When is a right no longer a right?
That’s a question pro-choice proponents are asking in the midst of a recent spike in never-ending efforts to dilute, undermine, chip away at and otherwise render hollow the right of women to access safe, legal abortions.
Locally, the question arose during a recent all-out – but, blessedly, abandoned – assault on abortion rights in Pennsylvania.
The Republican-led state House in April fast-tracked a bill that would have significantly shortened the window for abortions and banned the safe and common technique known as dilation and evacuation (D&E).
Thankfully, plans for a floor debate and vote were dropped as quickly as they were proposed amid strident opposition. At least for the time being.
But that hasn’t been the case elsewhere.
Lawmakers this month took a page from Pennsylvania’s book (actually, it’s a page from model legislation written by pro-life organizations) and banned the D&E procedure.
That forces doctors to either utilize a less-safe technique or stop performing abortions altogether after 14 weeks. (Remember, Roe v. Wade legalizes abortions up to the time of viability, usually considered 22 to 24 weeks.)
And no, there is no provision to save the life of the mother.
The bill – swiftly signed by Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards – comes fast on the heels of a law passed last month that extends the mandatory period that a woman must wait between consultation and abortion from 24 to 72 hours.
The state also passed bills forbidding Medicaid dollars from being spent in clinics that provide abortions (undermining the ability of Planned Parenthood to perform the bulk of its services: pap smears, breast exams and the like) and outlawing abortions in cases where the fetus has an abnormality.
Louisiana is far from alone. Thirteen other states have passed laws restricting abortions this year. For example, South Carolina last month joined the growing ranks of states outlawing the procedure beyond the 20th week of pregnancy – an arbitrary deadline with no medical benefit to women. And there is no exception for victims of rape or incest.
And in many cases, especially in the South and Midwest, even crossing state lines doesn’t do much good.
In Texas, new laws requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital or mandating technology upgrades at facilities, have reduced the number of clinics from 41 to 19 over the past three years, according to the Los Angeles Times. Kansas now has just two such locations. Writes the Times: “In Louisiana there are four; in Arkansas three. Missouri and Mississippi have one clinic each.”
Think about that: One clinic to serve an entire state in providing what is ostensibly a legal procedure. Imagine a state with one liquor store, or one gun shop, or one department of motor vehicles.
Missouri, by the way, is one of six states that, like Louisiana, requires a 72-hour wait between abortion consultation and procedure. Women can either make a cross-state trip twice in a week or pony up for three nights of hotel and meals. Does the bar get any higher?
Why, yes. Nine states have recently debated bills to ban almost all abortions outright. Such a bill passed in only one, Oklahoma, which sought to make it a felony to perform an abortion unless the life of the mother was at risk (Gov. Mary Fallin had the good sense to veto it).
Lawmakers – Republican lawmakers, it seems almost unnecessary to note – are often quick to add hypocritical insult to injury, maintaining that requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, for example, is legislated out of concern for the mothers.
Concern for women wouldn’t result in unnecessary delays – which, in states like Louisiana, can mean the difference between a medical and surgical abortion, or the safe D&E procedure (the same procedure that was briefly targeted this spring in Pennsylvania) and something less common.
Nor would real concern result in intrusions and additional expenses for tens of thousands of women.
The motive is quite clear: To impede, complicate, delay and discourage women from accessing safe and legal reproductive options.
The Supreme Court is expected to weigh in any day on the Texas provisions regarding admitting privileges and technical standards. But the debate won’t end there.
Several of other state laws are facing legal challenges, making it likely at least some of them, too, will eventually land before the high court. Keep that in mind when you cast your presidential ballot this fall.
And keep in mind the question: When is a right no longer a right?
Because when it comes to abortion, in many parts of the country, the correct answer would be “right now.”