Abortion, Every Day
Abortion, Every Day
Abortion, Every Day (3.13.23)

Abortion, Every Day (3.13.23)

Tennessee says they're adding an exception for women's lives—they're not

In the states…

Some interesting news out of Tennessee today. If you read the newsletter regularly, you know I’ve been paying close attention to the state because their extreme ban—it has no exception for the pregnant person’s health and life, but instead an ‘affirmative defense’ mandate that requires doctors providing life-saving abortions to first break the law and then defend why it was necessary. The state’s ban is also seen as model legislation by national anti-abortion groups who want similar restrictions throughout the country. On top of all that, Republicans there have been battling it out with the state’s largest anti-abortion group, Tennessee Right to Life, over adding in a health and life exception—something the group has opposed.

Well, it seems like they finally came to an agreement: Tennessee Right to Life issued a press release today saying that they’ll support a newly-tweaked amendment that specifies treating ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages are not criminal. But here’s the thing—the language of the amendment doesn’t say that it’s not criminal to treat a miscarriage, but “to remove a dead fetus.” That means one of the biggest issues we’ve seen in states with abortion bans—doctors delaying or denying care for miscarrying women because there’s still a heartbeat present—remains.

It’s a nothingburger amendment, it means literally zero in terms of how women will be treated. Instead it’s just a way for Tenneseee Right to Life to pretend that they give a shit, and for Republicans to feign a ‘win’ in the name of moderation. Don’t fall for it.

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Republican U.S. Senator Rick Scott came out against Florida’s 6-week abortion ban over the weekend, saying he believed the law should remain as it is—with a 15-week ban. The statement represents what could be a growing problem for Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to announce a presidential run. Most Americans—even most voters in Florida—oppose a 6-week ban. Having to defend such an extreme bill is going to be a hard sell, but national anti-abortion groups have made it clear that they expect the Republican presidential candidate to be pushing for a federal ban. So DeSantis needs to decide what he’s going to do.

More out of Florida, State Rep. Robin Bartleman gave an interview to a local station over the weekend about that 6-week ban—explaining just how horrific it is, and what the law would mean in people’s actual lives and experiences with pregnancy. She also gets into how the ‘exception’ for rape and incest isn’t usable (something NPR also hit on this weekend).

I have some distressing news out of Pennsylvania: A woman there has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder after her infant was born prematurely and died. The details are still coming out, but what we do know is that a 21-year old gave birth at home at 23-weeks and brought the baby girl to the hospital an hour later, where she passed away. Why would anyone be arrested for such a tragedy? Well, it appears that police found out that the woman tried to get an abortion months ago and was unsuccessful; and that later at a doctor’s appointment, she refused to submit to a drug test. Again, we don’t know all the details here, but the precedent is incredibly disturbing: If a woman has a stillbirth or miscarriage—will police investigate whether or not she ever considered abortion? Or if she took a Plan B? I’ll keep you updated as I find out more.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma anti-abortion centers are surprised that they haven’t been contacted by more desperate women. After Roe was overturned, one network of centers told The Oklahoman, they increased their staffing and started to train employees on how to “counsel younger generations”—another way of saying they figured they’d be seeing lots of teens forced into pregnancy. But “the influx of women never came.” The only increase they saw? The number of women asking them how to get an abortion.

You can read the whole article for more information on the delusion that these ‘activists’ are operating under, but it raised a really important question for me: What will anti-abortion centers do now? Sure, they can continue to lie to women and convince them not to seek out abortions—but in states where abortion is already illegal, they don’t have to work nearly as hard. They will, however, be getting a lot more funding.

But these are groups that, for the most part, have no real experience helping women who have been forced into pregnancy—their work mostly stops the moment that they’ve scared someone out of of getting an abortion. So we’re going to have a country filled with over-funded Christian groups whose phone lines never ring. I shudder to think of what those idle hands could get up to.

An Abortion, Every Day reader sent me the picture below: It’s a sign that’s prominently displayed as you enter the Labor and Delivery Unit at Dignity Health’s St. Joseph's Medical Center in Stockton, California.

I’ve been furious about this all weekend. I don’t care that it’s a Catholic hospital: What’s the point of this sign? Do women looking normally rush into the Labor & Delivery Ward looking for abortions? Are the doctors there confused about what procedures they’re meant to perform? Or maybe, just maybe, this sign is simply meant to be a nasty, condescending shaming tactic that targets patients in their most vulnerable moments. As a doctor friend of mine said after I texted her this picture, “Fuck these people.” (If you’d like to contact the hospital, I’d suggest the Marketing/Communications Department.)

I missed this piece last week, but it’s a must-read: The Texas Tribune (which continues to do top-notch work) looks at how ‘pro-life’ the state really is by following a low-income mother trying—and failing—to find the support politicians claim is available. Also in Texas, if you want to know how unhinged that lawsuit is against three women who allegedly helped their friend get an abortion: The lawyer included pictures of the women dressed as Handmaid's Tale characters for Halloween as evidence that they “celebrated the murder.” (I’m not including a link to the suit because it contains the women’s addresses.)

Let’s talk good news:

The Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care Freedom Act in New Mexico passed its final legislative hurdle last week and will head to the governor’s desk. The bill prohibits local governments from enacting policies that would ban or limit abortion or gender-affirming care. (Which, as you know, has been a problem in the state for months.) And the Maryland House voted on Friday to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution.

Quick hits:

  • The Ohio Capital Journal has more on the fill-in justice for the state Supreme Court case on abortion, and his links to anti-abortion activism;

  • NPR in Kansas City speaks to experts about the maternal mortality rate in Missouri, and how it’s expected to get worse now that abortion is illegal in the state;

  • Vox explains five women’s lawsuit against Texas, while the editorial board at the Dallas Morning News calls on Republicans to clarify the abortion ban to save women’s health and lives;

  • U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin has an op-ed in USA Today about the state’s abortion ban;

  • And Mississippi Today asks the vital question: If Republicans believe the state is pro-life, why are they trying to stop ballot measures on abortion?

In the nation…

This weekend we found out that Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, who is presiding over the case on abortion medication, tried to hide an upcoming hearing from the American public for fear of protests. Kacsmaryk asked a conference call of lawyers to keep quiet about the Wednesday hearing, telling them he was going to avoid putting it on the public docket until late Tuesday in order to minimize activists showing up to the courthouse in Amarillo, Texas.

Because there aren’t many direct flights to Amarillo, and it’s a several hours’ drive from other cities, Kacsmaryk hoped that keeping the it off the public record would make it harder for people to get to the city with little notice. It’s an unusual and downright sketchy move made even more noteworthy by something that fellow Substacker Chris Geidner points out:

“Kacsmaryk warns people in his court that he ‘heavily disfavors’ sealing matters in cases before him because of the ‘public’s right to know’—standards that he doesn’t appear to apply to himself…Going further, Kacsmaryk [requires'] litigants to explain—with signed declarations—why ‘the risks of disclosure’ would ‘outweigh’ that right of the public to know what’s happening in court. In order to even consider sealing anything on his docket, Kacsmryk requires litigants to “explain that no other viable alternative to sealing exists.”

I’m sensing a bit of a trend: Whether conservatives try to stop Americans from voting on abortion by changing ballot measures rules, limit free speech by removing art pieces about abortion, or make it harder for us to protest as Kacsmaryk did here—it all demonstrates how they’re willing to undermine democracy in order to get their way.

In related news, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden—who has said Biden should ignore Kacsmaryk’s ruling if he bans abortion medication—said that the judge is “plotting to sweep his mockery of the rule of law under the rug.”

For a while now, I’ve been writing (and making videos) about the way that abortion restrictions and bans are going to impact college enrollment—few parents will want to send their daughters to live in a state where she doesn’t have full human rights. This weekend, the Associated Press published a related piece on college athletes and how bans are already impacting recruitment:

“Less than a year after the Supreme Court’s decision, several coaches told the AP that a state’s stance on abortion has come up on the recruiting trail. One coach said a recruit’s parent explicitly said their child wanted to go to school in a state where abortion rights are protected.”

Abortion bans are going to touch every single part of American life, and I don’t think Republicans and red states are even slightly prepared for the consequences—big and small.

Quick hits:

Keep an eye on…

Hospital boards. In the same way Republicans have inserted themselves in school boards as a way to roll back education on racism and LGBTQ issues, they are going after hospital boards in order to have a say over policies on abortion and reproductive health care.

In a 2022 interview about her documentary Battleground, which looks at the fight over abortion rights, director Cynthia Lowen said this and I’ve been thinking about it ever since:

“It's not just a matter of who is sitting in the White House: School boards are important, and so are hospital boards. What we're seeing right now is that hospital boards are being taken over by anti-abortion people—even in pro-choice states—and are limiting the ability for doctors within their systems to provide abortions. The involvement of pro-choice people on every level is very important.”

And it’s not just boards of directors: Hospital ethics boards, too, are increasingly becoming the final decision-makers on whether individual women dealing with dangerous pregnancies will be given care. This weekend, professor and OBGYN Dr. Anne Lyerly spoke to NPR about that process and points out that when it comes to decisions about pregnant people, the choices are not really that ethically complicated:

“I think this is absolutely not a job for an ethics committee. All of these cases are cases in which everybody knows what the right thing to do is. And in fact, I think that these boards in many cases are being deployed as a legal shield rather than a tool to help doctors and patients get the care that they need.”

I’m going to write a longer piece about this, but please please keep an eye on the issue.

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Jessica Valenti