Watching Reproductive Justice Disappear

This is a downer essay. Much as I try always to end on an upbeat note, there are only long shadows. Still . . .

I am old enough to remember when, in 1973, Roe v Wade was ruled into law. I can also remember having a kitchen-table abortion, in 1956, after a workplace rape – in a time when both rape and abortion were too shameful – but only for the woman involved – ever to be mentioned.  So it is beyond distressing to watch reproductive justice disappearing. This is a current look at two pieces of that disintegration.

A tiny bit of qualified good news: recently Theodore Chuang, U.S. District Judge for the District of Maryland ruled that during the covid-19 crisis requiring women to travel to clinics for medication abortion – a matter of taking a few pills – presented a “substantial obstacle” for these patients. This is good news for women, and for telehealth. In this upside down time, those of us who have fought for reproductive justice over the past decades of its steady decline tend to glom onto any tiny bit of good news.

The problem is, such an overwhelming amount of bad news remains that it’s hard to feel optimistic for more than five minutes. The bad news includes an endless list of anti-abortion rulings by lower courts that have been filled with conservative judges at an astonishing speed over the past three and a half years, a constant onslaught of state restrictions making abortion access harder and harder especially for the poor or powerless, and even the proposed Democratic House spending bill for 2021 – which includes the onerous Hyde Amendment.

A few explanatory details on the good news. Mifepristone, the drug used in combination with Misoprostol to safely induce abortion up to ten weeks gestation, was approved by the FDA in 2000. Since the procedure is a matter of taking a few pills, it’s been increasingly used by physicians practicing telemedicine during the covid-19 pandemic. Judge Chuang’s ruling says this can continue. But once we’re past this public health nightmare, all those states requiring women to travel to clinics to take a couple of pills – often, especially for poor women, at a cost they can ill afford – will go back into effect. Mifepristone is many times safer than penicillin, but it is more heavily regulated than, for example, fentanyl. Go figure.

It is not hard to go figure if you have followed the political rhetoric of the past three and a half years. We are reaping what we sowed, electoral collegially speaking.  

As to the Hyde Amendment – which forbids use of federal funds for abortion services except in very narrowly specified circumstances like rape, abortion or when the woman’s life is in danger. It was passed in 1976. Like that of so many other restrictive laws, its harm falls most heavily on poor women and minorities. Assorted Democrats have, over the years, attempted to get rid of it, and dozens of groups are still fighting to get it removed from the spending bill. But Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chair of the LHHS subcommittee (Labor, Health & Human Services, Education & Related Agencies) put it into today’s proper perspective.

Recently, after celebrating much of the spending bill, Rep. DeLauro turned with a measure of wrath to the inclusion of the Hyde Amendment.  “The Hyde Amendment is a discriminatory policy,” DeLauro said. “This is a long-standing issue of racial injustice and one that is routinely considered—every year as a legislative rider—but we are in a moment to reckon with the norm, with tradition, and view it through the lens of racial justice. So, although this year’s bill includes it, let me be clear we will fight to remove the Hyde Amendment to ensure that women of color and all women have access to the reproductive health they deserve.”

The sufferings and occasional deaths of countless women every day who are denied access to reproductive care will be the legacies of Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump.

This essay appeared earlier on Medium.com, an interesting site on which I’m enjoying writing.

The Human Face of Human Trafficking

chained wrists

Suppose, just for a moment, you are a 13-year-old girl who has been trafficked in America, the land of the free.

You’ve been brought to the U.S. – kidnapped, sold by your impoverished family, picked up from the streets of some land where girls have no value – and prostituted. Or more likely here, you’re a very unlucky American child victimized by traffickers. As a result of this tragic history, you are pregnant. Or, you survived God knows what only to become a 20-something victim of human trafficking – which now leaves you pregnant.

You should be forced to carry this pregnancy to term? Excuse me?

This is the human face of the human trafficking bill currently being held up in the Senate. Texas Senator John Cornyn’s “Justice for Victims of Human Trafficking” bill would “boost support for and protection of victims of human trafficking” – unless they happen to get pregnant. Once they become pregnant, that support and protection disappears. Tucked away within the multi-page piece of legislation is a stipulation that abortion could not be paid for with these funds.

It’s the old Hyde Amendment thing – the bill passed late in the 20th century that sent women’s reproductive rights straight back into the 19th century with the stipulation that never a federal dollar would be paid to help them end unwanted pregnancies.

Some young trafficking victims might still seek help, since there are now exceptions in cases of rape or incest. But the fact that the victim herself would bear the responsibility for proving the circumstances of her pregnancy is an insult added to egregious injury.

Human faces get lost in congressional rancor. Senators accuse one another of subterfuge and betrayal. Republicans accuse Democrats of one thing, Democrats accuse Republicans of another. Very little gets done. And in it all, the human faces disappear: faces of mere children who never had a break, of women of every age who deserve a life.

If they had voices, those faces might say, “Remember me?”