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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Got a legal question? Email me at anne@aramink.com. 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 www.aramink.com, where I write book reviews, ruminate on Life, the Universe, and Everything, and occasionally – frequently – rant about Stuff.

About Anne

Civil rights activist Anne Orsi is one of the spokespeople for the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers and is the primary organizer of Reason in the Rock, a conference on science, secularism and skepticism. Got a question? Email her at anne@aramink.com. She's a lawyer but may not be licensed in your state. Sending her an email or reading her blog posts does not create an attorney-client relationship. Find Anne on Twitter as @aramink, and read her regular blog at www.aramink.com.


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