Abortion, Every Day
Abortion, Every Day
The Week in Abortion

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The Week in Abortion

10.16.23 - 10.20.23
To skip ahead in the newsletter, click on the section headers: In The Anti-Abortion Movement’s Next Big Plan, I give you a recap of Abortion Every Day’s most recent investigation. The Mortality Crisis looks at important new study linking infant mortality to abortion restrictions. In Ballot Measure Updates, the most important things to know from Ohio, Florida and Nevada. Updates from Wisconsin, Michigan and more in In the States. I also have a few quick hits for you in National Updates. In The Care Crisis, we saw the impact abortion bans are having on care in North Carolina, Iowa and Alabama. Finally, I rage out at the NYT in Media Missteps.

The Anti-Abortion Movement’s Next Big Plan

This week, Abortion, Every Day published an investigation into the anti-abortion movement’s next big strategy: manipulating women into carrying doomed pregnancies to term.

It’s a long piece, so if you’re looking for the most important things to know—or quick facts to share with folks—I’m including a recap below. (If you’ve read the piece and want to skip ahead, click here to go to the next section.)

A coalition of the most powerful anti-abortion groups in the country have quietly launched an initiative to stop abortion in cases of fatal fetal abnormalities by targeting policy, language, and patients themselves. And they’re doing it under the guise of “prenatal diagnosis counseling” and perinatal hospice programs. The elements of their strategy include:

  • Spreading misinformation & disinformation on prenatal testing: Activists are exaggerating the chances for a false positive; using scare tactics about miscarriage to pressure women out of undergoing prenatal testing; and shaming women into thinking they might be ending a healthy pregnancy. They’re also arguing that prenatal testing is a billion dollar business targeting pregnant women.

  • Using legislators to target prenatal tests: Last year, nearly 100 Republican lawmakers sent a letter to the FDA asking about the labeling requirements and regulatory measures around the tests, claiming that the agency isn’t “conducting proper oversight.” (Remember, this is how they’re going after mifepristone.)

  • Claiming women can’t make a decision after a tragic diagnosis: Anti-abortion activists argue that receiving a fatal fetal diagnosis is a trauma that impacts patients’ ability to make a good decision. Using the language of ‘informed consent’, the goal is to lay the groundwork for mandated waiting periods.

  • Manipulating medical & legal language: Anti-abortion groups want to call lethal conditions “potentially life-limiting” and pregnancies “pre-viable” instead of “non-viable.” The goal is to give women false hope about their pregnancy, and to insert anti-abortion language into legislation. (Which they’ve done in several states.)

  • Lying to patients about pregnancy risks: Conservatives claim that a doomed pregnancy to term is no riskier than a healthy pregnancy—putting women’ lives and health at risk, and downplaying physical and emotional trauma. (One anti-choice leader said providing abortions in cases of lethal diagnoses would be “robbing our patients of an opportunity for courage, or underestimating their capacity to face suffering.”)

  • Lying to patients about the risks of abortion: Through their ‘counseling’ efforts, activists tell women with tragic diagnoses that abortion could kill them, and that there’s an emotional benefit to giving birth to a dead or dying baby.

  • Training and embedding ‘prenatal diagnosis counselors’: Using their network of crisis pregnancy center volunteers, the movement is training activists in all of the tactics listed above. In order to reach patients, Republican legislators are mandating hospitals recommend these programs to patients before they’re able to obtain an abortion due to a fatal abnormality.

  • Using funding for crisis pregnancy centers: Anti-abortion centers are getting millions in state funding—money that is largely unregulated. The movement also knows that because of a lack of access to care, fatal diagnoses and infant deaths will increase; so they’re positioning themselves as experts and counselors in prenatal counseling and perinatal palliative care.

All of which is to say: this is fucked. Make sure to tell people, and be on the lookout for these strategies in your states and communities.

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The Mortality Crisis

We know that abortion restrictions impact maternal and infant mortality: death rates are already increasing in states with bans. One report, for example, showed that states with abortion restrictions had maternal death rates 62% higher than states where abortion was accessible, and infant mortality shot up in Texas after the state passed its ban.

Now, a new study offers even more proof of just how strong that connection is between infant death rates and anti-choice laws. Research published last week in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that states with abortion restrictions had a 16% increased infant mortality rate. And here’s the thing: the data they used was pre-Dobbs—it came from 2014–2018. So those numbers are likely to get much worse.

What was especially notable about the study was it found that abortion restrictions made more of an impact on infant mortality than socioeconomic factors. Researchers looked at county data on the percent of people unemployed and living below the federal poverty line, their median income and education level—and still, abortion restrictions impacted the infant death rate more.

Definitely something to keep an eye on. (I’ll also be curious to see what the infant death rate is in states where the anti-abortion movement is successful in implementing their ‘prenatal diagnosis counseling’ programs.)

Ballot Measure Updates

This week in Ohio, anti-abortion activists ramped up their efforts against the pro-choice ballot measure in front of voters. Over the last few months, we’ve seen them try to make the amendment a ‘parents’ rights’ issue, lie about it allowing abortion ‘up until birth’, and try to stop the measure from getting to voters at all.

Now, they’re also telling voters that they don’t need to support Issue 1 because abortion is already legal in the state. A spokesperson for Protect Women Ohio said in a forum about the amendment that voters should just Google when abortion is legal in the state, and that anyone who claims people in the state don’t have access to abortion at 22 weeks is “flat out lying.” The president of Ohio Right to Life said something similar during a radio interview—telling voters that they didn’t need the protect of Issue 1.

The truth? Ohio passed a 6-week ban, which is blocked as it gets battled out in the courts. And a big part of the reason these groups are fighting against Issue 1 is so that they can enact that ban!

But given how popular abortion rights are, conservatives really don’t want Ohians to know that. Even Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is lying to voters about what would happen if Issue 1 fails, telling a local television station: “I'm confident that we can come up with a law in Ohio that the majority of Ohioans will feel comfortable with in regard to abortion.” Reminder: DeWine signed the 6-week ban into effect. That’s the law he’ll be pushing.

Also on Ohio’s ballot measure: the Catholic Church in the state has spent nearly $1 million to oppose the amendment.

In Florida, we’re waiting to hear from the state Supreme Court on the pro-choice ballot measure there. Attorney General Ashley Moody filed a legal challenge with the Court against the amendment, arguing that the measure’s definition of ‘viability’ is deliberately vague. This week, anti-abortion activists came out to support Moody and her claim. The Court—which is also deciding whether to uphold the state’s 15-week abortion ban—will have to approve the amendment’s language before it can go in front of voters.

And in Nevada, conservatives are trying to stymie a pro-choice ballot measure by claiming it violates the single subject rule. Their argument is that because the amendment prohibits government interference in decisions around abortion, birth control, miscarriage care, etc, the issue can’t just be on one ballot measure. Remember, this is exactly what conservatives tried to do in Ohio: they filed a suit seeking to split the amendment into multiple measures based on the idea that abortion was different than the other reproductive decisions that the measure listed, like miscarriage care and fertility treatments.

Thankfully, abortion is legal in Nevada—but as has been the case in other pro-choice states, abortion rights advocates are trying to add an extra layer of protection in the state constitution.

In the States

In other state news this week, Republicans in Wisconsin passed a package of anti-abortion bills that will be vetoed by Gov. Tony Evers. But that doesn’t mean we ignore them! As is the case with all anti-abortion legislation, Republicans in Wisconsin gave us clues about what they’re going after next—the definition of abortion. As Grace reported this week, one of the bills states that ending an ectopic, embryonic or molar pregnancy isn’t really an abortion. We’ve been seeing this quite a lot in other states, and in anti-abortion movement talking points: they want abortion to be an intention, not a medical intervention.

Michigan Democrats are still are still trying to pass the Reproductive Health Act (RHA), but are being held by one Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Karen Whitsett. First Whitsett claimed that her issue was over a provision allowing for Medicaid funding for abortions. But when a vote this week cut the provision (which was really important), Whitsett said she still wouldn’t vote for the RHA. Now, she says, it’s because of the legislation’s eradication of the 24-hour waiting period.

The waiting period has always been a major problem, but it’s taken on new significance post-Roe: Out-of-state patients traveling to Michigan for care have to spend that much longer away from work, paying for lodging, childcare, etc.

Colorado anti-abortion activists came up with a novel legal approach to stop the ban on abortion ‘reversal’ in the state: arguing that it’s a religious freedom issue. This comes after state medical boards refused to get behind ‘reversal’ as “professional conduct,” allowing the ban to move forward. Essentially, because conservatives couldn’t get ‘reversal’ to be accepted medically or scientifically, they’re now arguing that it’s a “religious exercise.” Which is terrifying for a whole host of other reasons.

And Virginia Republicans continue to gear up for the election by telling voters that their abortion ban isn’t a ban. Gov. Glenn Youngkin and other Republicans are also working hard to paint Democrats as the real extremists by focusing on abortion later in pregnancy.

Texas conservatives continue to be the absolute fucking worst: Anti-abortion organizations, led by the architect of Texas’ bounty hunter law, Jonathan Mitchell, are are suing San Antonio over the city council’s creation of a $500,000 fund to help people access reproductive health services—including out-of-state travel for abortion care. And while the city council members made clear that they would use the fund in accordance with the law, Mitchell’s suit claims that the fund violates the law even if the money isn’t used to pay directly for abortions. This is part of a broader harassment campaign against Texas abortion funds. (For a list of funds that have been targeted by Mitchell and links to donate, click here.)

In better state news, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker launched a new abortion rights organization focused on pro-choice ballot measures.

National Updates

  • The Washington Post published a piece about the increase in charges against anti-abortion activists using the FACE Act—the law that makes it a federal crime to block clinic entrances by force, threat of force, or physical obstruction. That increase is why we’re seeing so much action on the issue from Republicans, who want to repeal the Act.

  • Grace outlined Jim Jordan’s failure this week to win the House speakership and why that’s so important for abortion rights (he has an extensive anti-abortion history).

  • The conservative legal group who brought the legal challenge against mifepristone has filed a petition urging the Supreme Court not to review the case. (The Court hasn’t said whether they’ll hear the case, but experts say it is likely.) The group wants to keep the restrictions put in place by the Fifth Circuit, or get the medication outlawed altogether. For more on the legal challenge against mifepristone, here’s our explainer.

  • The Democratic Women’s Caucus sent a letter yesterday to defense committee leaders, telling them that the inclusion of “any provisions that attack access to reproductive health care” in the National Defense Authorization Act would jeopardize the bill’s final passage.

The Care Crisis

The post-Roe care crisis continues on, with updates this week out of North Carolina, Alabama and Iowa.

Alabama, for example, has three more hospitals shutting down their maternity wards—leaving two counties without any place for people to give birth. NBC News reported that the closures will have some women driving up to 100 miles to find a hospital with a labor and delivery unit. (Alabama has the highest maternal mortality rate in the country and the third highest infant mortality rate.)

In Iowa, the Des Moines Register reported that since the state started it’s own family planning program—discontinuing their participation in the federal Medicaid family planning network—there’s been a nearly 83% drop in people using its services.

Iowa decided to start their own program in 2017 as a way to stop groups like Planned Parenthood from getting state funding, leaving $3 million in funding behind. But because the state decided not to spend any money to advertise or promote the program—which is meant to help low- and moderate- income people get contraception and other reproductive healthcare services—people just don’t know about it. In 2021, only 423 people were served by the program! Which, it seems, is the point.

I’m calling Republican moves like these a passive ban on birth control. As I’ve written so many times before, the GOP doesn’t need to pass a law making contraception illegal—they just need to make it impossible to get.

Media Missteps

(To be honest, this is more like Media Negligence, but I can’t resist some good alliteration.) If you missed this story from me on Monday, please make sure to read it. It’s a perfect, though distressing, example of the way that media is falling for the GOP’s bullshit around abortion and language.

The short version is that The New York Times reported that there’s a trend of Republicans coming out against a federal abortion ban. That’s not true. And if the Times was paying closer attention to conservatives’ war on language, they would know that.

It all comes down to the word ‘ban’—which as you all know by now, Republicans are both avoiding and trying to redefine. Conservatives claim that ‘ban’ means total eradication of abortion rights without exceptions, even for the pregnant person’s life. (Under their definition, there are no abortion bans in the U.S. at all!)

That’s why they have no problem saying that they don’t support a ‘ban’; it’s the rhetorical equivalent to crossing their fingers behind their back. Instead, candidates and anti-abortion leaders are saying they support ‘reasonable restrictions’, ‘standards’, or ‘consensus’ legislation. All of those words mean abortion ban.

There are more details about the Times piece and what these candidates are actually saying in Monday’s write-up.

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Jessica Valenti