In the states…
This is horrible: Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed a law effectively banning abortion clinics in the state despite abortion being legal. As a reminder, the legislation requires that abortions be performed in hospitals—a mandate that not only impacts abortion providers, but patients who now will have to spend more money to get less personalized care. Assuming they can get it at all: According to the Utah Hospital Association, no hospitals in the state provided abortions in the last year that weren’t medically necessary. (Because no one goes to a hospital for an abortion, you go to a doctor or clinic.)
The law will also make it doubly hard to obtain abortion medication, which account for most of the state’s abortions and—until now—were often prescribed via telehealth. So let’s be clear about what this is: It’s a backdoor ban. It’s a way to stop women from accessing legal health care.
A Planned Parenthood spokesperson said they are looking into whether or not the legislation will allow clinics—which could be banned from operating as early as May of this year—to apply for new licenses that would put them legally on par with hospitals. I’ll keep you updated as I find out more.
The Florida 6-week abortion ban passed out of the House Healthcare Regulation Subcommittee today. The legislation would make it a felony to “actively participate” in an abortion, language so broad that it could criminalize anyone who helps someone to obtain care. Democratic Rep. Kelly Skidmore responded to the bill’s advancement by saying that “we can’t pretend that this is not a full ban on abortion.” She continued, “Abortion is healthcare, it is not a moral failing to be weighed on the scale created by politicians.”
Also in Florida, Republicans want to ban girls from learning about their periods in school. Because of course they do! The effort is part of an anti-sex education bill, and is a good reminder that conservatives aren’t just trying to force pregnancy through abortion bans—but by keeping vital health information from young people. (I made a TikTok about the legislation earlier today.)
And in Oklahoma, Republicans want to mandate that health care providers upload patient records to a state-run database. This comes as Republicans in the state are trying to pass dozens of anti-LGBTQ bills and classify abortion as homicide.
Just a day after Wisconsin Republicans announced their bill to add ‘exceptions’ to the state’s abortion ban, the legislation puttered out. But conservative lawmakers got what they wanted out of the bill, which was the ability to hold a press conference about it and pretend that they give a shit about women and lie about trying to compromise on the issue. That’s all this was ever about.
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Good news in North Dakota: The state Supreme Court upheld a court order blocking enforcement of the state’s abortion ban while a suit against the law is battled out in court. And in Colorado, two pieces of pro-choice legislation advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. One bill would protect abortion providers and patients from being targeted by out-of-state investigations, the other would ban deceptive ads from anti-abortion centers.
North Carolina’s Attorney General is trying to increase access to abortion medication, arguing that the state’s mandate that patients wait 72-hours and then take the pill in front of their doctors go beyond FDA recommendations. AG Josh Stein says, “I’m part of a coalition of states that are asking the court to reject the effort of these Republican AGs to strip away from women their reproductive freedoms, abortion medication is incredibly safe.”
In Maryland, Gov. Wes Moore responded to the lawsuit against abortion medication by promising to protect reproductive rights in the state. Moore said that attempts to ban mifepristone “are nothing more than politically motivated attacks to dismantle women's rights to make decisions about their own health care.”
You know I went on a bit of a rant yesterday about a South Carolina bill that would make abortion punishable by the death penalty; specifically, the media coverage of the legislation. This Seattle Times piece is a good example of why I’m so frustrated: The article is all about how unlikely the bill is to pass, and that it’s extremist legislation that doesn’t represent the anti-abortion movement or conservative politicians. The bill has 21 Republican co-sponsors! Even if it doesn’t pass, the support that it has—and the fact that exists at all—is incredibly important and worthy of serious conversation. When media treats these very deliberate and extreme moves as if they’re not a big deal or nothing to worry about, they are doing their readers a huge disservice.
Speaking of the media getting abortion stories wrong: I told you all about the lie that Tennessee Republicans are pushing about adding health and life exceptions to the state’s abortion ban. And I predicted that mainstream outlets would mirror conservatives’ language without question. Today, the Associated Press published a piece that called the nothingburger bill an ‘exception’ and repeated the lie that doctors would be able to give women an abortion if they are miscarrying. That’s not true. The bill only says that doctors can “remove a dead fetus.” And one of the most dangerous problems we’ve seen in anti-choice states has been that miscarrying women are refused care because their fetus still has a heartbeat.
This bill will do nothing to help women—it’s a PR move, plain and simple. We know that because we can read the legislation ourselves, but also because the language was endorsed by the radical anti-abortion group Tennessee Right to Life, who has been fighting any sort of health and life exception for months. If they’re okay with it, you can be sure it does nothing.
“I believe the state’s law was intended to be ambiguous and confusing, to make physicians scared to provide abortion care. We’re incentivized to pause, wait, reconsider — actions that can be life threatening. Women with ectopic pregnancies have waited in emergency rooms for hospital lawyers to determine whether an abortion can proceed. We have denied abortion care to women with cancer and other complex medical problems who find out they are pregnant. Women with pregnancies affected by life-limiting fetal anomalies — anencephaly (no skull or brain), renal agenesis (no kidneys, no proper lung development) — have had to seek abortion care out of state. One patient I managed who was unable to receive abortion care ultimately required an emergency hysterectomy and delivered an extremely premature infant, 14 weeks early.”
Dr. Osmundson also raises important questions about an incremental approach to restoring abortion rights in places like Tennessee—both for fears that an all or nothing strategy won’t work, and in order to reduce the amount of real-life imminent harm happening on the ground. (I tend to think there’s space for both.)
A new lawsuit has been filed against Florida’s 15-week abortion ban;
Salon on the anti-trans bills modeled after Texas’ bounty hunter law;
In the nation…
The lawsuit over abortion medication has been dominating the national conversation on abortion, as it should. I spoke about the issue on MSNBC last night with Alex Wagner and Melissa Murray of Strict Scrutiny, you can watch a short clip below:
And if you want to read some analysis of yesterday’s hearing on abortion medication, here are a few places to start:
Slate gets into how the case is really about who has power in America—and why the FDA (and all of us) should ignore Kacsmaryk should he decide that he knows better than over 20 years of science and the rule of law:
“If this judge rules against mifepristone, he is trying to say that he has the authority over the FDA, the power to tell you that you do not have the right to the safest and best way to have an abortion at home, even in a blue state that has voted to secure the right. He thinks he is the one with the power. The question will soon be—why should we listen to him?”
The Washington Post reports how Kacsmaryk seemed open to the (false) claim that mifepristone wasn’t properly vetted by the FDA; CNN gives a general overview and some background info on the judge; Reuters also put out an explainer; CBS has an easily-shareable video on the case; and the Associated Press reports on what might happen if the medication is banned.
And Moira Donegan covers the case with a reminder that I desperately needed: “Women’s solidarity, inventiveness and determination will always outmatch punitive anti-abortion regimes.”
The other big national story today is that new maternal mortality numbers have come out from the CDC, and—as expected—they’re not good: In 2021, maternal death rates went up 40%, an increase that Dr. Iffath Abbasi Hoskins, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, called “stunning news.”
The highest jump in the death rate was among Black women, which is depressing but unsurprising. The report shows that non-Hispanic Black women died during and right after pregnancy at a rate 2.6 times that of non-Hispanic white women. (Related: If you are looking to read something on maternal mortality and Black women, this piece from Capital B is an incredible investigation into Georgia’s maternal health desert.)
Something to remember about maternal mortality rates, of course, is that these CDC statistics we collected before Dobbs; we can expect to see even more of a jump next year.
Meanwhile, Vice President Kamala Harris was on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert talking about abortion rights—it would have been a good time to talk about the lawsuit against mifepristone, but was glad to see at least some conversation about the issue.
Vox News has some inside information on why Walgreens may be caving to conservative pressure on abortion medication;
Stat News has an interview with Planned Parenthood president Alexis McGill Johnson;
Planned Parenthood executive Dawn Laguens says when it comes to abortion rights, “we need corporations and businesses to stand up for their employees”;
And Slate looks at what one Nebraska case means for digital privacy and abortion rights.
The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC has an in-depth segment on the case against abortion medication, as well as more information on that lawsuit brought by a Texas man against three women he alleges helped his ex-wife get an abortion. It’s absolutely worth a listen—I’m making my way through it now as I put the newsletter together!
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