On March 2 the Supreme Court of the United States heard testimonies and expert witnesses as part of the controversial Whole Womans Health v Hellerstedt case. This case centers on Texas restrictive HB-2 law which places medically unnecessary building standards on abortion clinics. They must have hallways and doorways wide enough to fit two hospital beds side by side, for instance, which is entirely absurd because with many abortions being medical abortions (it’s literally a pill you swallow), why should an abortion clinic have to look like a hospital?
In 2013 before the bill became law, Texas legislator and badass politician Wendy Davis filibustered her heart out on the Senate floor for 11 hours straight (famously wearing a pair of pink sneakers for comfort) and successfully managed to ensure the bill did not get voted in in that particular session. Frustratingly, the bill ended up passing in another session after that, and ever since, the results have been disastrous and dangerous for many women in Texas.
That’s right, we weren’t kidding when we used the word “dangerous”. It was not just an ideological description of this issue, unlike much of the anti-choice language and information being used in various bills being proposed across the country, including HB-2.
Many experts warn that this Supreme Court Case, if not ruled in the favor of protecting women’s access to abortion clinics who aren’t forced to close due to unnecessary restrictions, will effectively overturn Roe v Wade entirely. We spoke with RH Reality Check editor in chief Jodi Jacobson who explained that if the Supreme Court decides HB-2 should stay in place, it will have a knock-on effect in other states who may rush to enact similar legislation.
“At this stage, Roe v Wade is a shell of a constitutional right,” she said. If you’re wondering how a Supreme Court ruling from 1973 which legalized abortion in all 50 states is hanging on by a mere thread today, consider that over the past 5 years, more than 200 anti-choice bills have been signed into law throughout the country. Kansas takes the cake, holding a whopping 30 abortion restriction laws. In January 2016 alone there were 147 anti-choice laws being pushed by Republicans in state legislatures.
There has been a slow and deliberate chip away at a woman’s constitutional right to access safe and regulated abortion, that anti-choice activists and legislators have effectively found a “back door” method to continuing their ideological fight. But it just does not make sense and is completely inconsistent with anti-choice legislators’ claim that they are “protecting women’s health” since they don’t focus the same attention in other, more invasive and far more unsafe medical procedures.
“Imagine if there was only 1 dentist in your state. Imagine the long waiting periods, the unnecessary scripts doctors are forced to read to patients which don’t contain accurate medical information. This is what HB-2 is,” states Jodi Jacobson, whose team at RH Reality Check has been extensively covering the lead up to this case, and other important reproductive rights issues happening across the country.
Since 2013, more than half of Texas’ abortion clinics have been forced to close due to HB-2 which has created some sad and horrific consequences. A study from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project found that up to 240,000 women have tried to perform self-abortions because they don’t have access to a safe abortion clinic. Another study also found a 27% increase in lower income women having babies after the state stopped funding Planned Parenthood, which means they have effectively become a financial burden on the state. Now was that an effective solution?
The data is clear – blocking access to abortion clinics does not stop abortion in any way, nor does it stop women from having sex. So why don’t legislators, especially the more conservative anti-abortion ones, look at this data and choose a different route to “protecting women’s health”?
“They don’t care about the facts,” said Jodi. “Evangelicals and conservatives don’t see this as a secular country, they believe in inserting their beliefs into our laws, our marriages, and our politics. They hate the idea of women having autonomy over their body and sexual decisions, so they use faux science as a strategy to chip away at our rights.”
The “pseudo science” here is key, because as Jodi explained to us, the Supreme Court has said any disputes regarding science must be disputed by state legislators. That gives license to extremely right-wing conservative states to push a religious agenda through law. Sound familiar?
“It is profoundly on the spectrum of what the Taliban do. They stigmatize medical information, doctors, science and women’s bodies,” explained Jodi. The fundamental difference between pro choice and pro life is that the former bases its stance on medical facts and un-biased information, the latter stands on a platform of religion and ideological views.
Jodi says the Evangelical conservative wave has dominated the conversation around abortion and reproductive rights for far too long, but we could be at a tipping point with this Supreme Court case, the result of which we won’t hear until June.
In the meantime, ever since the series of secretly-filmed videos at various Planned Parenthood facilities across the country were released last summer and caused huge outrage among conservatives (the group behind the videos has since been indicted, the videos debunked, and every state investigation into whether Planned Parenthood is “selling baby parts” for profit as the smear campaign alleged has found no legal wrong doing), there has been a shift in the way pro-choice women speak about their rights.
No longer content to know they have a constitutional right to get an abortion and stay quiet about it, the viral Shout Your Abortion movement stated by 3 activists in Seattle has been called the “coming out” moment for abortion rights. For so long, everyday women’s voices have been silenced and shamed in favor of talking points being heard by religious leaders, politicians and medical experts.
The Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt case includes more than 100 women boldly telling the court why safe access to abortion was important to them. This is what we need to see more of. RH Reality Check has a podcast series called ‘Choice/Less’ where they interview women who have had abortion (some of them are testifying before the Supreme Court as part of this case) in a bid to bring some humanity and dignity to this conversation.
“We want to give women a voice. Too many people don’t even know what is happening with these anti-choice laws being pushed in legislature. We have a moral imperative to inform the public and amplify women’s voices with our series,” said Jodi.
As part of the mission to inform the public about just how dangerous anti-choice laws are, a new documentary called ‘Trapped’ (which is a play on the TRAP acronym, standing for the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers). Filmmaker Dawn Porter takes us behind the scenes of what it is like to operate an abortion clinic in states such as Texas and Mississippi (where only one abortion clinic remains). In a conversation with NARAL Pro Choice America president Ilyse Hogue for Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter, both women talk about how crucial it is for pro-choice activists and women to speak up, and steer this issue in a more positive direction.
“There are two real paths we can take, and I want to choose the one that’s forward into the future, where women have agency and are treated with the dignity that we deserve, so we can become equal partners in society. The folks you were documenting in the film have a really different idea of the direction that we should go in. They have largely been successful because they have been so sneaky about how they have pursued their ideology. I think the moment is now to shed a light on what’s real,” said Ilyse.
“I really appreciate you saying that. I was attracted to this topic for the same reason. The film for me is not just about abortion, it’s about how people approach politics…I get really angry, because [anti-choice activists] seem to have no regard for the truth. Because the people who are often frightened the most are the people who aren’t getting a lot of health-care access, and they are just terrifying to people,” responded Dawn.
The whole point of us explaining the importance of this Supreme Court case is that each of us can make a different and an impact on the direction this country goes in terms of abortion and reproductive rights access. We encourage everyone to watch ‘Trapped’ and especially watch it with those in your community who believe in blocking women’s access to healthcare decisions they don’t necessarily agree with (and perhaps remind them they should campaign for easier access to birth control and contraception instead!).
As ‘Last Week Tonight’ host John Oliver explained in the brilliant video above, abortion is not a constitutional right if there is no access to it.