5 Dirty Tricks Right-Wing Zealots Will Likely Try Next in Their Battle to Control Women
Has there been a more sustained assault on women's rights in recent memory as what we saw in 2011? Republicans swept the House and many state governments in the 2010 election, and made attacking reproductive rights a major priority, right next to destroying union power and making it harder for students, poor people and people of color to vote. Republicans waged war on women’s ability to pay for an abortion, get an abortion without being needlessly hassled, get an abortion at a location within a day’s drive, or access affordable contraception. It seemed like not a week passed without another outrageous attack on women’s rights. It’s tempting to think that 2012 has to be better, on the grounds that it can’t be much worse.
But I wouldn’t breathe easy just yet. At the end of 2009, we also thought we’d seen the worst, between the Stupak Amendment to the Affordable Health Care Act that eventually will end private insurance coverage of abortion and the murder of Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider who had survived decades of harassment at the hands of anti-choice extremists. Little did we know that 2011 was around the corner. With that in mind, here are some predictions for where the anti-choice movement will try to go in 2012:
1. Expanded attacks on hormonal contraception. Within anti-choice circles, the myth that hormonal contraception works by killing fertilized eggs has grown from being a fringe belief to standard issue. There’s no scientific evidence to show that the pill works this way -- it actually works by preventing ovulation. But that hasn’t held them back. Anti-choicers view the pill dimly for the same reason they don’t like abortion: It gives women the power to control their bodies, and takes the power out of the hands of their male partners, their families or the state. All the blather about killing fertilized eggs is a post hoc rationalization of a pre-existing hostility to female control over reproduction.
In 2011, the hostility to the pill went from being a extremist belief to a topic of primetime discussion. Because of the personhood amendment that failed in Mississippi, the false belief that the pill kills fertilized eggs received a mainstream airing, often with little to no correction. Now a huge portion of Americans believe, erroneously, that the pill kills fertilized eggs. With that rhetorical battle won, anti-choicers will almost certainly start using the new stigma against the pill to push for more restrictions on access.
Already, they’ve won a major battle in getting the Obama administration to forcibly reverse an FDA decision to allow Plan B, a single-dose form of the birth control pill that prevents ovulation before sperm can reach the egg, to be sold over the counter without age restrictions. Since demonizing hormonal contraception got them that victory, there’s no reason for them not to push for more. Potential avenues include more age restrictions on access to the pill and defending the defunding of family planning on the grounds that the pill is too controversial to be funded with taxpayer money.
2. More assaults on abortion funding. The Stupak Amendment gave the larger anti-choice movement the bright idea to prevent women from accessing abortion by cutting off their ability to pay for it, a move which is easier to sell to the public than outright bans, since the sexualized nature of the abortion debate makes it easy to portray abortion as a luxury instead of a human right. In 2011, we saw House Republicans kick around the idea of codifying the Hyde Amendment with the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. Additionally, a handful of states, most recently Ohio, have banned their residents from buying insurance that covers abortion through the state exchanges. Eventually, all insurance will be traded through those exchanges, so alongside the Stupak Amendment, this will mean that women will simply not have the ability to purchase private insurance that covers abortion.
2011 was just a warm-up year for this approach. Look for more states to bring forward bills banning insurance plans that cover abortion from state exchanges. If this is successful, expect anti-choicers to start looking for other ways to keep women from being able to afford abortions. Since they’ve already started to attack the funding for non-abortion services offered by public clinics that also offer abortions, it’s just a matter of time before they start looking for ways to cut off private funding for non-abortion gynecological care performed by doctors who also perform abortions. Potential avenues include looking to add nuisance taxes to abortion care or seeking to ban any provider who performs abortion from billing insurance companies for any non-abortion care offered to patients.
3. Quietly but firmly squeezing Planned Parenthood. One of the big failures of the anti-choice movement in 2011 was the attempt to kill off all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, funding which is used strictly for providing contraception and other forms of non-abortion reproductive health care. But there’s no reason to think this loss will be viewed as anything more than a setback for anti-choicers. After all, Republicans have devised a situation on the Hill that allows them to refight the budget battle every few months by threatening a government shutdown; the Planned Parenthood fight may re-emerge.
More importantly, Planned Parenthood -- and other family planning clinics that receive government subsidies -- is being quietly defunded in states under Republican control. Texas has provided a model of quietly cutting off contraception funding to thousands of women that anti-choice legislators around the country are no doubt looking to with interest. If they are successful at cutting off low-income women’s access to contraception, we can expect to see a surge in unintended pregnancies in red states, while blue states continue to see a decline.
4. A criminalizing crackdown on women. As I reported earlier this month, there’s been a couple of incidents where women who have aborted at home on their own are facing criminal charges. Right now, these are isolated incidences. Soon, they will likely become a systemic crackdown. More attention is being paid to the already-existing black market in drugs and herbs that are used to induce abortion, even though the practice has been going on for years in this country, mainly in immigrant communities. As access to abortion becomes more difficult, those practices are likely to expand beyond those communities. Anti-choicers are already clearly worried about women aborting at home. Anti-choice legislators are already pretending that women who communicate with doctors online while using abortion drugs are in some kind of danger, with an eye toward banning the practice. States like Arizona and North Dakota have already banned the practice, though the ban has been tied up in court in North Dakota.
If women living in isolation can’t contact a doctor online when using an abortion drug, the odds are that many to most of them will simply choose to use the drug with no supervision whatsoever. At this point, anti-choice lawmakers will have no one else to punish but the women themselves. Abortion drugs are only growing in popularity, so expect to see a big push in 2012 to arrest more women who obtain and use them without a doctor’s supervision, especially in states where the law makes getting that doctor’s supervision nearly impossible.
5. Some state declaring fertilized eggs 'persons.' The personhood amendment was voted down in Mississippi and in Colorado, but that doesn’t mean supporters have given up. On the contrary, Personhood USA was able to hold a presidential debate amongst many of the Republican candidates, and they’re fighting to get personhood amendments onto more ballots. By slowly chipping away, they’ve successfully managed to garner enthusiasm for the idea that women who aren’t even pregnant can get “abortions” by using the pill or an IUD, as well as suggesting that it’s entirely reasonable to allow women to die from treatable conditions if doing so would end a pregnancy. This persistence will likely pay off, if they get it on the ballot in the right state at the right time. It could be as soon as next year.
Should that happen, the consequences will be severe. Not only could it instigate a major court challenge to Roe v. Wade, it will open the door to all sorts of creative legal abuses of women of reproductive age, from charging women with negligent homicide if they miscarry to letting women die of sepsis because saving their lives would require aborting a pregnancy that hasn’t completely miscarried.
Now For the Good News
Yes, Republicans are going to continue prioritizing the attack on reproductive rights, in no small part because it allows them to avoid doing anything about the economy. And yes, certain notions, like the argument that fertilized eggs are “people” or that the pill is “controversial” will continue to be mainstreamed. But there is good news going into 2012.
The anti-choice movement showed its true face in 2011. No longer can liberals believe that anti-choicers are just goofy but well-meaning fetus worshippers. Now it’s undeniable that they are mainly an anti-feminist movement that attacks women’s rights because they want to roll back all of the gains women have made in recent decades. Showing their true face has helped educate and mobilize people who were pro-choice but unaware of how serious the situation really is. Now that we know, perhaps 2012 can be the year we double down on fighting back.