While the effort to impose religious dogma on the secular matter of birth control failed last week in great part because of an outpouring of citizen opposition, the victories of last year’s anti-abortion juggernaut are starting to take their toll.
As we’ve pointed out here several times in the past nine months, the anti-choice forces made major strides in making legal abortions harder to get in 2011. They did their work at the state level where they have achieved steady, damaging victories for a number of years, but were especially emboldened by the Republican success at the polls in 2010.
To condense, 135 provisions were enacted in 36 states during 2011 relating to reproductive health or rights. Eighty-nine of those provisions restricted abortion, 50 more than in 2005, the previous record year for such legislation. Dry statistics. But as Carole Joffe reports, they are causing personal pain. Both for women seeking abortions and for providers.
First consider Jennie McCormick. She ordered abortion medication over the internet and now faces criminal charges that could put her away for five years. Joffe writes: “She has also been stigmatized in her own community to a degree to which the fictional Hester Prynne of The Scarlet Letter fame could relate.” From the Independent:
When Jennie Linn McCormack walks the streets of Pocatello, the town in southern Idaho where she was born, raised, and still lives, she attempts to disguise her face by covering it with a thick woollen scarf.
It doesn’t really work. In the supermarket, people stop and point. At fast-food outlets, they hiss “it’s her!” In the local church, that supposed bastion of forgiveness, fire-and-brimstone preachers devote entire sermons to accusing her of mortal sin. [...]
Unmarried, impoverished and pregnant with her fourth child, McCormack faced the problem so many American women do because nearly 90 percent of the nation’s counties have no clinics or hospitals that will perform abortions. That is an outcome of nearly four decades of attacks by anti-choice forces. For her, the closest clinic was in Salt Lake City, a 150-mile drive. Because Utah requires a waiting period, she would have had to make the five-hour round-trip twice. The expense of the trip, the procedure and follow-up medical care also worried her.
Then she found out from her sister about RU-486, the abortion-inducing drug. Her sister ordered it, and McCormack took the pill as soon as it arrived. It worked. But there were complications that brought the fact of her abortion to the notice of authorities. In Idaho, self-induced abortions are outlawed. Although the original case against McCormack were dismissed last summer, they could be reinstated. The whole affair has put the issue of the constitutionality of the ban in Idaho, and by extrapolation similar bans in six other states, into the hands of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Then there is the provider. Joffe relates the example of Amy Hagstrom Miller, who oversees abortion clinics in Texas under the name Whole Women’s Health. She and her clients now have to contend with new obstacles from a state law that requires a woman seeking an abortion to obtain an ultrasound from a physician who must describe to her in detail the development of the fetus. The same physician must perform the abortion, which presents a huge scheduling problem.
But, more importantly, the vast majority of abortions are performed at 12 weeks of pregnancy or less. The fetus is quite small at this phase. That means that physicians who want to avoid running afoul of a law that is intended by its sponsors to reduce abortions must use a transvaginal probe. That requires penetrating a woman’s vagina, “state rape,” as opponents have so rightly called it. If she refuses, no abortion.
From Idaho to Texas and other states across the nation, it’s all part of the long-running effort to end legal abortions. There is nothing the anti-choice forces will not stoop to in their relentless war on reproductive freedom.