April 18 2011 08:13 PM

Facing the erosion of abortion rights in America


Imagine if the California Legislature banned abortion today and Gov. Jerry Brown didn't veto it. Imagine the uproar, the protests, the massive resistance movement that would result in this predominantly pro-choice state (a Field poll last year showed that 70 percent of Californians and even 55 percent of California Republicans are pro-choice).

It's already happening across the country. The New York Times reported that since Republicans made gains in the mid-term elections, 29 states now have anti-choice governors and 15 have both anti-choice governors and legislatures. According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, 374 anti-abortion bills have been introduced in state legislatures this year, already 200 more than last year.

Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota, Utah, Mississippi, Virginia and Arizona have all passed new restrictions on abortion access in 2011.

Last week, Kansas became the second state, along with Nebraska, to ban abortions after 20 weeks, based on the scientifically debatable contention that fetuses feel pain in the 21st week. Sixteen other states are considering similar legislation.

The result of such bans is exemplified by the case of Danielle Deaver. In an interview with Reuters, the Nebraska woman said that 22 weeks into her second pregnancy, she lost her amniotic fluid and was told her baby would die outside of the womb with undeveloped lungs or be crushed in the uterus. She asked to be induced, but this would have been a violation of the state's new abortion law. Deaver had to wait at home for 10 days until she went into labor and gave birth to the baby, who died after 15 minutes.

Also last week, Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed into law a ban on receiving state tax credits for donations to Planned Parenthood or other abortion providers.

So, while congressional Democrats managed to defeat Republicans' efforts during the recent federal budget stand-off to cut $317 million of funding for family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood, which provide abortion services, and also blocked Republican attempts to transfer funds for women's healthcare into state block grants to circumvent federal laws protecting abortion rights, anti-choice Republicans are finding ways to attack women's reproductive freedom at the state level.

Brewer's attack on tax credits for donations to Planned Parenthood is unique among the recent wave of anti-choice legislation in that it's likely to face a challenge that will go before the U.S. Supreme Court. Given that conservatives on the court recently decided in another Arizona case that tax credits for donations to religious schools are constitutionally kosher, it's likely that they'll also overrule Arizona's anti-abortion tax-credit law.
But no one's challenging the more dire attacks on women's reproductive freedom, like those passed in Nebraska and Kansas, which are already hurting women such as Danielle Deaver, and the even more restrictive law being considered in Ohio, which would ban abortion at the detection of a fetus' heartbeat.

The reason that groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America haven't supported bringing a case like Deaver's—which represents a clear violation of Roe v. Wade—before the Supreme Court is because that is exactly what supporters of this new legislation want.

Anti-abortion activists want to see Roe v. Wade challenged in the John Roberts-led Supreme Court. A 5-4 decision overturning or severely limiting the reach of Roe v. Wade is highly likely given the court's current political makeup.

This is a dangerous Catch-22. In order to keep in place the existing federal law protecting a woman's right to choose, pro-choice organizations are limited in what they can do about the spate of new anti-abortion laws being passed in states dominated by anti-choice conservatives.

What we're witnessing is a stealth campaign to make an abortion illegal or as difficult to obtain as possible in as many states as possible, and it's working.

The anti-abortion side knows what it's doing.

“It's about, ‘How do we end legalized abortion in America?'” Neil Siegel, a Duke University constitutional lawyer and former Supreme Court clerk told CNN.

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow is one of the few pundits on the idiot box doing much talking about this issue with the gravity it deserves. Last week, after discussing the stalemate situation in a conversation with Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, Maddow asked “where this ends.” If Ohio passes legislation that bans abortions 22 days after conception, about the time it may take a woman to even suspect she's pregnant, Maddow wanted to know if it just becomes law. O'Neill's response? “If it goes unchallenged, yes.” But it has to go unchallenged or goodbye Roe v. Wade.

This is the situation we find ourselves in. Here in California, abortion is a matter for women and their doctors to decide, and there is public-funding assistance available for those who need it. But if we're serious about women's rights in this country, we can't leave it to states to choose for them. We need to protect this fundamental right from the threat of the right.

Where does it end? Regardless of the political landscape of representatives and governors, and no matter how much anti-choice legislation is passed at the state level, eventually it will wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court. How soon that happens depends on two things: 1. When the next justice retires or dies and 2. Who's president of the United States.

This is reason enough to keep a Democrat in the White House for as long as possible, in case you needed one.    

Write to dak@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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