If y’all thought the fight for women’s autonomous reproductive rights was over after the Planned Parenthood Congressional Investigation chairman Jason Chaffetz declared they could find no legal wrong-doing after grilling PP CEO Cecil Richards on September 29 (full video here), and the fact that the current government managed to avoid another shutdown after negotiating a new budget (until Dec 11 when the vote will be taken up again) without removing federal funding for Planned Parenthood, you’d be wrong. These are small, yet important, victories on a long journey for women to take the issue of reproductive rights out of the courts and political circles, and back into their own hands.
The truth is that we have a long road to go, and the stakes were just taken up a notch with the news of a new case that will be heard by the Supreme Court in 2016. In fact there were two cases that were up for hearing, but only one of them was taken up by SCOTUS, that being the Whole Woman’s Health v Cole case. This particular case challenges two provisions of a 2013 law known as House Bill 2.
The first provision requires that all abortion providers obtain local hospital admitting privileges, a mandate which has already forced the closure of over half the clinics in the state. The second provision requires every reproductive health care facility offering abortion services to meet the same hospital-like building standards as an ambulatory surgical center, which can amount to millions of dollars in medically unnecessary facility updates. Such provisions are known as Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP, laws, according to SouthernStudies.org.
The case they DIDN’T agree to hear was New Hampshire Right to Life v. Department of Health and Human Services, centered on a 2011 public records request filed by New Hampshire Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, with the US Department of Health and Human Services, asking for documents filed by Planned Parenthood when applying for federal funding. The Right To Life group claimed PP was using funds to subsidize abortions, and the state stopped distributing the federal money to them until they provided documentation. In response to this, the Dept. of Health & Human Services then sent the funds directly to Planned Parenthood, angering those on the right.
Although Planned Parenthood isn’t the only provider of abortions in the US, they receive roughly 500 million in federal medicaid subsidies, which do not get used for abortions as mandated by law. However there are a number of states who have started stripping the healthcare organization of state funds, despite the federal money still remaining in place, for now. Why is this happening? Because of THOSE videos. The series of undercover videos (that have been proven fraudulent) which were cleverly edited to purportedly show PP healthcare employees discussing the sale of fetus parts. PP has vehemently defended their doctors by saying they only ask for reimbursements for transportation of fetus parts, which is allowed under federal law. Regardless, these videos have opened up the reproductive rights fight in a much bigger and more aggressive way than any of us could have imagined, but perhaps the group behind the videos had planned this all along.
Despite the fact that now 8 states have investigated Planned Parenthood’s activities and found no legal wrong doing (some states participate in the fetal tissue program and perform abortions, some don’t) it is no coincidence that those videos were released in the lead up to the 2016 Presidential election. And while some anti-abortion groups prefer to resort to shock tactics, many pro choice organizations, like Planned Parenthood, are committed to providing ongoing healthcare for women which extends beyond just birth control or abortions.
This is not just a fight for Planned Parenthood to retain its federal and state funding dollars so that they can continue providing healthcare services to women, it is about a woman’s right to have that care in the first place. Although Roe v Wade was passed in 1973 making abortion legal in all 50 states, the battle for a woman to make her own decisions about her body wages on.
The latest SCOTUS case is no doubt going to set a precedent. From the online discussions we have seen amongst various women, some see it as another attack on women’s repro rights, and others see it as the Supreme Court being willing to take on a restrictive healthcare law in favor of women’s rights. We are on the fence and will have to wait until Spring 2016 to hear the verdict, which will be handed down around the same time of the Presidential Primary.
But we are erring on the side of caution about SCOTUS willing to hear the Texas abortion law case, and that is mainly because of the disastrous Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision handed down in 2014. The craft store chain, owned by Evangelical Christians who believe abortion is wrong, successfully argued that they did not have to provide their female employees with certain types of birth control and healthcare coverage because it went against their “closely held religious beliefs”. The fact that a for-profit corporation was able to invoke constitutional religious freedom rights meant for individuals set a scary precedent. The current SCOTUS case is not based on the premise of religious beliefs, thank goodness, but make no mistake, it is just as scary to think that the attack on women’s healthcare is just getting started.
The Economist says this Texas law case will resonate far beyond its state borders, and it is being called the most significant Supreme Court Case relating to abortion rights since 1992, which argued that women should get the consent of their partners before obtaining the procedure, to which SCOTUS argued that is placing an undue burden on a woman whose situation may not allow this and in turn prevent her from getting the surgery out of fear. If this is the most significant repro rights Supreme Court case in 23 years, then we need to take notice.
One small victory in this legislative fight happened recently in California which passed a law stating that Crisis Pregnancy Centers, known for being anti-abortion organizations which use manipulative tactics and misinformation to lure women away from Planned Parenthood if they are considering getting an abortion, must disclose information about public assistance for reproductive services and to notify patients that there are no medical professionals on staff at CPCs. This is a big win for ALL women because it means no matter where they go, they are going to be given correct and unbiased information that will help them make the right decision for THEM, not a decision that will aid an organization’s political or religious agenda.
Aside from the political and religious arguments which overwhelmingly dominate the issue of abortion and reproductive rights in general, we feel there needs to be more of a cultural push to allow women to discuss this without fear of judgement and the knowledge that no matter what decision they make, they will be supported. In our eyes, it goes right back to sexual health education.
We’ve said this before, and it bears repeating again, but states which choose to push all sex education funding into abstinence-only programs have the highest rates of teen pregnancies (read: unwanted and unplanned pregnancies). How can we seriously expect our younger generations to make good decisions about their bodies and their lives if they aren’t given correct and unbiased information? Expecting kids not to have sex by telling them “it’s wrong” is akin to thinking making abortion illegal or difficult to obtain will make women stop seeking them out.
Which brings us to an important research released by the Texas Policy Evaluation Project which shows between 100,000 and 240,000 Texas women in the 18-49 age range have attempted to terminate their own pregnancies without medical assistance. The study claims this high number is due to the continual closure of abortion clinics and restrictive laws, like the current one being heard by Supreme Court. Texas is now home to 17 abortion clinics, down from 41 in 2012, just before HB2 was passed in 2013.
How can we read these numbers and not stop to reassess whether our tactics and policies are even working? The Center for Medical Progress may have been successful in ensuring their series of undercover Planned Parenthood videos have brought the abortion debate front and center once again, but to what result? Do they honestly care about the issue of abortion or are they more interested in fighting an ideological battle? Do they understand that making abortion illegal will not actually stop abortions from taking place?
That is the question we leave you with. Because from where we stand, there is overwhelming evidence that abortion is not a black and white issue, it should not be a political agenda, it should not be dictated by religious beliefs, and it most certainly should not be made illegal (forcing women to seek out unsafe and unsanitary methods instead). It is a matter of personal choice and personal conviction that should only be aided by unbiased medical facts.
We challenge each of our readers to continue this discussion in your communities and keep up to date with the reproductive rights cases in your cities, states and countries (as this is not just an American issue). Our wish is that we can progress in finding a middle ground on this topic, as the “us v them” stance is clearly not working.