Abortion, Every Day (11.21.23)
Ohio Republican working with Phyllis Schlafly's son to stop Issue 1
Click to skip ahead in the newsletter: Saying the quiet part out loud in Attacks on Democracy. In the States, news out of Missouri, Michigan and more. In the Nation, some quick hits. In the Care Crisis, how teens in Texas are faring, and possible good news in Alaska. And in 2024, Grace and I look at the renewed focus on Haley, and abortion rights activists’ worries about Biden.
Attacks on Democracy
It’s not a secret that Republicans want to stop voters from having a say on abortion by quashing ballot measures—we’ve been watching them do it across the country. Still, it never fails to shock me when they say the quiet part out loud.
The Colorado Times Recorder reports this week that two conservative leaders at Focus on the Family chatted openly about undermining democracy on their podcast, admitting that “the pro-life community kind of finds themselves on their heels.” Nicole Hunt, spokesperson for the ultra-conservative organization, said that anti-choice activists needed to pay attention to Arkansas, Missouri, South Dakota, Nebraska, Arizona and Florida:
“What I would encourage is that pro-life lawmakers in those states, you need to be working right now to tighten up the procedures by which you can amend the state constitution in your state…For instance, in Ohio, there was an effort to try to heighten the threshold of passage from a majority vote to 60%.” (Emphasis mine)
In other words, make it harder—if not impossible—for voters to have a choice.
And this is rich: Remember Rep. Jennifer Gross? She’s the Ohio Republican who wants to strip the judiciary of its power to enforce Issue 1. (She’s also the woman who attacked a constituent at a post-election town hall by asking whether she voted to “rip babies’ arms off.”) Well, it seems as if Rep. Gross is working with Andy Schlafly—son of Phyllis Schlafly—on her legislation. Because of course she is.
Schlafly and Gross claim there’s precedent for letting the state legislature remove jurisdiction from the courts. I’ll be keeping a close eye on this one. Just absolutely terrifying.
Also in Ohio, we’re waiting to see what happens next with the enforcement of Issue 1. The Cincinatti Enquirer, for example, points out that before the election, Attorney General Dave Yost wrote a brief outlining how amendment would repeal the state’s abortion ban. For us, obviously, that was the whole point—but Yost meant it as a warning.
Now that the amendment has passed, the question is: Will Yost keep trying to enact the state’s 6-week ban? After all, by writing that brief wasn’t he admitting that the 6-week ban is no longer enforceable or legal? So far, Yost has declined to answer.
In the States
If you’re a regular reader, you know that Missouri voters are likely to see a pro-choice ballot measure in 2024—and that Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft drafted a biased and inflammatory summary in the hopes of tricking those voters out of supporting abortion rights. (The summary claimed that the amendment would allow for “dangerous, unregulated, and unrestricted abortions, from conception to live birth, without requiring a medical license or potentially being subject to medical malpractice.”)
Despite multiple rulings against his summary, Ashcroft appealed all the way to the state Supreme Court. But this week, the Court refused his request to consider the case, upholding a lower court ruling and effectively ending Ashcroft’s bullshit.
That’s not all! Missouri’s Supreme Court also declined to hear a different anti-abortion case—brought by two lawmakers and anti-choice activist—that challenged the cost estimate of the abortion rights amendment.
This comes after lots of related drama: Republican Attorney General Andrew Bailey successfully held up the amendment for months by refusing to sign off on a cost estimate. (Pro-choicers weren’t allowed to start collecting signatures until he did). Bailey claimed that restoring abortion rights would cost the state billions of dollars. The real cost? $51,000. The state Supreme Court finally forced forced Bailey to stop stalling.
Now, I’m confident we’ll see more attacks on democracy when it comes to Missouri’s pro-choice amendment, but for now—let’s take our good news where we can!
ABC News has more on the Virginia abortion rights amendment that Democrats introduced this week. Scott Surovell, the majority leader for the Virginia Senate, said that voters sent a clear message in the election “that they want Virginia to remain an open and welcoming state that honors individual freedom, privacy and economic opportunity for all of its residents.”
Gov. Glenn Youngkin, however, didn’t waste any time in attacking Democrats over the measure. His PAC released a statement accusing Democrats of “rapidly reneging on a core commitment they made during the campaign to maintain the current abortion law in Virginia.”
Meanwhile, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the pared-down version of the Reproductive Health Act into law today. As Abortion, Every Day reported this week, the original package of legislation would have repealed the state’s 24-hour waiting period, and the ban on Medicaid funding for abortion—but those mandates stayed thanks to one Democrat hold-out.
Still, the RHA will remove certain onerous and unnecessary requirements on abortion clinics, as well as a law that stopped college parenting programs from providing referrals for abortions. The RHA also repealed an old law criminalizing doctors and nurses who prescribe abortion pills. So it’s a start. “I’m so thrilled to be here today after so many years working on this issue,” Whitmer said.
“Across the nation, the American people are standing up for abortion rights. We’ve seen it again and again. They’ve looked to Michigan because we showed the world. When you speak truth to power, when you fight for the issue and fight for the people, you can win on this issue.”
Oklahoma’s Attorney General is suing the Department of Health and Human Services after losing millions in federal dollars for family planning services. The Title X funding, which Oklahoma received for over 40 years, requires state programs to provide information on abortion if a patient requests it. The state refused. Essentially, they’d rather low-income families be punished than doctors pass on a hotline number.
In the suit, AG Gentner Drummond argues that “HHS seeks to punish Oklahoma for the policies adopted by Oklahoma’s elected representatives to protect unborn life.” You may remember that we saw this in Tennessee, as well, where the state lost millions in Title X funding for the same reason. Thankfully, the federal government decided to go around the state and gave organizations like Planned Parenthood the money directly.
Like Oklahoma, Tennessee is also suing the federal government, claiming that the government is “playing politics with the health of Tennessee women.” (A statement which is more than a little fucking ironic.)
Last week, I predicted abortion might just save democracy: Since Ohio voted to enshrine abortion in the state constitution, people in other states are asking why they can’t do the same. (The answer is that about half of the country doesn’t have citizen-led initiatives.) Voters finding out how Republican lawmakers block them from having a direct say on most issues—not just abortion—could stoke a real anger that benefits Democrats.
In Indiana this week, state Rep. Phil GiaQuinta is using those post-election questions about ballot measures to do just that. GiaQuinta writes in The Indianapolis Star, that even when Democrats have tried to gauge public opinion on abortion with a non-binding ballot vote, Republicans have blocked the efforts.
“Now, Indiana has one of the strictest abortion bans in the country, despite the fact that 56.7% of Hoosiers think there should be some form of legal access to abortion. Your voice matters—it’s time that Indiana state legislators recognize it.”
Since so much of our Ohio news has been about the pro-choice ballot measure passing, I want to make sure that other issues in the state aren’t going ignored: Right now, Ohio is giving $14 million to anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers—up from $6 million last year. It’s worth watching Jaime Miracle of Pro-Choice Ohio speaking about the group’s research on the fake clinics in this local television segment. The Ohio Capital Journal looks at how Republicans in the gerrymandered state are pushing anti-trans legislation and attacking education. And because we need some Issue 1 coverage, I love Truthout piece on the organizing strategy in Ohio around the amendment—from increasing turnout among Black voters and mobilizing young people.
More on the Pennsylvania bill that would protect abortion providers and patients;
The Bismarck Tribune with more on the North Dakota poll showing that the majority of voters oppose the state’s abortion ban;
How New Mexico put abortion on the ballot in 2020;
Finally this distressing (and bizarre) news from KFF Health News: Iowa’s Medicaid regulations require that Gov. Kim Reynolds sign off on any hospital or clinic that needs reimbursement for an abortion.
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In the Nation
Over 100 Republican lawmakers signed onto an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to revoke FDA approval of mifepristone;
Mother Jones interviewed the creators behind the documentary Plan C;
And CNN did a deep dive on newly-elected Republican Speaker Mike Johnson, and found that in addition to calling abortion “truly an American holocaust,” he also blamed abortion for the economy—saying “you don’t have 40 or 50 million able-bodied workers.”
For decades, only doctors have been allowed to perform abortions in Alaska. But a legal challenge against that mandate is being heard this week in an Anchorage courtroom. Alaska Public Radio reports that Planned Parenthood argues that the law conflicts with the state’s fundamental right to abortion. Camila Vega, a lawyer for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, says, “All major medical organizations agree that these providers can provide this care, and Alaska restricts it.”
Since the law was temporarily blocked by a judge two years ago, different kinds of healthcare providers have been able to prescribe abortion medication—leaving physicians more time to provide procedural abortions. If that block is removed, or the law remains, access to care will take a major hit. (Since Roe was overturned, pro-choice states have been relying on abortion medication to stave off total overwhelm.)
In other Care Crisis news, Texas Public Radio looks at the few options that pregnant teens have in Texas. Reporters spoke to Irma Garcia at Jane’s Due Process, who says the group has gotten a surge of calls from teenagers. “A lot of folks believe that abortion is illegal all across the country versus just in Texas,” she says.
Garcia also makes a vital point: Even when abortion was legal, it doesn’t mean teens were able to access one: “If you cannot access it, then you don’t technically have the choice to have an abortion.”
Just as distressing is the sense of fear that so many teens in the state have. From Danielle Jones, an OBGYN who moved from Texas to New Zealand, who now publishes educational videos on YouTube:
“I get people commenting on my videos all the time, saying can you make a video on X, Y, Z? Because I don't know if it's safe to ask my doctor. I’m pregnant in Texas and I can't go to the emergency room because I'm afraid that they will call the police.”
If you missed my column earlier today about Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy using their wives’ miscarriages to defend abortion bans, you can read it below:
I told you yesterday that Republican donors and strategists are suddenly very interested in Nikki Haley because of her abortion messaging. Today, NBC News reports the same—that Haley is increasingly being seen as the candidate who can reach moderates or female voters. (That may be why Haley is being attacked by both DeSantis and Christie at the moment.)
Pat Brady, a former chair of the Illinois Republican Party, says, “A smart, accomplished woman delivering a message of tolerance on both sides of the issue is so much more appealing to women than what can come out of Trump’s mangled syntax.” Of course, Haley isn’t actually more moderate or reasonable on abortion—she’s just good at messaging.
Speaking of, check out the latest episode of NPR’s The Politics Podcast on how Republican presidential candidates are trying say the right things about abortion:
Everyone in the political world is talking about the recent New York Times/Siena battleground state poll showing Biden losing to Trump in 5 critical states. The silver lining was that abortion was resoundingly Biden’s strongest issue against Republican. Still, pro-choice activists are concerned that the current messaging isn’t enough to rest on the laurels of recent abortion wins.
For example, Biden is going after Trump’s “unilateral national abortion ban” in email-fundraising pitches. But abortion rights activists want stronger, pro-active messaging that goes beyond critiques of Trump.
In short, they want to see messaging that is for abortion rather than just against a national abortion ban.
Gillian Branstetter of the ACLU's Women's Rights Project, for example, asks what it would look like if the president treated abortion organizers and providers like he treats the United Auto Workers union. Along the same lines: What would it look like if Biden visited frontline clinics providing life-saving care for thousands of out-of-state patients? Or if he held public events across the country spotlighting the abortion rights activists who are making these statewide political wins possible?