Abortion, Every Day (12.7.23)
Anti-choice groups say ballot measures allow "mob rule"
Click to skip ahead in the newsletter: In Criminalizing Miscarriage, some information on how you can help the Ohio woman being charged with “abuse of a corpse.” In Medical Refugees on the Rise, a new study shows that 1 in 5 abortion patients are traveling for care. Attacks on Democracy looks at the brief filed by anti-abortion groups trying to stop Issue 1 in Ohio. In the States, an update on Wisconsin & Texas. 2024 news has me furious. And finally, In the Nation, Grace takes us through the latest on spending bills, Mike Johnson, and concerns over the president’s abortion enthusiasm.
Since Abortion, Every Day flagged that an Ohio woman was being charged with “abuse of a corpse” for flushing her miscarriage, the story has gotten national and international attention. Brittany Watts’ case will head to the Trumball County grand jury soon, though there hasn’t been a date set yet.
Traci Timko, Watts’ lawyer, told Abortion, Every Day that she is horrified that Watts is “being demonized for a common experience many women share.”
“No one should be criminalized or punished for their miscarriage. Brittany should be able to focus on taking care of herself after losing her pregnancy, but instead she is being forced to to defend her actions in a moment that should have never been made public. Brittany, her family, and I are so grateful for the outpouring of public support, and we have been touched that others have publicly shared their own stories of pregnancy loss in response to her case. Thank you all for making clear what we know to be true: Ohio law does not support, and should never support, criminalizing someone for experiencing pregnancy loss.”
I know lots of you are looking for a way to support Brittany. Right now, the folks working on her case say that the best thing to do is a show of public support. As you can imagine, cases like these rely on painting women in the most negative light possible—prosecutors are hoping for, and counting on, negative public attention.
We need to make sure that when people see a social media post about this case, it’s in support of Brittany. If you feel comfortable sharing your own story of pregnancy loss, that also goes a long way in terms of normalization.
I’ll continue to bring you updates on the case, and more information on how you can support Brittany.
Medical Refugees on the Rise
The Guttmacher Institute has released a report today showing that medical refugees seeking out-of-state abortion care are on the rise: Nearly 1 in 5 abortion patients have had to escape their state in order to end their pregnancies. That’s double what the rate was in 2020. (40,600 crossed state lines for care in the half of 2020, while 92,100 did the same in the first half of 2023.)
This massive uptick in medical refugees is why the anti-abortion movement is spending so much time and energy trying to pass local ordinances that ban interstate travel. They know that if women are able to, they’ll flee their homes to get abortions if their state criminalizes it. But because it’s bad PR to seem as if you’re holding women hostage in a state that doesn’t see them as fully human, anti-abortion activists are calling their efforts ‘anti-trafficking’ laws.
Guttmacher’s report also points out that as more people travel for care, there’s been a massive increase in financial and logistical challenges—for patients, providers, and the abortion funds that help. Abortion funds in particular—in both anti-choice and pro-choice states—are spending a lot more money to help patients with travel, lodging, child care and the procedures themselves.
And because the anti-abortion movement is hoping that their ‘trafficking’ or ‘aiding and abetting’ laws will target abortion funds specifically, supporting local groups is more important than ever. From Guttmacher:
“[W]hile many pregnant people are successful in getting the care they need, access to care for millions of people hangs by a thread…Policies that seek to curb travel will become even more dangerous if the current model of grassroots support for people seeking abortion care is not fully supported and sustained so that it can continue to meet demand.”
The same is true for independent abortion clinics, who are under an enormous amount of strain. (Just yesterday, the Abortion Care Network put out their annual report showing how independent clinics are disproportionately harmed by Roe’s demise.) Clinics in border towns, for example, are seeing double or triple the number of patients that they used to.
The issue is not just that there are more medical refugees—but that those patients are traveling even further than in past years. This is what Isaac Maddow-Zimet, lead researcher for the Guttmacher report, told CNN:
“Folks from Texas, for example, might have been traveling to Oklahoma [in 2020]. Now, in 2023, those folks are still traveling, but they can’t travel to Oklahoma anymore. It leads to a situation where people have to cross multiple state lines and travel very far distances. And when you have to travel so much farther, the costs start to multiply. It really implies much higher financial costs and much higher logistical costs.”
Some of the states that saw the largest increases in out-of-state patients were Illinois, New Mexico, Colorado, Ohio and Florida. Everyone has their eyes on Florida, in particular. Remember, the state Supreme Court there will be ruling on a challenge to the state’s 15-week abortion ban soon—a decision that may pave the way for a 6-week ban to be enacted. If that happens, access in the Southeast will be decimated.
The last thing I want to mention is that someone getting an out-of-state abortion isn’t “a win.” Yes, of course, we want people to be able to get the care they need—but the conversation can’t end with, “well, at least she was able to get her abortion.” I’m seeing media coverage of the financial and logistical hurdles involved, but what isn’t getting nearly enough attention is the trauma of being forced to flee your home in order to get healthcare. There’s shame, stigma, and a lack of family and community support. (These stories outlined in the Idaho Statesman this week, for example, give a small glimpse of the kind of nightmares that medical refugees face.)
Read the full report from Guttmacher here.
You know what I’m going to say: Abortion, Every Day only exists because of readers like you—and every subscription counts! Help the newsletter keep going and growing:
Attacks on Democracy
Time to talk about Ohio! The new abortion rights amendment went into effect today, which is fantastic. A joint statement from Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio says, “We’re proud that Ohioans did not fall for the rampant misinformation from anti-abortion activists and elected officials, and that our grassroots movement to protect reproductive freedom resonated with millions across the state.” And Kellie Copeland with Pro-Choice Ohio says, “I am so happy and grateful.”
Still, nothing changes immediately: Lawmakers will have to repeal anti-abortion legislation via the courts, and the anti-abortion movement is working with Republicans to override the will of the voters.
Take Ohio’s 6-week ban, for example. The state Supreme Court has asked both parties in the case that blocked that law (Preterm-Cleveland v. Yost) to file briefs about what changes now that Issue 1 has been enacted.
You can read both of those briefs here, but the argument from anti-abortion groups is particularly stunning. They’re claiming that Issue 1 is unconstitutional, allows “infanticide,” and strips the General Assembly and other lawmakers of their power. But wait, we’re not done yet.
The groups—which include several anti-abortion organizations and Phyllis Schlafly’s son—claim that “the will of the voters” is “a myth” when it comes to ballot measures. They’re also urging the state Supreme Court to invalidate Issue 1 because it “interfere[s] with representative government.”
Essentially, the groups argue that the only reason that the amendment passed was because the pro-choice side spent the most money, and that the state Supreme Court is obligated to protect the state from “mob rule.” That’s right, mob rule.
The brief also argues that Ohioans didn’t understand what they were voting for:
“Divining any will of the people from a ballot initiative using so much controversial legal terminology is unjustified. Legislators represent the ‘will of the people’ as much as or more than any ballot initiative does, and there should be deference to legislators in filling in the gaps or ambiguities in a ballot initiative.”
They even have the nerve to claim that those who voted for Issue 1 “likely…do not oppose regulation of abortion by the legislature.”
It only gets more infuriating from there, but I’ll let you check out the brief yourself.
This comes after Republicans spent months trying to stop voters from having a say on abortion rights at all—from a multi-million dollar special election to raise the standards on ballot measures to not letting voters see the text of the amendment itself on election day, just a biased ballot summary. As I’ve said so many times before, that’s how powerful abortion rights are: Ohioans passed the amendment by significant margins despite incredible Republican obstacles.
After Issue 1 passed, the attacks on democracy continued: some conservative lawmakers threatened to strip the judiciary of its power to enforce Issue 1; GOP Senate President Matt Huffman suggested a 15-week ban as a ‘compromise’; and anti-abortion activists pressured lawmakers to redefine ‘abortion’ in a way that would render Issue 1 impotent. And now this.
In the States
A judge in Wisconsin this week ruled that an 1849 law doesn’t actually ban abortions, but ‘feticide’. So while the law criminalizes attacks on pregnant people that result in the end of their pregnancy, it won’t ban abortion as Republicans hoped. That means abortion is still legal in Wisconsin up until 22 weeks.
As I reported yesterday, the district attorney of Sheboygan County, Joel Urmanski, is planning to appeal the decision. “In my view, the statute plainly applies to abortions,” Urmanski said. If the case ends up in front of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, though, abortion rights advocates have reason to feel optimistic—the Court now has a liberal majority.
In the meantime, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin—which, after a previous ruling, resumed abortions at some of the group’s locations—will now provide abortions at all of the clinics that offered them pre-Dobbs.
For more on what the decision means, Wisconsin Public Radio outlines the abortion restrictions that still exist in the state, including waiting periods, in-person counseling and a prohibition of Medicaid funds for abortion.
If you missed the news out of Texas today, make sure to check it out: A judge ruled in favor of a woman seeking an abortion after her fetus was given a fatal diagnosis. Read my report from earlier today about the news, and how it relates to a broader anti-choice strategy.
Meanwhile, just as I was about to hit send on this email—an update: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a threatening letter to the hospital where Kate Cox’s OBGYN works. Paxton wrote that the emergency order issued today “will not insulate hospitals, doctors, or anyone else, from civil and criminal liability for violating Texas’ abortion laws.”
Basically, he’s making clear that if Dr. Damla Karsan provides Cox an abortion for her doomed pregnancy, that he will target her and the hospital. Law professor Seth Chandler told a local news outlet that because of Paxton’s “apparent zeal” to prosecute someone, “if I were one of the doctors involved here, I would not sleep easy performing that abortion.”
Total nightmare. I really hope that Cox is getting the care she needs right now.
It looks like I picked the right night to skip the GOP presidential debate: abortion wasn’t mentioned once. I don’t know if it’s because they’re that scared or because they just can’t think of anything new to say—but I can’t believe they think that just ignoring the issue is going to help them.
Meanwhile, thanks to the Abortion, Every Day reader who flagged today’s episode of The Daily about Nikki Haley. I’m not gonna lie, after reporting for months about Haley’s bullshit messaging campaign, it’s so incredibly frustrating to hear reporters from the Times falls for it.
Just check out some of the words they used to characterize Haley’s abortion stance: respectful, conciliatory, compromising, moderate.
This is the exact kind of media buy-in that I’ve been warning about. The substance of Haley’s abortion beliefs don’t differ from the other candidates—she’s agreed to sign a federal abortion ban, for example, just like other Republicans. She’s just good at playing her extremism down.
Journalists aren’t supposed to take politicians at their word, especially when it comes to an issue like abortion! Republicans are desperate to appeal to voters, and are working overtime to appear moderate while not actually changing their stance. We all know that—why doesn’t The Daily?
I think what’s making me extra upset about this is knowing that we’re going to see something similar happen with Donald Trump. Trump’s entire abortion plan is feigning being the ‘reasonable’ Republican. If some of the nation’s top journalists can’t see past the surface on Haley, what’s going to happen in the general election?
Listen for yourself below, and let me know what you think.
In the Nation
Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced he’s leaving Congress by the end of the year in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. The California representative, who often caved to anti-abortion pressure, will likely give Republican House members an even smaller majority heading into January 2024. His decision (along with Rep. George Santos’ recent expulsion) leaves them with 220 votes, which shrinks their hold to a three-vote margin.
And as you may recall, current-Speaker Mike Johnson punted the government funding showdown to mid-January; anti-abortion riders have made it difficult for him to gather enough support from moderate colleagues. We’ll continue to keep you updated as this develops.
Speaking of anti-abortion riders: Johnson dropped the anti-abortion amendment that attacked the Pentagon's abortion travel policy from the annual National Defense Authorization Act. It’s another major blow to anti-abortion conservatives regarding the same policy after Sen. Tommy Tuberville released his block on military promotions. While this bill looks like it will pass with bipartisan support in both chambers, it puts Johnson in a tough position with the right-wing faction of his party.
Johnson also gave the keynote address at a Christian nationalist gala Tuesday night for the National Association of Christian Lawmakers—an extremist right-wing group behind countless pieces of anti-abortion legislation, like Texas’ “bounty-hunter” law. The event organizers attempted to hide his remarks from the public by telling reporters to leave before his speech—forgetting that the video was being recorded on Facebook!
In the speech, Johnson thanked the crown “for not allowing the media in,” because journalists had been taking his anti-abortion comments “out of context.”
The conversation around Biden’s discomfort over centering abortion in his 2024 campaign has started to grow among Democrat lawmakers. Over the weekend, three Governors (Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy) spoke to the press about their concerns over the White House’s messaging on abortion and Biden’s public remarks. From the New Jersey governor:
“I think it’s widely known that this is probably an uncomfortable reality for him.I think we as the party that defends freedom, defends reproductive rights, a woman’s right to choose and explicitly a right to an abortion—a decision made between a woman and her physician—needs to actually be laid out in a much more crystal clear, explicit, affirmative way. Again, in fairness, they may need a different messenger.”
Abortion funds are struggling to keep up with the skyrocketing demand for abortion;
The abortion activist network between Mexico and the US is growing to help with some of that demand from patients in anti-abortion states;
The 19th on the loneliness, medical stakes, and legal peril abortion bans force on patients trying to manage their miscarriages;