Bills, Bills, Bills

Congratulations, Mississippi, you’re a trendsetter. As anti-choice politicians push forward in their bid to close the last abortion clinic in the state, legislators in North Dakota are seeking to close their state’s only clinic, too. Yesterday, state lawmakers passed a bill that requires physicians providing abortions at the Red River Clinic in Fargo to have admitting privileges at area hospitals—the same tactic that is threatening Mississippi’s Jackson Women’s Health Organization (JWHO).

The Red River clinic has often been the target of harassment and threats, and the physicians that work there don’t actually live in the state; in an arrangement similar to the one at JWHO, they travel from other states to provide abortion care. It’s too early to tell if hospitals in the Fargo area will grant these privileges, but as Amanda Marcotte pointed out in The American Prospect, “The chances of the doctors getting the privileges now are low, because hospitals don’t want to draw the same protests” as the clinic has faced.

Attempting to force women to travel hundreds of miles to access a safe, legal medical procedure wasn’t the only thing that North Dakota lawmakers did yesterday, though. They also passed an initiative that would amend the state constitution to give embryos legal protections and rights. That’s right, another personhood initiative—and if this one passes out of the house, it would go before the voters next year. Although such initiatives have consistently failed when put before voters, the sponsor of North Dakota’s initiative, state Sen. Margaret Sitte, was quite clear in what the real aim is, telling the Huffington Post that, “We are intending that it be a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade since Scalia said that the Supreme Court is waiting for states to raise a case.”

Slightly further to the south, South Dakota lawmakers are trying to force their state’s only abortion clinic out of business, too. The state’s proposed 72-hour waiting period hasn’t gone into effect yet—it’s part of a larger bill that’s undergoing legal challenges—but if it is allowed to stand, it could potentially force women to wait longer than 72 hours between their initial visit and having the procedure. That’s because the language of the bill specifies that the 72-hour period excludes weekends and holidays. Given that, like North Dakota and Mississippi, a doctor comes in from out-of-state to perform abortions at the sole clinic in South Dakota, this requirement would be exceedingly onerous for women seeking abortion care and the clinic itself, and could force the clinic to stop providing abortion care.

And as final evidence (for this week) that those anti-choice lawmakers that do not learn from the past are doomed to keep making the same arrogant attempts at demeaning women, politicians in Michigan are considering their very own “10-inch shaming wand” bill. Yes, GOP legislators have introduced a measure that would require any woman that gets an abortion in the state to first undergo an ultrasound. The bill states that the equipment used must provide the “most visibly clear image of the gross anatomical development of the fetus and the most audible fetal heartbeat,” which makes it likely that women, particularly those in the early stages of pregnancy (and 88% of all abortions are performed in the first trimester) would be required to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound, whether it is medically necessary or not.

While pretty much all of these proposed pieces of legislation are in the hands of state houses and/or courts, there is still plenty that individuals can do. Talk about these issues, and find out where your elected officials stand, because as the past few years have shown, even states that aren’t traditionally hostile to reproductive rights aren’t immune to anti-choice tactics. NARAL’s state government report card is a good place to start, and the Center for Reproductive Rights’ Draw the Line Campaign also offers useful information. And if you’d like to learn more about local funds that help women access abortion care, the National Network of Abortion Funds is a great resource.

About Sarah:
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.

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