It is only one week into the new year and we have some good news to report for abortion care. And with the constant attack on abortion rights, it is important to celebrate the wins — no matter how few and far between they may seem.
Let’s first look at state legislation. Last week, the South Carolina Supreme Court overturned the state’s six-week abortion ban. Since the state’s constitution explicitly guarantees citizens the right to privacy, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled 3-2 that the six-week abortion ban was unconstitutional. That means that abortion is now legal up until 22 weeks of gestation. Undoubtedly, anti-choice lawmakers will be busy seeking to pass abortion restrictions, but until then, abortion care is still somewhat protected in the Palmetto State.
New abortion protections have been enacted on both coasts. In California, a law went into effect that expands the ability to conduct abortion procedures to qualified nurse practitioners and certified midwives without a physician’s supervision. This will make abortion care accessible to people seeking care. In New York, a law related to health insurance now requires private insurers that cover birth to also cover abortion services without requiring copayments or coinsurance.
In the Midwest, there is also hope that newly introduced bills will turn into law. In Minnesota, a bill to codify the right to abortion recently passed through the first committee. In Illinois, legislation recently passed through the House that would require insurance plans regulated by the state to fully cover abortion medications. This bill would allow thousands of individuals who buy their own health insurance or are public employees in Illinois to have fully covered abortion medication.
Beyond state laws, a recent update from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could also expand abortion care. On Jan. 3, the FDA finalized a rule that would allow the abortion pill to be dispensed by retail pharmacies who are certified in states where abortion is still legal. This has the potential to make abortion medication more widely available and affordable. The abortion pill, which was first approved by the FDA in 2000, accounts for more than half of U.S. abortions. Unsurprisingly, the ultraconservative Christian nationalist legal group Alliance Defending Freedom has already filed a lawsuit seeking to undo the FDA decision, citing safety concerns. Yet science shows that the abortion pill is extremely safe and effective. In fact, research has found that it sends fewer people to the emergency room than Tylenol.
Lastly, the U.S. Postal Services (USPS) also ruled on the accessibility of abortion pills. Last week, its Office of Legal Counsel determined that mailing abortion pills does not violate the 1873 Comstock Act. This Act had been historically used to prevent the distribution of contraception and abortion information. (Freethinker Margaret Sanger challenged the Comstock Act in 1914 by distributing a pamphlet of contraceptive methods, and in her 1936 case, United States v. One Package, won one of the first cases against it, saying the government could not interfere with physicians prescribing birth control to patients.) The USPS’ decision about abortion pills has the potential to expand abortion pills by mail to people in states where abortion is banned.
And while this all this news is hopeful, we must continue to stay vigilant. Anti-abortion lawmakers will assuredly push for more bans and more restrictions, like preventing minors from crossing state lines for abortion care and restricting medication abortion access.
That’s why secular activists and voters must continue to call on our representatives to undo abortion restriction and codify abortion care. Until federal legislation is passed that guarantees the right to abortion for all, women and people who seek abortions will constantly be at the behest of anti-choice, Christian nationalist lawmakers.