The Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013

In honor of International Women’s Month, the Ci3/Section blog is proud to present a series of posts from its staff, supporters and constituents. Below, Section project assistant Sara Newton writes about the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013.

As part of  International Women’s Month, this series of blog posts not only celebrate women’s achievements, but also remind us that the battle for equality is not finished. It’s 2014, and women are still paid less than their male counterparts, are still disproportionally represented in business and political leadership positions, and despite the passing of Roe v. Wade 41 years ago, women still face harmful and unnecessary barriers to receiving medical care. The Women’s Health Protection Act aims to defend all women’s right to basic sexual healthcare in a social climate that constantly politicizes women’s health and bodies. This chipping away of a woman’s constitutional right to decide if and when to have a child is one of our unfinished battles.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, more abortion access restrictions have passed between 2011 and 2013 than in the entire previous decade. This means that 56 percent of women–more than half of the female population in the United States–now live in states considered hostile to their health and rights.

GuttmacherMap

Image: guttmacher.org

Anti-choice politicians and lobbying groups continue to pass bills that curtail the constitutional guarantees of Roe v. Wade. Even though a state cannot prevent a woman from having an abortion before the fetus is viable outside the womb (20 to 24 weeks), state legislatures have found ways to make it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to access abortion services. These bills have misnomers of “protecting women’s health” with the true objective of preventing abortion access. This strategy has led to the closing of clinics nationwide, forcing providers to obtain(elusive) hospital-admitting privileges, forcing women to view ultrasounds, requiring biased and inaccurate counseling, expecting women to find the time and money to attend multiple appointments and observe waiting periods, and arbitrary clinic reconstructions.

In response to these ploys, in November 2013, Democrat Senators and Representatives led by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013 (WHPA), which would prohibit states from passing Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws.

If enacted, WHPA would preempt state efforts to enact measures like heartbeat bills and fetal pain legislation by requiring states to first meaningfully prove that these regulations do protect women’s health as they claim. According to the WHPA, any legitimate connection has yet to be proved as TRAP laws “…do not advance the safety of abortion services and do nothing to protect women’s health. Also, these restrictions interfere with women’s personal and private medical decisions, make access to abortion more difficult and costly, and even make it impossible for some women to obtain those services.”

WHPA notes that closing clinics not only prevents accessing safe and legal abortion, but further prevents women from accessing basic sexual and reproductive healthcare, “including contraceptive services, which reduce unintended pregnancies and thus abortions, and screenings for cervical cancer and sexually transmitted infections. These harms fall especially heavily on low-income women, women of color, and women living in rural and other medically underserved areas.”

WHPA also includes language that prevents regulating abortion providers differently from providers of “other medically comparable procedures” or requiring abortion facilities to meet standards not required of “facilities where medically comparable procedures are performed.”

WHPA highlights what pro-choice advocates and abortion providers already know: TRAP laws do nothing to protect women’s health, rather they are purposefully burdensome to women and only increase her waiting time, cost, and health risks. These restrictions do not rely on scientific or medical studies, nor do they prevent abortion. A recent study found that 98.4 percent of  women who saw their ultrasound still chose to have an abortion. Closing clinics only drives women to seek unsafe or self-induced abortions, as has been seen in Texas, where some of the most restrictive legislation has passed.

It is unlikely that the WHPA bill will pass the GOP-controlled House. But as January 22 marked the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which confirmed every woman’s constitutional right to make medical decisions without interference, it is a timely reminder to support the ongoing fight for reproductive justice.

Tell Congress to enact WHPA by taking action here.

Sara Newton received her BA in Writing from Indiana Wesleyan University and her MA in Development Studies from University of Melbourne, Australia. Before joining the Section staff full-time, she volunteered with the Policy program for several months, and has been a regular contributor to the Ci3/Section blog.

“Beyond Safe and Legal” – Lack of Access to Abortion as a Form of Gendered Violence

For Day 13 of the 16 Days of Activism, guest blogger Claire McKinney writes about abortion restrictions as gendered violence.

The past two years have been witness to a prodigious amount of new and pernicious abortion restrictions across the United States. According to the Guttmacher Institute, over 162 restrictions have been enacted over the past two and a half years. Many of these restrictions have taken the form of Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP laws. These laws operate under the guise of making abortions safer for women by creating more stringent requirements for abortion providers, including upgrading facilities to the level of ambulatory surgical centers, requiring doctors who perform abortions to have hospital privileges, and by prohibiting telemedicine, or the provision of medical services over the internet, of use for many rural residents. The regulations have shuttered dozens of clinics across the United States, eliminating access to abortion for countless women, especially poor women in non-urban settings.

This past summer, the Texas legislature’s attempt to pass several of these restrictions in a single bill reached national attention when Wendy Davis, a representative from Fort Worth, filibustered the bill in the closing days of a special session which had been called for the express purpose of passing incredibly restrictive abortion laws that would close the doors of all but five of Texas’ abortion clinics, forcing some women in rural areas to drive anywhere up to 500 miles to reach a provider. Because the filibuster rules of the Texas legislature require that all speaking must be germane to the bill in question, all 10 hours of Davis’ filibuster worked as justifications to reject the abortion restrictions being proposed.

Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis. (Image: huffingtonpost.com)

The testimony Davis introduced, from members of various medical communities as well as from Texas constituents who were barred from testifying during the public hearings on the bills, displayed the full range of justifications for having full access to abortion providers. From a women’s health perspective, what is troubling about these new restrictions is the co-option of the language of women’s health to justify new restrictions. Opponents of abortion have learned to speak that language of science and women’s health without any concern for the validity of their claims. They claim that these laws are necessary to guarantee the safety of abortion, readily ignoring that abortion is safer than childbirth in terms of complications and risk of mortality. When those who object to new restrictions demand evidence for the need for hospital privileges or clinic standards that are only necessary for complicated surgeries demand to see evidence to support these restrictions, the only response is silence. And yet the bad faith co-option of women’s health continues to ensure that women will be refused the care that is medically necessary and socially desirable.

Concerns for women’s health, for women’s citizenship status, and for unjustified interference in medical practice repeatedly echoed through many parts of the testimony. What is striking that often is not present in thinking through the need for access to abortion is how lack of access contributes to gendered violence and is itself a form of economic violence.

In 2012, Karuna Chibber of the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California San Francisco found that women who were denied abortions were significantly more likely to experience intimate partner violence than women who had safely procured an abortion. It would be easy to speculate how coerced parenthood places women into vulnerable positions in relation to partners such that they could not leave such partnerships, even if they turn violent. Chibber’s work provides a new way of understanding access to abortion to be an issue not only of a choice of one’s life goals but also a crucial resource for women to avoid situations of intimate partner violence. The right to abortion is also the right to be free from violence.

Roe v. Wade anniversary

Image: salon.com

The economic violence associated with lack of access to abortion is more well established and has been a thread of concern for establishing a right to access to abortion since the movements of the 1960s. Many women who seek abortions do so because they know an additional child will place an unsustainable economic strain on themselves and their family. Women lose opportunities such as the time and resources to attend school and to advance or even hold employment when they cannot afford childcare, ensuring that a cycle of poverty will either begin or persist for these women and their families. Furthermore, women in poverty are those who are mostly likely to lose access to abortion providers by the increased restrictions on abortion. Women with financial needs can travel long distances with relative ease, while these restrictions work to create an economic underclass, whose rights are less than those of the wealthy. The differential health results are themselves a form of violence against women that demands that access to abortion remains part of the activist agenda for women’s empowerment.

Davis’ filibuster delayed the passage of the abortion restrictions in Texas, but only by a couple of weeks. Since their passage, they have been held as constitutional by the Texas Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court has refused to hear the constitutional challenge against such laws. Relying on legislative and judicial forums to protect access to abortion has proven to be less than effective. Instead, protecting and expanding access to abortion requires organizations and individuals to articulate demands not only in the language of health which has become too susceptible to cooption, but also in the language of women’s citizenship and right to be free from violence.

Claire McKinney is a PhD candidate in Political Science at The University of Chicago. Her dissertation develops a concept of medicalized citizenship and the centrality of the language of health in the history of and in present day abortion politics.