This summer has already seen a lot of major abortion developments. As secular activists, it is important that we stay abreast of what is going on with reproductive health care legislation. In this piece, I’ll review the latest good and bad news on the abortion front.
Let’s start with some good news! In the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s home state of Wisconsin, an abortion court case, which is expected to go to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, appears to be inching closer to re-legalizing abortion in the Badger State. For context, when the ultraconservative U.S. Supreme Court repealed Roe v. Wade, an anti-abortion law dating to 1849 in Wisconsin went into effect, making in-clinic abortion care illegal since June 24, 2022.
Shortly after the reversal of Roe, Wisconsin’s Attorney General, Josh Kaul filed a lawsuit in Dane County to repeal the ban. In his suit, Kaul argued that the archaic pre-Civil War law has been superseded by an 1985 law, which allows abortions until viability. Sheboygan County District Attorney Joel Urmanski filed a motion to dismiss the case. Notably, Sheboygan was one of three cities in the Badger state that had an abortion clinic. Nevertheless, Dane County Circuit Judge Diane Schlipper ruled on July 7 that the 1849 law doesn’t use the word “abortion” and, therefore, only would apply to someone criminally attacking a woman when it results in death of the fetus. Judge Schlipper wrote matter-of-factly, “There is no such thing as an ‘1849 Abortion Ban’ in Wisconsin.” Although the outcome is uncertain, the latest developments are hopeful for those who care about comprehensive reproductive health care.
Another positive major national development recently came from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which approved its first over-the-counter birth control pill, Opill. The pill is expected to be available without a prescription at an affordable price in 2024. In a statement, the FDA said that the availability of Opill could “help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and their potential negative impacts.” Indeed, at a time in which abortion is illegal or highly restricted in much of the country, this move is especially impactful. The U.S. will join over 100 other countries that already make birth control pills available over-the-counter. Without long waits for a doctor’s appointment or insurance barriers, the birth control pills can help people take control of their reproductive destinies. It is also aligned with evidence-based research. As Britt Wahlin with Ibis Reproductive Health explains, “Birth control pills are some of the best-studied medicines on the market today, enjoy long-standing support from medical and public health experts, and decades of research and experience show they are safe for over-the-counter use.”
And now for the bad news. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds recently signed a near-total abortion ban that went into effect immediately. Using the medically inaccurate phrase “fetal heartbeat,” the law bans virtually all abortions. This is not based in science, but rather religious ideology. Medical experts agree: Dr. Nisha Verma of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explains, “The flickering that we’re seeing on the ultrasound that early in the development of the pregnancy is actually electrical activity, and the sound that you ‘hear’ is actually manufactured by the ultrasound machine.” Dr. Jennifer Kerns of University of California–San Francisco concurs that “in no way is this detecting a functional cardiovascular system or a functional heart.” Gratefully, an Iowa judge temporarily blocked the state’s ban on abortion and restored abortion access. However, there is still uncertainty about the future of access. As Abbey Hardy-Fairbanks, medical director of the Iowa City-based Emma Goldman Clinic, explained, “We are also acutely aware that the relief is only pending further litigation and the future of abortion in Iowa remains tenuous and threatened.”
In Indiana, abortion clinics are rushing to provide as much care as possible before Aug. 1, when clinics will be stripped of their licenses. On June 30, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s ban on abortions even in the earliest stages of pregnancy. Planned Parenthood, which is Indiana’s largest abortion provider, announced that all of their abortion appointments are booked up until that date. The remaining clinics in Indiana and surrounding states are doing what they can to meet patient needs. After Aug. 1, abortion will remain temporarily available in hospitals (thanks to ongoing litigation charging the bans violate religious freedom); however, many hospitals do not provide abortion care except in special situations. It is also much more costly. As Dr. Katie McHugh of Planned Parenthood explained, abortions in hospitals also limit “access to women traveling from other states whose insurance will not cover abortion care due to restrictions in their home state.”
Legislation based on the Christian nationalist viewpoints is reckless at best and torturous at worst. Laws surrounding healthcare, including abortion, should not be crafted based on what someone personally believes or has anecdotally heard. Rather, they should be rooted in scientific evidence and medically-based information. But that is what anti-abortion legislators and their proponents do: craft narratives surrounding their worldview and impose it through legislation on a secular nation.
We already know that banning abortion leads to catastrophic and devastating consequences. Researchers estimate an increase by 24 percent in maternal mortality. This is exacerbated for communities that are already marginalized from the healthcare system, like Black, Indigenous, and communities of color who face major health disparities due to racism and systemic injustices. That’s why we need you to stay engaged an