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

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The Week in Abortion

12.11.12 - 12.15.23

There was a lot going on this week in abortion rights news, so settle in. In addition to a ton happening on the state level—Arizona, Wyoming and New Mexico all saw abortion-related cases head to their Supreme Courts—SCOTUS announced that they’ll hear a case on mifepristone that will impact access for the entire country. Meanwhile, Republicans were dealing with perhaps their worst week ever in abortion rights: Kate Cox’s story was everywhere, with even more women sharing their experiences of being denied vital care in a harrowing ABC News special. It feels like a cultural tide is shifting, and Republicans are scrambling with what to do next.

So let’s get into it by starting with Cox’s story, and the GOP’s absolute panic:

Post-Roe Horror Stories Haunt Republicans

Republicans literally ran from reporters this week in order to avoid answering questions about Kate Cox. There’s a clip of Ted Cruz, for example, dashing from a reporter and telling her to direct questions to his press office. “I actually have, for two days now, and I still haven’t received an answer,” the journalist replies.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas gave an answer that was somehow more cowardly than not saying anything at all: “I’m not a state official, so I’m not going to comment on what state officials are doing.”

The GOP presidential candidates also largely refused to answer what they think about Cox’s case, or slickly pivoted. Take Nikki Haley, who first said she didn’t know the details of the case. Later, she fell back on one of our anti-choice BINGO words: ‘compassion’. While still refusing to answer what she thought of the Texas Supreme Court ruling against Cox, Haley said, “We have to humanize the situation and deal with it with compassion.”

The most we got out of Haley was a suggestion that Texas should “tweak” their law so that women’s fertility and lives were protected. But the state ban already purports to do that! So Haley—who has been painting herself as the ‘reasonable’ Republican on abortion—didn’t address the ruling, or what she thinks about exceptions for fatal fetal anomalies.

The other candidates also avoided questions about Cox: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gave the wishy washy answer, “We have to approach these issues with compassion.” Vivek Ramaswamy simply pivoted by saying this was a states’ issue. And we heard nothing from Donald Trump.

As I’ve pointed out multiple times this week, Republicans refusal to talk about Cox isn’t just about fear of public ire, but of having to defend their own policies. They know that the Texas law worked exactly as intended, and that their own proposal for a 15-week national ban would do the same thing to all American women that Texas did to Cox.

And that’s important: So far, I’ve seen no coverage of the fact that the GOP’s supposed ‘middle ground’ legislation—the 15-week ban they say is a reasonable restriction—has zero exceptions for fatal fetal anomalies. That’s a huge part of why Republicans are afraid to talk about this case! Given that the GOP has built their abortion messaging around the idea of this ‘compromise’ legislation, surely we should be asking them about it right now? More in this week’s column:

That said, even if Republicans reversed course on their 15-week ban and added exceptions for fatal fetal abnormalities—what then? How will politicians define what constitutes a ‘fatal’ condition? Again and again, the real life stories of people suffering under abortion bans show that there is no moral or safe way to legislate pregnancy. Ever. At any point.

And that leads into the next thing I want to talk about: How Democrats have responded to Cox’s case, and the opportunity they have to do the right thing.

Democrats’ Big Chance

For years, Democrats were too afraid to talk about abortion, hanging on to “safe, legal and rare” messaging and the notion that abortions were a necessary evil. Finally, politicians and the mainstream movement are moving beyond that kind of stigmatizing framing—but only just barely, and not nearly quickly enough.

While Democratic leaders in Congress and the president have come out in support of Cox, their talking points focus on either tying the horror story to Donald Trump or attacking Republican bans.

For example, Biden said that “no woman should be forced to go to court or flee her home state just to receive the health care she needs.” Which is a true and important statement. But as Erika Christensen of Who Not When pointed out this week, women aren’t just fleeing Texas: If Cox needed an abortion after 24 weeks, she wouldn’t have been able to get care in New York, California, or Illinois.

Given the outpouring of sympathy for Cox and her family, this is the perfect time for Democrats to the bold and right thing: support abortion throughout pregnancy. I know they’re afraid of being accused of supporting abortion ‘up until birth’—but conservatives say that anyway, that no matter what policy we push.

Here’s the thing: Republicans truly think that abortion later in pregnancy is their ‘gotcha’ talking point, and they’re counting on Democrats to shy away from talking about it. We can defang that strategy by proactively addressing the issue and pointing out the obvious: the nightmare stories that have come out every day since Roe was overturned prove that pregnancy is too complicated to legislate.

And when Republicans respond with the expected barbs about the brutality of abortion ‘up until birth’, all Democrats have to do is ask: Who are you talking about? Are you talking about Kate Cox? Tell me the stories of the women you think are getting abortions later in pregnancy.

Then, they can point them to this ABC News special, which interviewed over a dozen women who were denied abortions despite risks to their health, fertility and lives. (You can watch the full episode on Hulu.)

Again, this isn’t just the right thing to do—but the smart thing. New polling this week bolstered something Abortion, Every Day has been arguing for months: Americans increasingly support abortion throughout pregnancy, understanding that government should have no place in the decision at all. The latest Marist poll found that when voters were asked what kinds of restrictions they’d support if there was a national abortion law, the most popular answer was NONE. (I wrote here about the frustrating framing of the report and accompanying media coverage, and how the results demonstrated how badly we need better polling questions.)

All of which is to say: I’m glad that Cox’s story has captured national and international attention. The question is whether Democrats will take any lessons at all from it.

Republicans Strategies: Personal Stories & Birth Control

The anti-abortion movement knows that the stream of women’s stories since Roe was overturned are their biggest political and cultural hurdle. And so it’s no surprise that this week I found that the GOP and the anti-abortion movement is working hard to cultivate personal stories of their own—at whatever cost.

A Business Insider investigation, for example, found an anti-abortion group that offered women money to not have abortions, and then neglected to pay up. Let Them Live—a group with ties to major anti-abortion organizations like Alliance Defending Freedom and Students for Life—promised women that they’d be given big checks to carry their pregnancies to term. The group used the women’s personal stories to crowdfund online, but then ghosted them after the money was raised—“conning” the women into having babies they couldn’t afford. One woman told BI, “They want to post on social media about all the babies they've saved…I don't think they care about the mothers at all.”

I think were going to see more predatory practices like this from smaller local anti-choice groups, and bigger moves from national groups to find stories of their own that they hope will sway the public consciousness. LifeNews, for example, advised Republicans to push out stories from women who regret their abortions. That strategy is flawed, though: The first problem is that the stories the anti-abortion movement uses are often ill-gotten, like those from Let Them Live, or false—like the bizarre and debunked anecdote Ron DeSantis told about an “abortion survivor.”

The second big hurdle is a matter of volume: One of the reasons that the post-Roe horror stories are resonating is because there are so damn many of them. Having a handful of women who regret their abortions (which we know is a statistical rarity) will never be as culturally powerful as the real nightmares we’re seeing play out every day because of abortion bans.

The other Republican tactic I covered this week is an attempt to focus on birth control. As I reported yesterday, some conservative strategists want GOP lawmakers to come out in loud support of contraception—believing that this might put them back in voters’ good graces. The problem, of course, is that the anti-abortion movement has spent millions of dollars and years of activist energy laying the groundwork to ban birth control. So they’re not exactly taking to the suggestion kindly. Read more on the backlash and internal fighting in yesterday’s column, “The GOP’s Birth Control Problem.”

SCOTUS & Mifepristone

Obviously, one of the biggest stories this week in abortion rights was the news that the Supreme Court will hear the case against mifepristone. Specifically, the Court plans to rule on whether pre-2016 restrictions on the drug will be put back in place. They will not consider repealing the FDA’s approval of medication entirely, which is what the anti-abortion movement was fighting for.

That means the legality of mifepristone won’t be at risk—but its access and availability will be. Chris Geidner at Law Dork, who writes that it’s “a best-case scenario for abortion rights supporters,” has more on the legal nitty gritty.

But here’s the thing: While this certainly is better than having the Court take up mifepristone’s legality as a whole, the restrictions they’re reviewing are meaningful—and could have a tremendous impact on tens of millions of Americans. The justices will look at tele-health access, for example, as well as the ability to receive abortion medication in the mail, and how far into pregnancy you can take the pills. (Right now mifepristone is approved up until 10 weeks of pregnancy; these restrictions could move it back to 7 weeks.)

This is similar to something I’ve said about the GOP’s war on birth control—Republicans don’t need to make something illegal in order to ensure it’s impossible to get. So while I’m glad that the news isn’t worse, it’s a mistake to think that this isn’t a really big fucking deal that could hurt a lot of people.

Criminalizing Care

Speaking of how abortion bans hurt people, let’s take a look back at some of the stories we saw this week on criminalizing care.

In the good news column, Missouri Republicans withdrew legislation that would have allowed the state to charge abortion patients with murder. (The bill also could have made it possible for women to be brought up on murder charges if they used emergency contraception or IUDs!)

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bob Titus said, “The media has mischaracterized my interest as hostile toward women; nothing could be further from the truth.” Earlier in the week, Titus told The Kansas City Star, “if you’re going to treat babies as humans and people then the penalties for taking an innocent life should be commensurate with that.” Sounds pretty hostile to me!

In Oklahoma, The Frontier reports that prosecutors have been arresting women they claim used marijuana during their pregnancies, and charging them with child neglect. One of those women is 27 year-old Brittany Gunsolus, who used edibles and topical creams during her pregnancy on recommendation of her doctor. After Gunsolus’ lawyers pointed out that medical marijuana is the same as any other legal medication, the prosecutor responded that she broke the law because her “unborn child did not have its own, separate state license to use medical marijuana.” I wish I was kidding.

The incredible organization Pregnancy Justice is providing legal help in this case—you can donate to them here.

Finally, a congressional investigation found that the nation’s largest pharmacies are giving prescription records to police and government investigators without a warrant—all they need is a subpoena. What’s worse is that pharmacy chains often have multiple stores in multiple states. So theoretically, investigators from anti-abortion states could subpoena records from other places. Read the letter sent to Xavier Becerra, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services about the investigation here.

All of these stories come on the heels of Abortion, Every Day’s reporting on Brittany Watts—the Ohio woman being charged with “abuse of a corpse” for flushing her miscarriage. I know a lot of you have been looking for a way to support Watts; I’ve confirmed that this GoFundMe is legitimate and the best way to send funds to her.

Something else to note: the GoFundMe page, which was put together by Watts’ close friends, contradicts local reporting on the case which claimed that Watts was arrested after her fetus “clogged” the toilet. This always struck me as odd and unlikely. What her friends report seems much more in line with what we know about how criminalization works:

“Within hours of Brittany's admission to the hospital for her life-threatening hemorrhaging, police removed the toilet from Brittany's home and destroyed it searching for fetal remains.”

So she went to the hospital for care and was turned in. Remember this report from If/When/How? While it looked at the criminalization of self-managed abortions, not miscarriages or other pregnancy outcomes, what they found is still relevant here: those reported to law enforcement are most often turned in by healthcare providers.

For legal help, call If/When/How’s Repro Helpline: 844-868-2812

For medical advice, contact the Miscarriage & Abortion Hotline: 833-246-2632

State News

Arizona’s Supreme Court heard arguments over whether to reinstate an abortion ban from 1864—a law that would criminalize any abortion unless its to save someone’s life. Thankfully, an anti-choice justice recused himself from the case (just a few days after an Abortion, Every Day report went viral).

New Mexico’s Supreme Court heard arguments about the legality of anti-abortion ordinances passed by some small towns in the state. Activists have been pushing towns and counties to make abortion ‘illegal’ despite state law protecting abortion rights; their goal is to bring the Comstock Act all the way to the Supreme Court.

In Wyoming, the state Supreme Court heard arguments on whether an anti-abortion group and two Republican lawmakers can intervene in the suit challenging the state’s two abortion bans. (Yes, two.)

Finally, the Kentucky woman suing over the state’s abortion ban has lost her pregnancy, but the suit is still moving forward.

Ballot measure news:

  • Florida activists have gathered close to 700,000 signatures of the 891,000 they need to get abortion on the ballot in 2024. They’re making a big final push, and you can help by donating to Floridians Protecting Freedom.

  • Missouri House Minority Leader Crystal Quade (who is also running for governor) announced that she’s going to file a House Joint Resolution to add an abortion rights amendment to the state constitution.

  • Pennsylvania Democrats have introduced a bill that would protect reproductive rights in the state constitution, pending voter approval.

  • And in Ohio, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood filed an amended complaint in their challenge against the state’s 6-week abortion ban. In short: Issue 1 makes clear that the ban is unconstitutional, so their hope is to get it repealed. (You can read the full filing here.)

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Jessica Valenti