Abortion in Texas: The small fraction

Medievalpreg

Only a small fraction of Texas women will suffer.

With the closing of thirteen abortion clinics in Texas, one out of six Texas women seeking an abortion will have to travel 150 miles or more, and never mind all the other obstacles about waiting periods, increased costs, hassling protesters and having to listen to medically incorrect messages. But one out of six? That’s only a small fraction, according to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

“In our circuit,” wrote Judge Jennifer Elrod, a George W. Bush appointee, “we do not balance the wisdom or effectiveness of a law against the burdens the law imposes. We do not doubt that women in poverty face greater difficulties.”

What a bother, those “women in poverty.”

Judge Elrod argued that the court had to find that “a large fraction” of women would be affected by the law – the medically unnecessary requirement that all abortion clinics in the state meet the same building equipment and staffing standards as hospital-style surgical centers. And those 900,000 women in rural Texas the judge acknowledged would be affected, well, they’re just a “small fraction.”

Judge Elrod may not know a lot about what it feels like, being part of the small fraction. Born in 1966, she grew up in the Houston-area city of Baytown, Texas, which bills itself as a city “where oil and water really do mix.” She graduated from Baylor and Harvard Law School. Her Wikipedia and Judgepedia pages make no mention of marital or family status, but presumably she never sought to have an abortion. If she had, she would have definitely been in the large fraction – women with money who always have access to safe and legal procedures, even in Texas.

This writer was in another large fraction: women without access to safe or legal abortion in the days before Roe v Wade. Much like today’s small fraction, faced with no viable options we took desperate measures to end unwanted pregnancies. Some of us survived, countless others did not.

This is the fate to which the three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit is consigning the small fraction. Danger, expense, family trauma, health risks and occasional death. Even for a small fraction, that seems hardly what America is about. And hardly in tune with the antiabortion forces’ proclaimed wish to “protect women.”

Some in the small fraction will face primarily family distress and exorbitant costs (usually upwards of $1,000 or $1,500) like “Maria,” whose story is recounted by RH Reality Check Senior Political Reporter Andrea Grimes. Some will face very real danger traveling to Mexico for drugs that can cause permanent injury or death if improperly created or improperly used. Some will maim or kill themselves in efforts to self-abort.

There will be hundreds of women like Elvia Yamell Hamdan, whose story was reported in a recent New York Times article by Laura Tillman and Erick Eckholm. Ms. Hamdan, 44, showed up at the Whole Woman’s Health clinic in McAllen, TX with her husband after a three-hour drive from their home, only to find that clinic professionals could suddenly no longer provide abortions. Ms. Hamdan already has four children and three grandchildren, and seeks to end an unplanned pregnancy. The U.S. Constitution says she has a right to make that choice – but Texas law says her best remaining option is an appointment three weeks later in San Antonio, 240 miles north.

Denise Burke, Vice President of Legal Affairs for Americans United for Life, is quoted in the New York Times story as saying the Fifth Circuit decision endorses anti-abortion forces’ argument that “abortion harms women, and states may regulate in the interest of women’s health.”

“Maria” and Ms. Hamdan seem likely to secure, eventually and at significant risks to their own health and wellbeing, the safe and legal abortion guaranteed to American women. How many others will now, instead, wind up sick, maimed or dead because of this latest ruling will never be known.

Because those others are just part of “the small fraction.”

In the Abortion Wars: A Judge Speaks of Women’s Rights, Women’s Needs

This article first appeared on Huffington Post

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, in his recent ruling that Alabama’s abortion law must go to trial, raises the interesting issue of an “undue burden” on pregnant women.

Imagine that. Bringing the focus around to women.

In the frenzy to ban abortion anywhere, anytime that’s currently going on across the U.S., it is all about the fetus. Opponents of choice and sponsors of restrictive laws often frame their measures as “protective of women,” as if wider hallways, more parking spaces or the host of line items proven to be medically inappropriate were aimed at anything but preventing women from having abortions. Once fertilization happens, the zygote takes precedence.

It’s heartening, therefore, to have a judge speak about the person who is solely able to know the full circumstances: the woman.

The specific issue in Alabama – as with states including Texas where it’s being used to force clinic closures – has to do with requiring doctors to have hospital admitting privileges. There is extensive evidence that admitting privileges are unnecessary. An in-depth article by Imani Gandy of RH Reality Check titled “Why Admitting Privileges Laws Have No Medical Benefit” covered some of that evidence: only a tiny fraction (less than 0.3%) of women experiencing complication from abortion require hospitalization; the risk of death from childbirth is 14 times that of abortion; should something go wrong with an abortion, the ambulance EMT can make the appropriate choice of hospital.

Other laws, such as those restricting medical abortion or many citing physical details of abortion facilities, are cloaked in “protecting women” language. They do exactly the opposite.

Abortion opponents cheer passage of these laws for one reason: they create more roadblocks to abortion. Thus, opponents reason, more women will be denied access, forcing them to bring unwanted pregnancies to term. It is hard to find any good news for women here.

But Judge Thompson said, in an 86-page opinion, that the Alabama trial will focus on whether the law violates women’s constitutional rights by imposing “a substantial obstacle,” possibly placing an “undue burden” on women seeking an abortion. Since abortion clinics more often than not use traveling physicians, the law could result in closure of all but two of Alabama’s five facilities. Alabama has a total land area of 52,419 square miles. It’s hard to believe there would not be an undue burden on countless women required to travel very long distances to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion.

Not all judges seem overly concerned with women. In letting the Texas admitting privileges law stand, Judge Edith H. Jones of the extremely conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals located in New Orleans said she did not believe that driving 300 miles round trip would pose a serious obstacle to Texas women seeking abortions. Judge Jones spoke of good highways and 75 mph speed limits as if the impoverished women of the Rio Grande Valley all had Cadillacs at their disposal.

And more recently, District Court Judge David C. Bury let stand an Arizona law restricting the use of the drug mifepristone to the first seven weeks, despite extensive evidence that it can be safely taken outside doctors’ offices through the ninth week of pregnancy. What this means is that countless Arizona women, unable to have the safer, preferable medical procedure, will be forced to have more expensive and complex surgical abortions… and to travel hundreds of miles, twice to comply with the regulations. But this does not concern Judge Bury. None of that, he wrote, qualifies “as irreparable harm.”

For now, Judge Thompson’s words offer some solace, whether or not his decision ultimately goes in favor of the women of Alabama.

“If the court finds that the statute was motivated by a purpose of protecting fetal life, then the statute had the unconstitutional purpose of creating a substantial obstacle,” Thompson wrote in his opinion. “Evidence establishing that the legislature passed a statute with the purpose of closing down the clinic would suffice to establish a constitutional violation.”

Underground abortionists? Today? Believe it.

The back alley abortionist of pre-Roe days came in all types: men, women, trained, untrained, compassionate or just in it for the money. They existed, all of them, because women desperate to end unwanted pregnancies sought them out. In almost every case the woman and the abortionist had little or no contact either before or after the event, but in many cases — including my own — there was a strange sense of gratitude to someone who managed to give you your life back. In countless other cases the woman died herself, because these were dangerous procedures in perilous times.

And they’re back.

Not in the same form, probably not in anywhere near the same number as was the case before Roe v Wade. But the Underground Abortionist is here. Loss of access to safe and legal abortion, thanks to layers of state restrictions, is causing women with unplanned pregnancies to seek out ways to end those pregnancies. They are, by and large, women without money or resources, very often women with more children already than they can care for. Some of them are just frightened children with nowhere to turn — abused by a family member or victimized in any of a million ways.

Enter the underground abortionist. Today’s illegal abortion provider is most often a drug dealer who knows where to get misoprostol and mifepristone, the drugs needed to end a pregnancy. The potential dangers are different from the assortment of dangerous methods used by illegal abortionists before 1973, but they surely exist: if the drugs are not pure, if they are taken in the wrong dosages, any number of conditions can make today’s illegal abortion as dangerous as those in days of old.

But happily for some women who are denied safe abortions today, there are compassionate other women trying hard to help. One wrote about her work on Jezebel and subsequently participated in a fascinating interview with Robin Marty of RH Reality Check. I hope you’ll read the entire piece.

This underground abortionist is motivated by what she hears, through emails, from women with unplanned pregnancies: “Desperate, scared, broke women write to her, wanting to terminate a pregnancy without turning to sharp instruments, unknown drugs, or old wives’ tales,” Marty explains. So she does her best to instruct them on proper use, and sends the drugs.

Is this any way to settle the critical, complex issue of unwanted pregnancy? At this point, for poor women in much of the U.S., it’s all there is.

The underground abortionist says, in this eye-opening interview, much with which I heartily agree. Particularly in these closing lines, when Marty poses hypothetical questions the interviewee might be asked:

“I think “pro-life” and pro-choice activists don’t talk enough to each other. I think we can actually sometimes find unusual common ground. I think that while a lot of the people at the top of the pro-life movement are cynical and misogynistic, a lot of the pro-life rank-and-file are people who are honestly well-intentioned and have been told a lot of lies.”

In other words – Can We Talk?

Abortion wars: pro-choice forces question accuracy of new poll

However the “pro-life” tag for all those anti-women’s-rights people came to be co-opted, it was a stroke of genius. It is, of course, more devious than truthful. Anti-abortion forces, as this space has raged about from time to time, piously support the life of a fertilized egg, while ignoring the lives of mature women. But the loaded label is firmly set.

Most recently, a Gallup poll has brought it to the forefront once more. That poll, released early this month, showed that slightly more Americans call themselves “pro-life” (47%) than “pro-choice” (45%.) The figures are about the same as shown in a similar poll last July, though the pro-life leanings are actually weaker than the percentages a year ago (51% to 42%.) Writer Amanda Marcotte, blogging at RH Reality Check, argues that the poll numbers don’t reflect the political strength of pro-choice Americans. Rather, she says,

the term “pro-life” is more of a tribal identifier or a feel-good term than it is a political stance.  This becomes only clear when you consider that pro-life activists tend to follow the lead of the Vatican (even if they’re Protestant) and object to all forms of fertility control that offer women a reasonable amount of control over their own bodies.

Marcotte interviewed Jessica Grose, whose article on Slate.com about the poll also questioned whether the pro-life numbers reflect a trend against women’s choice, or might be attributable to other factors. Republicans not wanting to be counted as pro-choice because it might align them with Democrats, or Obama; the general movement of Gen Y away from pro-choice. Grose does not, in the long run, see the poll numbers as a voice of doom.

The notion that more and more Americans are embracing the pro-life label is pretty terrifying for pro-choicers. But what does it really mean to call yourself pro-life or pro-choice? Do the labels actually track people’s views about the legality of abortion? The answer may be yes, but not in a simple or neat way. Though more people are calling themselves pro-life, the percentage of Americans who say abortion is morally wrong is down six points from last year. But at the same time, a Pew poll from last August showed that slightly more people are also saying that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, though the gain is only 1 percent from the previous September.

The upcoming Supreme Court nomination process could potentially shift things back to the pro-choice label. It’s not about Elena Kagan per se, but Gallup senior editor Lydia Saad says that when the abortion issue is raised in relation to the Supreme Court, the issue tends to help the pro-choice side—because, in the end, most people don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade. Recent data back up the second part—according to a CBS News/New York Times poll from April says that 58 percent of Americans still believe that Roe v. Wade was a good thing.

A hopeless optimist to the core, I wish I could join these wise observers in finding any glimmer of hope in the whole scene. From where I sit and what I know — and I am among the steadily dwindling few who know first hand the horrors that women faced pre-Roe v Wade — the hard core anti-abortionists are pulling every trick in the book to gain ground, and it’s working. If they ultimately do win, women will suffer an unfathomable loss.