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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/17/16

The State of the Art: Republican Redux and Reproductive Rights

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Message Elayne Clift
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To paraphrase Elizabeth Barrett Browning, How do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways -- and the number of states falling all over themselves to legislate against women's right to privacy, reproductive health care and freedom, and human rights.

But first some history. As the Gutttmacher Institute points out, after the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in this country, several states tried to impose strict regulations on abortion clinics that went beyond what is necessary to ensure patient safety. Many of these regulations were struck down by lower federal courts so states looked at new ways to restrict access to abortion, including limiting public funding and instituting ridiculous rules about clinic facilities.

Such rules and regulations were, and still are, blatantly ridiculous given that, as Jon Oliver pointed out on his weekly HBO show, Last Week Tonight, "you're statistically more likely to die during a colonoscopy than an abortion." Many proposed or passed laws, like mandatory waiting periods or the viewing of ultrasounds, have nothing at all to do with "safety" or a woman's health, the purported reasons for the obstructive nonsense Republican politicians are attempting to promulgate. What they do, however, is make women face horrendous decisions -- and consequences - women like the one who called a clinic to ask what she could do on her own with stuff in her kitchen cupboard since she couldn't afford transportation to the clinic.

States like Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia and other offenders need to remember that in 1992, Planned Parenthood v. Casey allowed states to place restrictions on abortion clinics only so long as those restrictions didn't place "an undue burden [or] substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion."

In the wake of that Supreme Court decision we've seen an increase in state regulations of abortion clinics resulting in a serious decrease in clinics, particularly in some states including North Dakota, South Dakota, Mississippi and Utah, which now have only one clinic each.

In a recent egregious instance of de-funding Planned Parenthood and other reproductive rights clinics, a bill passed in the Florida legislature would prevent state agencies from working with any organization that provides abortion care other than for victims of rape, incest, or if the life of the woman is at risk. It remains to be seen whether Gov. Rick Scott will sign the bill. Meanwhile, several Florida lawmakers have insisted that plentiful alternatives exist for reproductive and sexual healthcare, citing dentists, optometrists, and elementary schools as viable alternatives to health centers.

As of last year, 24 states had laws or policies that regulate abortion providers in ways that go well beyond what is necessary to ensure patients' safety. Fourteen states regulate physicians' offices where abortions are performed in unnecessary ways. Twenty-two states have onerous licensing standards and ten states require abortion facilities to be within a set distance from a hospital. A total of 21 states require a provider to have a relationship with a hospital. And this is just a partial list of requirements imposed on clinics and providers.

Arkansas and North Dakota legislatures have tried to ban abortion beyond 12 and six weeks of pregnancy respectively. In a seemingly spurious move Michigan governor Scott Walker signed into law a bill that requires county clerks to provide information on fetal alcohol syndrome and substance use during pregnancy to marriage licensees and domestic partnership applicants. South Dakota's House passed a measure banning abortions at 20 weeks and added new abortion reporting requirements. The measure also required erroneous counseling. Mississippi has tried to ban dilation and extraction abortions and West Virginia passed a ban on the most commonly used method of second-trimester termination.

So what's all this humiliating and intimidating legislation really about? One answer is articulated in Rebecca Traister's latest book, All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. The rising number of single, autonomous, economically and politically independent women in America, she points out, is challenging patriarchal patterns and control once managed more efficiently via marriage. Single women, conservatives realize, threaten the status quo, nowhere more potently than in the voting booth, and Republican stalwarts are resisting mightily having to lose power and to meet new challenges as women define their lives beyond the proscribed historic roles defined by marriage.

Within that wider context, reproduction once again becomes a battlefield in which the warrior aims to hold, or reclaim, control over women. But as Traister puts it, "The future has arrived," and men in power don't much like what they see the future offering them. It's the "worst nightmare of social conservatives," she says. "The expanded presence of women as independent entities means a redistribution of all kinds of power, including electoral power, that has until recently been wielded mostly by men."

Let's get real here. Today only 19 percent of Americans believe abortion should be universally illegal. Thirty-six percent think it should be allowed in some cases and 29 percent think it should be allowed on demand. There are good men among these Americans, and I suspect there are also some conservatives who have reason to be closeted on the abortion issue. Isn't it time the right wing joined others in recognizing reality so that we can all face our future together -- sanely, humanely, and truly safely?

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Elayne Clift is a writer,lecturer, workshop leader and activist. She is senior correspondent for Women's Feature Service, columnist for the Keene (NH) Sentinel and Brattleboro (VT) Commons and a contributor to various publications internationally. (more...)
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