How 2016 Became A Year For Anti-Choice Legislation
Oklahoma’s recently-vetoed abortion bill, which would have stripped abortion providers of their medical licensees and possibly exposed them to criminal charges, was just the latest in a raft of bills aimed at restricting access to abortions ever since Republicans swept to power in 69 of 99 state legislatures and 33 of 50 governorships during the 2014 midterm elections. In 2016, they’re trying to solidify those gains with a flurry of anti-abortion legislation.
Over the past two years, there has been an explosion in the number of anti-abortion bills introduced in state legislatures. Over 400 anti-abortion bills introduced in 2015 alone. And in the first half of this year, that number spiked again. Across 45 states, 1,022 provisions to curtail abortion rights have been introduced, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy institute focused on reproductive health and rights. Of those provisions, 17 have passed at least one legislative chamber and 21 have been enacted in five states.
The American public generally only notices these bills once they reach the governor’s office, where they’re vetoed, like in Oklahoma, or signed into law, as in Indiana, Michigan, Alabama and South Carolina.
While the rest of the country was focused on the Oklahoma standoff, South Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill making it illegal for women more than 20 weeks pregnant to get an abortion, ostensibly to avoid inflicting pain on the unborn child, despite evidence that fetal pain doesn’t occur until after the 28th week of conception.
Indiana passed one of the most restrictive laws in the country back in March, effectively blocking any of the remaining avenues for women to access safe abortions in the state. “Seeing them all in one place, that is very striking,” said Dawn Johnsen, an Indiana University law professor and abortion rights activist, to The New York Times. “It’s like the kitchen sink: Everything that isn’t already in the law. And the law is already really restrictive.”
Indiana’s law banned abortion on the grounds of “race, color, national origin, ancestry, or sex of the fetus; or a diagnosis or potential diagnosis of the fetus having Down syndrome or any other disability.” It further required that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital.
In West Virginia, the Republican-controlled state legislature overrode a veto by Democratic Governor Earl Ray Tomblin to make it illegal to get an abortion after 20 weeks of a pregnancy. Titled the Dismemberment Abortion Act, the bill banned anyone from performing an abortion except where the mother’s life was in danger.
Meanwhile, pro-life groups continue to bankroll political campaigns, with $835,000 being spent in 2015, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2014, pro-life groups spent just over $800,000.
Abortion bills often share a common rhetoric to justify limiting women’s health care access. Recently, the word “dismemberment,” meant to evoke chopped up fetuses, is a favorite of the anti-abortion right. David Daleiden edited hidden camera footage to make it seem like Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast was selling “baby parts” in 2015 — incidentally, he faces two felonies and a misdemeanor charge for that video today.
This obsession with “dismembered” babies was one of the reasons Robert Lewis Dear, who killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, claimed to have attacked the facility. During a rambling interview following his arrest, Dear reportedly yelled “No more baby parts!” a reference to the videos Daleiden had shot earlier that year.
There may be another factor fueling the recent surge in abortion legislation across the country: the successful candidacy of Donald Trump, who has defied conservative orthodoxy on everything from trade to the minimum wage.
There has been a concerted push by Christian conservatives, whose traditional positions on numerous issues have been upended by Donald Trump’s ascent, to make sure the party does not shift on abortion, even if he has personally vacillated on the procedure.
“I think our platform is pretty clear on those subjects. Life begins at conception, and that 14th Amendment rights apply to unborn children,” Reince Priebus said in late April, in one of the few instances he has had the courage to publicly contradict Trump. He was backed up by a reanimated Ted Cruz, who has promised he would wield his 500-plus delegates on the convention floor to enforce a sufficiently conservative party platform on abortion, should Trump try to change it.
If abortion operates on the same paradigm as most other conservative social issues — support of anti-choice legislation is especially common when the Christian right can paint itself as the “victim” of women’s right to choose — expect plenty more legislation as this massive culture war of an election grinds on.
Photo: Protesters gather outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Vista, California, August 3, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake