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State Politicians Continue to Play Politics with Women’s Health, Threatening a Woman’s Right to Abortion

This blog post originally appeared on ACSBlog.

Politicians in Ohio have gone to great lengths to end abortion in their state. They’re not taking the blatantly unconstitutional route of North Dakota and Arkansas and just banning abortion outright in an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade. Rather, politicians in Ohio are doing what they can to make it as difficult and expensive as possible to get an abortion. They are also passing measures with the intent of coercing, shaming, and judging a woman seeking an abortion. Make no mistake: these attempts are just as harmful as an all-out ban on abortion, and are increasingly encroaching upon a woman’s constitutional right to abortion. 

A pregnant woman in Ohio who decides on abortion faces multiple, politician-imposed, medically unnecessary steps. She must receive information intended to dissuade her from her decision and shame her for the deeply personal decision she has made. This now includes forcing her to visit the clinic so doctors can test for a fetal heartbeat and offer her the chance to hear it, and forcing her to listen to a description of the odds of carrying the pregnancy to term. She must then wait 24 hours before obtaining the medical care she originally sought. As an Ohio woman seeking an abortion said, “It’s a hard decision for anybody to make. To make it more difficult by passing these laws and making women feel guilty is terrible.” (And these new requirements are only part of the numerous abortion restrictions that became law in Ohio this year).

Unfortunately, these efforts in Ohio are part of a national trend. Abortion opponents have continued to push the boundaries in an attempt to further challenge the core constitutional protections for a woman’s decision to have an abortion. In the last three years, states have passed a record number of abortion restrictions. These include requirements that a woman undergo a medically unnecessary, physically invasive ultrasound before obtaining an abortion, prohibiting a woman from purchasing a comprehensive health insurance plan that includes coverage of abortion, and imposing unnecessary, costly, and burdensome requirements on the clinics and doctors who provide abortions in an effort to shut them down.

Why this uptick in anti-abortion legislation?

It’s due in part to the Supreme Court’s 2007 Gonzales v. Carhart decision, which opened the floodgates for new anti-abortion legislation. In what amounted to a stunning reversal of a decision made just 7 years earlier, a newly constituted Court significantly cut back on the protections of Roe v. Wade. The decision signaled a willingness by a majority of the Court to uphold restrictions on abortion, as well as its newfound belief that a woman having an abortion needed to be protected from the “harmful consequences” of her own decisions. Although Justice Ginsburg’s strong dissent appropriately recognized and strongly condemned this new paternalism, the decision nevertheless served as an open invitation to state legislators to pass new restrictions on abortion.

The other contributing factor is the proliferation of legislatures and governor’s offices newly filled with abortion opponents after the 2010 elections – opponents ready and willing to take up the Court’s invitation. This year, these politicians demonstrated just how extreme they are by going to great lengths to take women’s health care away. In Texas, abortion opponents changed the rules and called two special sessions to ram through their omnibus anti-abortion bill. In North Carolina, politicians first tacked abortion restrictions onto a bill prohibiting the use of sharia law, and then ended up passing the restrictions by adding them to a bill about motorcycle safety. In Ohio, the new abortion restrictions were snuck onto the budget bill overnight, without opportunity for public input. In other words, politicians opposed to abortion are running roughshod over the political process in their goal to undermine a woman’s access to safe, legal medical care.

Fortunately, people are starting to speak up and make their voices heard when politicians attempt these attacks on women’s access to abortion. In Texas, Senator Wendy Davis is one of hundreds of Texans who stood in the Capitol against the abortion restrictions that were being fast-tracked through the special session. In North Carolina, thousands protested against the anti-abortion bill there, one of the largest of the “Moral Monday” protests. And in Ohio, just two weeks ago, there was a rally against the newly passed abortion restrictions, and Ohio legislators who support women’s health have announced plans to introduce a bill to repeal the harmful restrictions.

Here at the National Women’s Law Center, we’ve seen through our “This Is Personal” campaign that individuals are increasingly recognizing that these attacks on a woman’s fundamental constitutional right have gone too far. A new enraged and engaged generation of activists is making their voices heard and is poised to make a difference.

It's time for change, and we must act now. Time's up.