How Some US States Are Fighting Back For Women’s Access To Reproductive Healthcare

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We often wonder if the women who fought for access to safe and legal abortion in 1973, when Roe v Wade was passed by the US Supreme Court, knew they and their future generations would have to be fighting harder than ever for safe equal and unhindered reproductive health measures in 2016.

By now most of us know that this US Presidential election has put abortion and reproductive healthcare in the spotlight like never before, thanks to a series of heavily edited secretly filmed videos last summer claiming to show Planned Parenthood negotiating the sale of baby parts. Each state that has since investigated the health care provider has found no evidence of legal wrong doing. Oh the irony…

The congressional hearing into Planned Parenthood in order to determine whether to stop federal funding being given was also a major farce, where GOP Congressmen and women grilled and bullied CEO Cecile Richards on the business’ practices for 5 hours in September 2015. Funnily enough, they too have not yet found a scrap of evidence, but have clearly shown the conservative agenda: to stop women from accessing certain types of healthcare and from making their own decisions.

In 2015 alone more than 230 bills were introduced in state legislatures, with Texas taking home the prize for the most at 25. Since 2011 288 abortion restrictions have been approved nationally. This issue fueled certain Republican Presidential candidates to damn Planned Parenthood and its practices in their campaigns and debates. The most notable of those was Carly Fiorina, whose false claims about a video reportedly showing a baby kicking its legs was mercilessly cut open in order to harvest its body parts for sale. The horrific news of the Colorado Planned Parenthood shooting just after Thanksgiving, where a crazed gunman citing “no more baby parts” as his agenda for killing 3 and injuring 9 others has been attributed to the reckless words being used by conservatives in public arenas. This has to stop!

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As we write this, one of the most important repro rights cases (Whole Woman’s Health v Cole) is being decided by the Supreme Court which could have a major impact on the way women access abortion going forward. Texas’ restrictive HB2 Bill, which places unnecessary regulations on abortion clinics, and subsequently forces women to endure excessive waiting periods as well as having to travel much further distance to even access a clinic, is being fought against by a powerful group of voices. Physicians, historians, religious leaders, military officers, scientists, members of Congress, civil rights advocates, law scholars, entire cities, and the United States federal government itself are testifying before the judges with personal accounts to prove this law does more damage than good.

While the fight is more important than ever, clearly shown by Planned Parenthood choosing to endorse a political candidate (Hillary Clinton) for the first time in its 100 year history, there is some good news happening on the repro rights front across the country. First up, there are a record number of lawmakers fighting for pro-choice measures across the country. In 2014 alone, more than 70 bills were introduced in 32 states which sought to expand access to birth control and abortion. Given that the 2014 Mid-term elections saw a Republican majority gain control over Congress, this is something worth mentioning (as well as the need to vote in every mid-term going forward!).

Early January saw the House vote for the 62nd time to repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood for the second time in 2 months. Once again, President Obama had his veto pen at the ready, proving why it is more important than ever we vote another Democrat into the White House at the end of this year. Repealing Obamacare would have a major impact on the way women access reproductive health.

One of the key issues in this abortion debate, we believe, is the acknowledgement that comprehensive sex education and access to birth control is paramount in preventing abortion in the first place. With the shocking news that only 22 states require public schools teach sex education, and out of those only 19 states are required to teach medically accurate information. How is this America in 2016?!?!

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New laws in California and Oregon will soon allow women to get birth control over the counter at pharmacies, eliminating the need for doctors, insurance and all the other red tape that comes with it right now. There is one downside, the fact that pharmacists can (stupidly) claim their own religious beliefs as a reason to not sell birth control to women. Religious freedom at its finest, folks…

At the legislative level, there are a few victories for pro-choice advocates worth mentioning, specially because they are happening in typically conservative states. In August 2015, a federal judge ruled that a restrictive law in Alabama, forcing abortion providers to seek admitting privileges at local hospitals, is unconstitutional. Judge Myron H. Thompson wrote in a 172-page decision after the 3 week trial that the law violated the standard set by the Supreme Court mandating that states can not place an “undue burden” on woman seeking an abortion.

Alabama currently only has 5 abortion clinics, and the law, if it was not struck down, could see the closure of those clinics, forcing women to travel long distances interstate in order to gain access to an abortion clinic. Judge Thompson cited the violence directed at abortion providers as a backdrop to the law and said it made accessing abortion for women a hostile experience.

In October, another federal judge shut down now former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal in his attempt to cut off state funding to Planned Parenthood in light of those secretly filmed videos. US District Judge John W. deGravelles issued a restraining order saying the move would cause “irreparable harm” to the 5,200 women who depend on the organization for health care. There are currently only 2 Planned Parenthood clinics in Louisiana, neither of which perform abortions or participate in the (legal) fetal tissue donation program. So stopping funding to the healthcare provider is just dumb, which is probably why Jindal was succeeded by Democrat John Bel Edwards in the recent state election, who recently signed a new order expanding medicaid.

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In November, an appeals court decision in Wisconsin struck down a similar law to that of Alabama, where Judge Richard Posner said the benefits of admitting privileges, if any, are far outweighed by their negative effects on abortion access. The measure has “nonexistent” medical benefits, the court found, and would create illegal, undue barriers to abortion access, Jezebel reports. This whole “admitting privileges” issue has clearly become a weapon for conservatives in creating legislation to stop women accessing certain types of healthcare.

The final court decision we want to mention happened in Utah in December, where a federal appeals court has blocked Utah Governor Gary Herbert from cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood in the state. While some states have succeeded in stopping government funding to be given to PP, this decision shows that cutting funding means stopping access to sex education and testing for STDs, among other crucial health care services the clinic provides.

These are just a few recent decisions that should encourage us all in this fight. We need to vote for the politicians who do not seek to use private healthcare decisions as a political weapon in order to win votes. If Republicans are so bent on small government and certain Constitutional rights, this should extend to healthcare also. Voting for the next president is important, but so is voting in the 2018 mid-terms, and in all state and local elections. Every vote counts. Let’s be a generation that doesn’t allow the country to go backward when it comes to women’s reproductive rights.

If you care deeply about this issue as we do, and want to find out how your state fares when it comes to reproductive healthcare, take a look at this new map published by The Population Institute which analyzed each state’s standing on access and rights. Overall the US gets a D+.

“This report card should be a wake-up call for all those worried about the status of reproductive health and rights in their state,” Population Institute president Robert Walker said in a press release. We are certainly wide awake and ready to fight.

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