March 8 marked the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, but the outlook for a woman’s right to choose is bleak and only getting bleaker. Hundreds of bills restricting abortion are making their way through the state legislatures this session, and many of them are expected to become laws.
The balance of power in the abortion discussion has shifted dramatically after the last election. Hundreds of anti-abortion rights legislators and a net of twelve new anti-abortion rights governors were elected last year, according to Americans United for Life. Couple this with the passage of the health care bill emboldening conservative activists, and you have a nightmare for women throughout the U.S.
On March 24, the governor of South Dakota signed a law that requires women who seek an abortion to speak to an anti-abortion counselor. It also creates the nation’s longest waiting period – 3 days – between the first visit to an abortion provider and the day the procedure can be done.
Idaho’s Senate passed a law that bans all abortions after 20 weeks, where the life of the mother is not endangered. Ohio legislators introduced the “heartbeat bill,” which would ban abortions once there is evidence of a fetal heartbeat. The Texas House and Governor support a bill mandating that a woman get an ultrasound before she is allowed to have an abortion.
In Georgia, a legislator is pushing to have abortion become a crime punishable by death, and in South Dakota, a bill that has since been withdrawn made it legal for a woman to kill her abortion provider in “self defense.”
Nationally, the story is the same, with restrictions being placed on abortion funding so severe that it may cause private insurance companies to stop covering abortions in their policies. The House law makes getting affordable health care harder for all women, because they will not be able to use any government help – including tax breaks – to purchase insurance that covers abortions. It will become almost impossible for low – or middle – income women to pay for an abortion, and if any woman has an abortion because she was raped, she’d have to prove and relive her rape to her tax preparer and the IRS in order to prove she didn’t use any government help to pay for it.
Conservatives, rebuked by the Supreme Court in the past, have now turned to incremental restrictions in order to make abortion too expensive, too difficult and too stigmatized for working class women to access.
Without an organized fight back by women and all working people, safe and legal abortion access will soon exist only for the rich. Women’s rights groups whip up anger and donations, but in the end place their trust and their money in Democratic Party politicians to preserve the rights of women. President Obama, during his campaign, promised to sign the Freedom of Choice Act, a bill that would codify Roe v. Wade and curb state and federal restrictions on abortions. But just three months after his inauguration, he said that it was not a top legislative priority, and has not spoke of it since.
It will take a united, mass movement of women and men to force the politicians to recognize that deciding the fate of one’s own body is a basic human right.