This is the way abortion rights end (apologies to T.S. Eliot): not with a bang, but with something worse than a whimper. The steady, relentless chipping away of those rights, state by state. And where a straightforward denial of women’s rights might face opposition, abortion foes are stooping to emotion-twisting, privacy-invading, fear-inducing tactics the likes of which have not been seen in a half century.
The “pro-lifers” (which is to say, the people who worry about some potential, unwanted life but don’t give a tinker’s dam for the lives of grown — often just barely grown — women) want abortion absolutely banned in this country. They are pushing closer to that goal every day. They like to talk about “protecting the unborn,” but the big losers in this dangerous game will be those who most need protection: poor, disadvantaged, un-empowered women.
New York Times editorial writer Dorothy Samuels offered a sharp overview of the dangerous times ahead for women’s rights, after reporting on a recent lunch celebrating the 40th anniversary of New York’s becoming the first state to fully legalize abortion. That law, Samuels notes, “began to reduce the death and injury toll from back-alley abortions and set the stage for the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, which made abortion legal nationwide and recognized a constitutional right to privacy.
But abortion-rights groups are newly anxious about new assaults on women’s reproductive rights, including a fight over abortion that snarled the last days of the health care reform debate. Anti-abortion groups are newly emboldened.
The health care reform law contains advances for women’s reproductive health care, including enlarged access to insurance coverage for maternity care, contraception and other services. But President Obama and pro-choice Congressional lawmakers made abortion coverage vulnerable as part of the effort to secure the measure’s passage.
Kelli Conlin, head of Naral Pro-Choice New York, told guests at the lunch that “anti-choice forces are mobilizing in every single state to limit a woman’s access to abortion in more insidious ways than we can imagine.”
As Ms. Conlin was speaking, members of the Oklahoma House were getting ready to override vetoes of two punishing abortion measures. The state’s Democratic governor, Brad Henry, rightly viewed these intrusions into women’s lives and decision-making as unconstitutional.
One of the measures, which seems destined to spawn copycat bills in other states, requires women to undergo an ultrasound before getting an abortion and further mandates that a doctor or technician set up the monitor so the woman can see it and hear a detailed description of the fetus.
The other law grants protection from lawsuits to doctors who deliberately withhold fetal testing results that might affect a woman’s decision about whether to carry her pregnancy to term.
Several states have either passed or are considering bills that would ban abortion coverage in insurance plans sold through the state exchanges established by the federal health care law.
A new Utah law criminalizes certain behavior by women that results in miscarriage. Embarking on a road that could lead to the Supreme Court, Nebraska last month banned most abortions at the 20th week of pregnancy based on a questionable theory of fetal pain.
About two dozen states are looking at bills to increase counseling requirements or waiting periods prior to abortions. About 20 states are considering new ultrasound requirements. This is on top of an already onerous regimen of state restrictions that has drastically cut down on abortion providers and curtailed a woman’s ability to exercise a constitutionally protected right.
Draconian laws will not stop unintended pregnancies. Once abortion foes succeed in eliminating a woman’s right to privacy and ability to make her own, often difficult, choices the lucrative business of back-alley abortions will once again thrive. And women will die.