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The Week in Abortion
The anti-abortion war on democracy continued in multiple states this week, with the starkest example coming out of Texas. For months, Republicans there have been trying to pass legislation that removes district attorneys from office and/or fines them (to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars) if they decline to prosecute abortion-related cases.
But prosecutors—elected officials whose literal job is to use their discretion about what cases to pursue and use state funds for—can’t be recalled or impeached. So this week, Republicans passed legislation that would allow district attorneys to be removed for ‘misconduct’, which the bill defines as “refusing to prosecute a class or type of criminal offense.”
It gets worse: The law would allow any county resident to petition for the removal of prosecutors they say committed this type of ‘misconduct’. That means that anti-abortion activists could go after DAs, as could any ill-intentioned asshole. Take the case in Texas, for example, in which a man is suing three of his ex-wife’s friends for allegedly helping her to obtain abortion medication. A guy like this would not only be able to sue the friends who helped his wife, but target a prosecutor who declined to bring criminal charges against said friends. It will be a shit-show.
It’s also not going to stop in Texas: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis removed state attorney Andrew Warren from office for saying he wouldn’t prosecute abortion cases. And after Warren sued, fifteen Republican state Attorneys General signed onto an amicus brief in support of DeSantis—arguing that the First Amendment doesn’t apply when the state wants to remove prosecutors. So that means AGs in fifteen states believe it’s their right to fire any DA who won’t prosecute abortion.
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In other anti-abortion attacks on democracy, we’re paying close attention to Republican efforts to stymie or stop pro-choice ballot measures:
In Missouri, Attorney General Andrew Bailey is holding up a measure by refusing to accept the state auditor’s estimate of how much restoring abortion rights would cost the state: the auditor says $51,000, Bailey is claiming it would cost $51 billion.
In South Dakota, abortion rights advocates are in a court battle after being banned from collecting signatures near county buildings in Sioux Falls. (The area is a popular spot for petitioners.) This week, a judge issued a temporary restraining order against the policy while the broader case is heard.
And in Ohio, where conservatives have been pulling out every stop under the sun to prevent a pro-choice ballot measure from moving forward, we actually got some good news. The state Supreme Court ruled against a lawsuit brought by anti-abortion activists who claimed the ballot measure should be two separate amendments—if successful, pro-choicers would have had to collect twice as many signatures and start from scratch to do so.
Finally, I want to make sure we’re talking about the harassment of Indiana Dr. Caitlin Bernard—the abortion provider who treated a 10 year-old rape victim from Ohio—as an attack on democracy. Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita has been using the full power of his office to go after Dr. Bernard because she dared to speak up about the horrific consequences of abortion bans. This isn’t just an attack on a singular doctor—it’s an attack on free speech, and a fascistic warning to any other health care providers thinking about coming forward.
One of the more surprising things I’ve realized doing this work for the last year is that the anti-abortion movement is not very good about keeping their plans hush-hush. If you know where to look, they give away the game again and again. And the game is fucking terrifying.
This week, for example, I found a paper outlining how the most powerful anti-abortion group in the nation wants to establish a “network of maternity homes” across the country. We already know that these organizations target vulnerable women—like unhoused pregnant women with no other place to go. But what’s extra fucked up about this plan is that they want the maternity homes to be operated by Heartbeat International, the biggest network of anti-abortion centers in the world. I posted a TikTok about the strategy a few days ago:
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The other not-so-secret strategy that anti-choice groups are working on is a plan to go back to the states where Republicans passed so-called ‘reasonable’ abortion bans…and turn them into total bans. Dustin Curtis of Students for Life told the Daily Caller News Foundation, “In states such as North Carolina and Nebraska, SFLAction will certainly be returning to improve the 12-week bills passed this session.” Curtis said they’d be pushing for “life at conception” bills in the two states. (Curtis also said that anti-abortion activists would be going to New Hampshire, Virginia, Iowa, and Maine to make a push for restrictions, as well.)
We knew all the talk from conservative lawmakers about seeking a middle ground was bullshit, but I’m struck by how quickly they’re making this move. It’s only been a few weeks! So anytime someone brings up the idea of ‘reasonable, commonsense’ abortion bans, make sure they know that Republicans were never going to stop at 12 weeks. And that they’re not even bothering to hide it.
Oklahoma Republicans are demanding that the HHS restore their Title X funding, which was withheld because of the state’s refusal to comply with a mandate that patients at federally-funded clinics be given all of their pregnancy options (including abortion);
Virginia Democrats and pro-choice activists are worried that the state is in danger of passing an abortion ban, which would fully decimate abortion access in the South;
Taking our good news where we can…
Nevada’s Republican governor signed new abortion protections into law that prohibit state agencies from helping out-of-state law enforcement with abortion investigations;
The Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down two anti-abortion laws because they required a “medical emergency” before a woman could legally obtain an abortion to save her life;
A coalition of pro-choice groups in Florida are moving ahead with their ballot measure campaign;
The ACLU is challenging the anti-abortion/anti-trans law in Nebraska;
Americans Support Abortion Rights
Your regular reminder that Americans increasingly want abortion to be legal—not just in pro-choice states, but across the country. A new study out of Louisiana this week, for example, showed that most people in the state want abortion legal in all or most cases: 52% of respondents agreed, up from 46% last year and from 40% in 2016. (Nearly 80% believe there should be an exception for rape and incest.) And as Florida, where the state’s 6-week ban could be enforced as soon as this summer, 75% of voters oppose the law.
What Conservatives Are Saying
I’ve been thinking a lot about abortion messaging these days—both from pro-choicers and conservatives. It’s been interesting to watch how anti-choice talking points have shifted over the last year to account for the fact that the vast majority of Americans oppose abortion bans. And this week, there was a ton happening with the way that anti-choice groups are thinking about and using language:
Redefining Abortion: Since Roe was overturned, conservative lawmakers and anti-choice organizations been trying to reclassify abortion as an intention instead of a medical intervention. It’s only an abortion, they say, if someone doesn’t want the pregnancy. Republicans claim that women who need abortions to treat a miscarriage, or who end their pregnancy because their life is at risk, for example, aren’t really having abortions. Last year, the president for Americans United for Life even said it’s “not an abortion” if a 10 year-old ends her pregnancy. (Essentially, any abortion that conservatives think voters would sympathize with is no longer a real abortion.)
Most recently, Republicans have pushed legislation that codifies this lie: Bills proposed in Idaho and Kansas, for example, stated that treatment of a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy is not an abortion. And this week, Wisconsin Republicans introduced a bill that redefines abortion as the “intentional” ending of a pregnancy. (As I pointed out, it’s an especially dangerous move—if abortion is an intention, it opens the door for all sorts of criminalization.)
When is a ban not a ban? When anti-choice activists know voters will hate it. For the last month, I’ve been warning that anti-abortion organizers had stopped using the word ‘ban’—instead calling for a ‘national standard’ or ‘national consensus’. That strategy was laid plain this week when the president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America gave an interview to Astead Herndon at The New York Times. Marjorie Dannenfelser told Herndon that he shouldn’t use the word ‘ban’, “because it’s not accurate.” Instead, she called it a “federal limit.”
Dannenfelser also called bans a “federal standard” and “consensus”—language that makes it seems as if abortion restrictions are something Americans actually want, rather than the truth that they’re being passed against voters’ wills. She also continually stressed the “will of the people,” even while talking about laws that voters decidedly don’t want. It’s a smart, but incredibly transparent, move.
The 12-Week Lie: First, Republicans lied about 12-week bans being a ‘reasonable middle-ground’ (they’re not). Now, they’re claiming that any abortion after 12 weeks into pregnancy is an “extreme, late-term abortion,” as the president of March for Life Action, Jeanne Mancini, did in an op-ed this week. This is part of a broader conservative effort to redefine what “the middle” is on abortion.
Again, all of these messaging tactics are being employed because anti-abortion activists know how deeply unpopular their bans are—they’re coming from a place of weakness and desperation. And that’s why I wrote my column this week, “How to Talk About Abortion,” about how misguided (and dangerous) it is to allow Republicans to frame the abortion debate: