucking point? You dishonest sack of shit, what did you bring this up?

          • M

            Eh, we’ve saved babies born as early as 22 weeks, though it’s extremely rare and they tend to have pretty major health problems. We routinely save 26 and 27 weekers. They’re the super-preemies, instead of just preemies.

            The definition of viability is changing as our medical technology changes. Just letting you know it’s not 28 weeks anymore :)

          • Glodson

            Well, I was going on the average age of earliest birth.

            We can save fetus born very early. But the rate of infant mortality for births is high. Very high. But once we hit week 16, the reasons for abortion are almost always for the sake of the mother. As abortion becomes harder to get, these numbers will shift as women who want to abort earlier will have less options.

          • Glodson

            Errata: I might be going on outdated information though about the average, as M points out. Might be time to update.

            However, that’s a quibble in that the reasons for late term abortions are either exceptional circumstances or a lack of abortions options earlier.

          • M

            Oh, I completely agree. But pro-lifers always like to point out the rare 22-weekers that survive, so I thought I’d toss you a heads up that they do happen on occasion.

            It certainly doesn’t change your main point. Late-term abortions (after 16 weeks) are pretty dangerous to the women, so they only happen in exceptional circumstances when not-aborting is even more dangerous (and late-term abortion is still generally less dangerous than labor and delivery). Also, Roe v. Wade only protects elective abortion up to about 12 weeks (first trimester), so any abortion after that has to have a life/health reason attached to it.

          • Glodson

            We know what the late term abortion talk is, an attempt to find the place where they can question a woman’s bodily autonomy. In order to do this, they have to ignore the statistics, the current laws, the reasons why women get late term abortions. And they want to paint the picture, as other noted in this thread, that a woman will get flighty and just up and abort their pregnancy a week before the due date on a whim. \

            Doesn’t happen. Not reality.

    • M

      Kermit Gosnell is a symptom of our broken health care system. He’s an example of how substandard care is standard is poor areas. He’s a shining example of how abortion restrictions cause desperate women to take chances with unhygienic butchers because they have no other options. What Gosnell is not, is a commentary on whether abortion is moral or not. He’s unethical because he’s a bad doctor who violated best practices and kept tissue in violation of a zillion rules and regulations, not because he provided abortions. The problem is how he provided abortions, not that he did it at all. Capische?

      He killed women too, did you know that? In your hyperbolic screed, you never once mentioned the women hurt and/or killed by his incompetence. It’s like you don’t even see that women are involved in this, real people with real lives and real bodies who can really get hurt. What, did you think fetuses were magically walking around in uterus carriers until they’re yanked out? Those uterus carriers are called women, and they get to decide what happens in their bodies. Not you, not a fetus, no one but the woman herself gets to decide that. And you know what? Most women decide that very early. The vast majority of abortions take place before 12 weeks, when it’s very hard to even find a fetus in the blood clots. The ones that take place later than that are most often the result of abortion restrictions- if it’s really expensive (and to many, $500 is a lot of money) and far away (need to get time off, need to find a car or someone to give a ride or save up for a bus ticket, maybe stay the night in a motel; all more $$), a woman has to scrounge up the money from somewhere. That takes time, and sometimes it takes enough time that the abortion becomes a later one rather than an early one.

      The really late-term abortions? Those take place for two reasons and two reasons only. 1) The fetus has ‘anomalies incompatible with life’ and the parents want to spare it pain, because if it’s born, it’ll only live a short time in horrible pain and then die, or 2) the woman will likely die if she doesn’t get an abortion. That’s it. No one stays pregnant for eight months and then decides she’s done, she didn’t really want this baby anyways. That’s a red herring, designed to derail conversation, and you can stuff it right back where you pulled it from.

      • Glodson

        Just going to leave this story here to explain why the Gosnell story doesn’t make for good anti-choice rhetoric.

        From the article:

        After all, the question is not just why the state failed to respond to the complaints of women and advocates who visited the clinic, although that matters hugely. It’s why women kept going there anyway: because they felt they had no alternative. Read this account from Jeff Deeney, a social worker from Philadelphia, who points out that the lack of public funding for abortion is a big factor leading desperate women to Gosnell: “It’s worth noting for outsiders that Health Center #4 which serves the same neighborhood is the best in town, providing quality care for the uninsured poor. But Health Centers don’t do abortions, and Medicaid, where a TANF mom’s insurance coverage would come from, if she had any at all, doesn’t pay for them. And for these women the cost of paying for an abortion out of pocket breaks the budget, leaving mom scrambling to make next month’s rent or possibly wind up on the street.” Cost is also how women often get past the legal gestational limit, as they struggle to save up enough money — and Gosnell’s willingness to break the law was what made him their last chance. To everyone who thinks his case was a reason for more abortion restrictions: What he did was already illegal.

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