Personal Health

4 Things You Need to Know About the Assault on Women's Rights on Roe v. Wade Anniversary

The assault on reproductive freedom in this country is worse than you think.

Photo Credit: EPG_EuroPhotoGraphics/Shutterstock.com

On the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, the anti-abortion movement has geared up its ongoing fight to control women’s bodies. With a Congress that is openly hostile to reproductive rights, and state legislatures showing no signs of stopping their own attacks on womens’ right to choose, the future certainly seems grim.

A recent New York Times’ editorial warned of the challenges to come in the year ahead:

"The start of 2015 finds no letup in the attacks on a woman’s constitutionally protected right to make her own childbearing decisions.…Republicans scoff at accusations that they are waging a war against women. But this should not obscure a basic fact: The ability of women to control their reproductive lives is essential for their health, careers and equality."

Here are four things you need to know about the current assault on reproductive rights.

1. GOP legislators to vote on national abortion ban.On the first day of Congress’ session, Republicans introduced legislation that would ban abortion nationwide after 20 weeks. Introduced by representatitives Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the so-called Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is based on the discredited belief that fetuses at 20 weeks are able to feel pain. Before a last-minute schedule change, the House was expected to vote on the bill on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The vote was dropped after female Republican lawmakers disagreed with the bill's requirement that rape and incest victims report to police before receiving an exemption to the ban. 

The bill passed in the House last year, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) of the newly Republican-controlled Senate promised to bring a 20-week abortion ban to a vote. The American Medical Association and other medical groups agree that the nervous system of a fetus is not capable of feeling pain before the third trimester.

Still, Franks said of his bill that 20-week fetuses are “innocent and defenseless children who can not only feel pain, but who can survive outside of the womb in most cases, and who are torturously killed without even basic anesthesia.”

A ban on 20-week abortions directly conflicts with Roe v. Wade,which says abortion can’t be banned before viability. Science places viability at 24-28 weeks, and no 21-week fetus has ever survived outside the womb.

2. Anti-abortion and anti-birth control activists take over Washington, DC. Every year, hundreds of thousands of anti-abortion fanatics are bussed into Washington, DC, to hold a “March for Life” on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.While there’s a heavy GOP presence, politicians on both sides of the aisle speak at the spectacle.

But what sets this year’s march apart from others is its recent attempt to conflate birth control and abortion. The March for Life Education Defense Fund, which organizes the event, filed a lawsuit last year challenging the Affordable Care Act by claiming that hormonal birth control, known as the pill, causes abortion. This goes even further than the Hobby Lobbycase, in which abortion rights opponents claimed emergency contraception and IUDs caused abortion.

The claim that any birth control method can terminate a pregnancy is medically unsubstantiated.

The lawsuit, which seeks an exemption for private employers from the ACA mandate to provide contraception coverage, is still ongoing. But you may not know this from the march. As Joerg Dreweke, a researcher with the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, wrote: “Rather than applying the claim that some contraceptive methods in effect cause abortion consistently to all aspects of their advocacy, antiabortion groups ignore and often contradict their positions when it might hurt them politically.”

3. New investigations reveal the rampant assault on reproductive rights. A Guttmacher Institute report released earlier this year found that 231 anti-abortion restrictions were enacted since the 2010 midterm elections. This four-year period witnessed a dramatic assault compared to former years:

In 2014 alone, 26 new restrictions (out of the 335 restrictions proposed) were passed and 60 abortion clinics closed. Another report from NARAL Pro-Choice America just gave the United States a D in its new report card on the status of women’s reproductive rights. President Ilyse G. Hogue wrote in the introduction of the report that 2014 brought outright abortion bans, mandatory waiting periods, forced ultrasounds, detrimental Supreme Court rulings on Hobby Lobbyand buffer zones, and TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion providers) laws placing ludicrous requirements on abortion clinics in the hopes of closing them.

Hogue wrote: “All across the country, people are waking up to a new reality shaped by anti-choice politicians and ideologically motivated judges and justices who believe they know better than women, our families, and our doctors about what’s best for us.”

4. The assault won’t be stopping anytime soon. A new RH Reality Check investigation paints an ugly picture of the road ahead. Researchers found that anti-abortion legislators don’t stop introducing legislation aimed at restricting women’s reproductive rights—even if the legislation previously failed. Instead, pre-written, anti-abortion model legislation is being introduced over and over by state lawmakers.

RH Reality Check wrote in its analysis: “As state legislative sessions gear up for what could be one of the worst years on record for reproductive rights, anti-choice lawmakers across the country have in recent weeks filed barrages of laws that would restrict access to safe and legal abortion, all while duplicitously claiming that these measures are needed to 'protect' women. Many of these laws are identical, or nearly so, to laws that have repeatedly failed in the same states where they are being reintroduced.”

Americans United for Life, the National Right to Life Committee, the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Susan B. Anthony List are the four organizations that play a key role in writing up the legislation.

“With hundreds of pre-written bills at the ready, the underlying strategy is to throw every bill into the mix, hoping that one might pass,” the researchers write. “What emerges is a picture of how the legal architects of the anti-choice movement are succeeding in building a state-based framework that is making abortion increasingly inaccessible.”

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet. 

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