For many women, getting access to abortion has become extraordinarily difficult. Conservatives’ plan is to make it impossible.
They say it’s too easy.
According to 48 percent of American voters, it’s “too easy” to have an abortion in this country.
Every year, legislatures introduce hundreds of bills to restrict abortion. Every year, dozens pass. This year has been no exception. The Center for Reproductive Rights published a report on the nearly 50 new laws that have already been passed this year: biased counseling, forced ultrasounds, bans on insurance coverage, parental notification… And it’s only September.
Louisiana was among the many states to pass new laws restricting abortion. One of them gave the state’s Department of Health the authority to shut down any abortion clinic — permanently — for health and safety concerns.
And it had its first success: it shut down the Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport. According to the Department of Health:
The Legislature gave us this authority because they recognized we must have the ability to stop unsafe practices that place these already vulnerable women in danger.
But closing abortion clinics doesn’t protect vulnerable women. And under Louisiana’s new law, once a clinic is shut down by the health department, its owners and managers are prohibited from ever operating another clinic, ensuring one less provider for the women of Louisiana and making it that much harder for them to obtain an abortion in that state.
The State of Louisiana just accomplished what the terrorists who attempted to bomb that same clinic in 2005 failed to do, shutting down the clinic.
Consider the challenges a woman in Missouri now faces. There is now only one provider in the entire state, so unless she’s lucky enough to live in St. Louis, she will have to travel, perhaps 100 miles or more, to even reach an abortion provider. That is the case for one in five patients at the clinic in St. Louis.
If she’s a minor, she’ll first need her parents’ consent. Maybe she knows her parents will say no. Maybe she’s afraid she’ll be punished if they find out she wants to have an abortion. Maybe she’ll be kicked out or beaten. Maybe she’ll even be killed. These things happen.
She can go to the court and hope that a judge gives her permission. But judges don’t always say yes. Maybe she’ll get one of those judges who thinks that at 17, she’s too young and immature to make the decision about whether to terminate her pregnancy. Not too young to have a baby, of course, but too young to have an abortion.
That’s the end of the line for her.
If she gets the consent of her parents, or the court, she has to travel to St. Louis. Maybe she has a car. Maybe she takes a bus. Maybe a friend gives her a ride. If she’s lucky.
At the clinic, she is told about the physical and psychological risks of abortion. It doesn’t matter that there really aren’t any. The procedure is perfectly safe. But that’s not the point. The point is to scare her, to make her think she is putting her life in danger.
She is given a brochure that tells her about “the probable anatomical and physiological characteristics of the unborn child.” She will have to look at color photographs and descriptions of a fetus, from conception to full term.
The brochure also says: “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”
That’s not a medical opinion; that’s a religious belief. The state is not supposed to be in the business of promoting religious beliefs, but that’s the law in Missouri now.
If she is 22 weeks into her pregnancy, she will also be told that the fetus “may” feel pain, and she will have to decide whether she would like anesthesia for the fetus. It doesn’t matter that it’s not true. What matters is that she believes she is causing pain to her unborn child.
She will have to decide whether to have an ultrasound so she can see a picture of her fetus, and whether to listen to its heartbeat. It doesn’t matter that there probably is no heartbeat yet. What matters is that she thinks about her fetus — her baby — and what it looks and sounds like, and the pain she will inflict on it.
And then she will have to wait at least 24 hours. A whole day. She has to go think about her decision. The government has a vested interest in making sure she really thinks about what she’s doing, about the ultrasound and the heartbeat and the risks and the pain. Sure, it’s legal for her to have an abortion, but first, she has to feel bad about it. Shamed.
And where does she go for 24 hours? Does this teenage girl have the means to stay in a hotel? Does she go all the way back home and hope to return the next day? Maybe she just goes home and never comes back.
Those are the obstacles women face in Missouri. And Oklahoma. And Louisiana. And Nebraska.
In Nebraska, the legislature passed, and the governor signed, a “patient screening” bill. The bill requires doctors to read every single peer-reviewed study on the risks of abortion and to advise their patients of all of the reported risks — even the debunked ones.
Planned Parenthood immediately sued and obtained an injunction to prevent the law from going into effect. The state’s attorney general concluded that it would be too costly for the state to fight the injunction. So women and their doctors are safe from that law. For now. But many legislatures find their laws overturned; it doesn’t stop them from re-introducing the laws, again and again and again.
And the women of Nebraska are still subject to many of the same restrictions as the women of Missouri — parental notification, ultrasounds, waiting periods, false information. And because 97 percent of Nebraska’s counties have no abortion providers, traveling to an abortion provider in another part of the state imposes a significant burden.
The State of Oklahoma made it legal for doctors to withhold information from their patients if they think that information may influence a woman’s decision to have an abortion. So if her ultrasound shows the fetus has birth defects, the doctor may choose not to disclose that information to the patient if she might be inclined to have an abortion. And she has no right to sue the doctor for failing to provide her with that information. This, in the same state that, at the same time, passed a law requiring women to have a vaginal ultrasound before having an abortion — all the in the name of “informed consent.”
How hard should it be? How many more lies should women be told? How much longer should they have to wait? How much further should they have to travel? How much more should they have to pay? How much harder does it need to be?
Already, we have fewer and fewer doctors who even know how to perform abortions. Only 13 percent of counties even have one abortion provider. The cost of hundreds of dollars is burdensome to low-income women; for minors, who already face the greatest obstacles, it can be prohibitive.
All of that — and abortion is “too easy”? As if those obstacles weren’t enough, there is also the state-mandated shame.
We condemn other societies that publicly shame women. Sometimes we invade them, and we claim to liberate their women. We brag about it. It’s what gives us the right to say we are better. It’s how we justify acts of war. We’re making their lives better. Easier.
But in this country, conservatives engage in its own form of public shaming and punishment. They stand outside health clinics and terrorize women. Sometimes they set clinics on fire. Sometimes they set bombs. Sometimes they assassinate doctors. And those who hold elected office are constantly inventing new, burdensome restrictions and new methods of emotional manipulation and shame.
Look at this picture of your baby. Listen to its heartbeat. Look at this picture of a fetus at eight months. Your baby would look like that. Do you really want to end its life? Do you really want to cause it pain? Would you at least like to ease its pain a little before you kill it? Go home and think about it first. Think about your baby. Here, take this picture with you.
If it were any easier, American women wouldn’t be able to have abortions at all. But then, that’s the point, isn’t it?