Every day, there seems to be significant changes in abortion access throughout the United States. It can be hard to keep track of it. So let’s break it down — the good and the bad.
The good news
Let’s start with the good news! Last week, legislators in Nebraska narrowly defeated a six-week anti-abortion bill by just one vote. It would have required doctors to test for “fetal cardiac activity,” and would have denied an abortion to anyone where such activity was detected. In a particularly outrageous moment of the debate, Sens. John Lowe and Barry DeKay shared poems and stories on behalf of the “unborn.” Tom Venzor, lobbyist for the Nebraska Catholic Conference, led a prayer circle and vowed to try again, stating: “When there is a will, there is a way.” To the surprise of both sides of the debate, the bill was rejected by a single vote, when two senators, including Sen. Merv Riepe, who originally co-sponsored the ban, reconsidered and voted “present.” Riepe said after the vote, “Pro-life has shades of gray.”
Similarly, an anti-abortion bill in South Carolina that would have banned abortion at conception failed by a shockingly close 22-21 vote. In a powerful statement, Sen. Mia McLeod stated, “Just as rape is about power and control, so is this total ban. … Those who continue to push legislation like this are raping us again with their indifference, violating us again with their righteous indignation, taunting us again with their insatiable need to play God.” This is the third time in less than one year that anti-abortion legislators have attempted to ban abortion in South Carolina. Abortion remains legal in South Carolina up until 22 weeks of gestation, making it one of just four states in the South where abortion is still legal. And since a new report shows that half of abortion patients in South Carolina are from out of state, these services are needed more than ever.
The very premise of these bans hinges on concepts of “fetal heartbeat” and “conception” — both of which are anti-science and rooted in Christian nationalist ideology. Doctors have explained that so-called fetal heartbeats do not detect “a functional cardiovascular system or a functional heartbeat.” Additionally, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an organization of more than 58,000 members, opposes such legislation, since it dramatically reduces a person’s right to a legal abortion.
Additionally, when anti-abortion politicians and activists mention conception as the beginning of life, they conflate personhood with an ongoing biological process that begins with cell division. Plus, that biological process does not always result in pregnancy. Essentially, pregnancy is a highly complex process that cannot be reduced to a simplistic religious interpretation.
In Washington last week, Gov. Jay Inslee signed abortion protections into law, incorporating the first-ever measure that would protect consumer health data, including information from period-tracking apps and location records that may show abortion clinic visits. And in Vermont, legislators passed a bill that protects the abortion pill, even in the event that the Food and Drug Administration withdraws its approval of mifepristone, an abortion medication. Both of these measures not only defend abortion access, but go a step further to protect it. Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey had also taken steps to protect medication abortion, writing that medication abortion will remain available “in Massachusetts regardless of the final outcome of this case — or any future attacks on reproductive freedoms.”
Not only is abortion health care, but it is also overwhelmingly supported by the majority of Americans. A new Pew Research Study surveyed Americans about their views on abortion and found that Americans are more likely to say that it should be easier for someone to get an abortion than they were in 2019. This was especially true for those living in states where abortion has become banned or heavily restricted. For example, 43 percent of Americans say that abortion should be easier to obtain compared to just 31 percent in 2019. Overall, 62 percent of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
The bad news
And while there certainly has been news to celebrate, there are also unfortunate updates as abortion access continues to deteriorate throughout the United States. In North Dakota, Gov. Doug Burgum signed into law a six-week abortion ban, declaring that North Dakota is a “pro-life” state.” In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis had earlier signed a six-week abortion ban. The Florida Supreme Court is currently reviewing the legitimacy of a 15-week abortion ban and depending on that decision, the six-week abortion ban may be allowed to take effect. Desantis claimed that the bill would protect life.
In both instances, the life of the pregnant person is clearly not taken into consideration. We have already seen the horrific consequences of abortion bans. For example, Amanda Zurawski of Texas recently addressed Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn about the impact of anti-abortion laws, stating, “Because I wasn’t permitted to have an abortion and the trauma and the PTSD and the depression that I have dealt with in the eight months since this happened to me is paralyzing … I nearly died on their watch, and, furthermore, as a result of what happened to me, I may have been robbed of the opportunity to have children in the future.” She is one of five courageous women suing the state over the anti-abortion law.
And her testimony is not atypical. The Turnaway Study, the first rigorous examination of the impact of receiving versus being denied an abortion, found that abortion restrictions significantly increase the likelihood that women will live in poverty, stay in abusive relationships and experience serious health problems as a result of the pregnancy and childbirth. Nevertheless, a new bill was introduced in Texas to allow citizens to petition for a district attorney’s removal if they fail to prosecute abortion cases.
In Utah, a new law is set to go into effect that would basically drive abortion clinics out of the state. The law would only allow hospitals to perform abortions. However, Utah hospitals only provide abortions in medical emergencies. The Planned Parenthood Association of Utah had asked the 3rd U.S. District Court of Appeals to put the law on hold. However, no decision has been made yet.
But it’s not just anti-abortion laws on a state level that we should worry about. In New Mexico, the town commission of Edgewood approved an ordinance that would prohibit abortion medication via mail and allow citizens to sue anyone for violating it. This move mirrors an anti-abortion ordinance in Eunice, N.M. I’m sure that we can expect other municipalities throughout the country to take abortion restrictions into their own hands.
Abortion access depends on all of us
Whether you live in a state with abortion restrictions or accessibility, we need all hands on deck to defend abortion. No state is safe from religious extremists who wish to take away reproductive rights and impose their worldview on a secular nation. Get involved locally and make your voice heard. The future of democracy — and reproductive rights — depends on our participation.