In the grand scheme of things this week’s announcement by the United States District Court in Missouri that The Satanic Temple’s (TST’s) second reproductive rights lawsuit was dismissed is just one small component of the assault on bodily autonomy. I won’t rehash Hemant’s coverage of the court’s decision (just go read it) but there is a part of the decision I’d like to address that I find particularly egregious.
Judge Autrey’s Language Signals How Supreme Court Could Weaken Roe
In the ruling for TST’s Missouri case Judge Henry Edward Autrey reasons that because Roe v. Wade “implies no limitation on the authority of a State to make a value judgment favoring childbirth over abortion” that the state is not“prohibited from adopting a theory of when life begins”. As such he says “the State has a legitimate, secular interest in “protecting the life of the unborn.”
But as we’ve previously noted, the danger here is in extending the concept of personhood and all the rights that go with it to what is, at best, a potential person. I’m but a humble columnist, but honestly I don’t think that the state’s ability to adopt a theory on when life begins should extend beyond scientific scrutiny. Should the state be allowed to fly in the face of the biological facts of when consciousness is possible in a fetus and assert that a potential person is entitled to rights? It seems to me the answer should be ‘of course not’.
The question of unequal treatment here is an interesting one, since the ruling implies that the law is not discriminatory because it applies to members of all faiths, which is to say that someone who would never seek and abortion in the first place would theoretically be subject to the same treatment if they were to seek one. That doesn’t strike me as a particularly fair standard.
Let’s Try an Analogy to Take the Sensationalism Out of the Equation
Abortion is a contentious issue, so let’s consider a hypothetical situation in which the same kind of logic would apply and see how that goes.
Suppose a state’s government somewhere was majority Jehovah’s Witness. If the state then made a value judgement favoring ‘natural healing’ over blood transfusions and required someone receive an information packet and wait 3 days before receiving one I’d imagine most of us would think that would be an absurd and dangerous violation of church/state separation. Imagine suffering a severe injury while cutting up a fallen tree and having the doctors stop the bleeding, but telling you that they want you to take weekend to think over whether getting that IV bag of type o negative is really in your best interests before giving it to you. To my mind these waiting period and informational packet laws fall into the same category. It’s all well and good that the state is allowed to favor carrying to term over abortion, but that favor should come in the form of enhanced social safety net programs to reduce the economic burden of an unwanted pregnancy, better (publicly funded) sexual healthcare to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Rather than put arbitrary and religiously-motivated roadblocks in the way of getting the procedure, it would make a lot more sense to lessen the need for the procedure. Now sure, those measures wouldn’t completely eliminate the need for abortions, but neither will restrictions and bans.
Far more problematic than TST’s loss, however, is the Trump Administration’s changes to Title X funding.
Title X Program Rule Changes
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released the final version of its new Title X regulations. The new rules contain sweeping changes which ban Title X funds for healthcare services going to any organization that, ostensibly, even mentions abortions exist. That is to say, under the new rules a facility can receive Title X funds for birth control, pap smears, breast cancer screenings and other women’s health services, but not if the facility performs abortions or even refers clients to other businesses that do.
The changes seem clearly aimed at defunding Planned Parenthood and basically price abortion out of the market. New requirements include mandating that Title X providers “maintain physical and financial separation from locations which provide abortion as a method of family planning”. That means organizations like Planned Parenthood are prohibited from performing abortions at facilities that provide other services that are covered under Title X, or commingling any funding that comes from those Title X programs with other programs that provide abortion services. They are also, under these new rules, prohibited from “using Title X funds to refer for abortion as a method of family planning, or to perform, promote, or support abortion as a method of family planning”. Which means under the new Title X, even if someone wants an abortion and asks a Title X provider where they can get one if they pay for it with their own money, the Title X provider is banned from telling them where they can go.