Abortion Information

Mrs. K was a refugee who recently arrived in the U.S. to reunite with her husband and children. They arrived safely a few weeks ahead of her. On her initial refugee health exam, Mrs. K discovered she was six weeks pregnant. She had just arrived after escaping persecution in southeast Asia and faced the tremendous task of settling herself and her family in a new home. It was impossible for her to contemplate bringing another child into her family at the time. When Mrs. K came into the primary care clinic where I work seeking a medication abortion, I was happy to help her through the process.

In California, where my primary practice is located, any pregnancy-related care, including abortion care, is covered by Medicaid. Any person who is eligible for Medicaid and seeking an abortion for any reason can obtain the health care services they need without delay. That means access to an abortion as soon as someone decides, rather than having to delay for weeks to scrape together funds to pay out of pocket. The day Mrs. K. came into clinic, we signed her up for emergency Medicaid and provided her medication abortion that same day with full insurance coverage. She was able to quickly move forward to establish herself and her family in this new country, without having to worry about coming up with hundreds of dollars to pay out of pocket for the medication.

A counseling room
A counseling room is set up to receive patients.SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES

It’s a stark contrast to what my patients experience in Texas, where I regularly travel to provide abortion care. Texas has some of the most restrictive abortion laws, including banning state Medicaid coverage of abortion and even state-regulated private insurance coverage for abortion care. Unlike Mrs. K, my patients in Texas who have Medicaid coverage and private insurance alike have to fundraise—sometimes for weeks or months—in order to afford their abortion out-of-pocket. This burden was already heavy for people with Medicaid coverage who are struggling to make ends meet. It has been devastating in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic when so many Americans had the rug pulled out from under them.

For the majority of people seeking an abortion in the U.S., obtaining an abortion is not as straightforward as it was for Mrs. K. The Hyde Amendment, inserted into every federal budget since 1976, prohibits federal insurance coverage of abortion care. Only 16 states allow state Medicaid funding to go toward coverage of abortion care. For those who have Medicaid insurance coverage in the other 34 states, paying for an abortion out of pocket is the only option available. This limitation in access to insurance coverage for an essential and constitutionally protected health care service leaves behind millions of people, based solely on their income levels and where they live.

What this means for my patients in Texas is that they might come into a clinic, undergo state-mandated counseling and unnecessary ultrasounds (additional barriers that Texas requires before obtaining an abortion), just to realize at the end of the day that they don’t have enough money to pay for their abortion. For some, the weeks of delay spent raising money may make it too late for a medication abortion, or they may need to delay an abortion into the second trimester with even higher costs. And this doesn’t account for the additional costs of travel and accommodations, child care and days off of work that many people face when obtaining an abortion. Each of these stacking costs and barriers at each step can be overwhelming and seem insurmountable for some families. The burden of this policy falls particularly on communities of color, who are disproportionately represented among Medicaid recipients, and who historically have had the most barriers in obtaining equitable health care.

The House recently took an important step by passing a spending bill without the Hyde Amendment for the first time in decades. The Senate must follow suit. This is a racial and economic justice issue just as much as it is a health care and reproductive justice issue. It’s unconscionable to continue discriminating against my patients based on their income level and where they live. Eliminating the Hyde Amendment and covering all pregnancy-related care, including abortion, is critical to achieve true reproductive justice and liberation.

Source: https://www.newsweek.com/public-abortion-coverage-helps-my-patients-opinion-1614402

Pro-choice activists supporting legal access to abortion protest during a demonstration outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., March 4, 2020. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON — The partisan fight over whether the federal government will fund abortion coverage for Medicaid beneficiaries threatens to stall action on major appropriations bills, but the on-the-ground impact would be less dramatic than the debate suggests.

Democrats are prioritizing the removal of an annual appropriations rider known as the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding of abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the woman. The policy, which prevents programs like Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program from using federal money to cover abortion outside of those three situations, has been in every spending law since 1976.

Additional legislative action outside of the fiscal 2022 Labor-HHS-Education funding bill would be needed to broaden abortion coverage for women who receive care through departments such as Defense or Veterans Affairs.

It would be challenging to remove a long-standing abortion policy that every lawmaker who voted for Labor-HHS-Education funding in previous years allowed to continue.

Even if changes to Hyde become law, the effects would be muted, based on state abortion policies, said Laurie Sobel, the Kaiser Family Foundation associate director for women’s health policy.

“It certainly would signal a change in federal policy in the willingness to fund abortions. But given that Medicaid is a federal-state program, there’s room for the states to make their own policies,” she said. “It wouldn’t change the policy across the country. What it would do would be to provide federal support for the states that choose to provide abortion services under their Medicaid program.”

Sobel said that unless abortion becomes required under Medicaid, states that oppose the policy could continue to exclude abortion as a benefit. Changing federal benefits is a complicated process.

Essentially, she said, if the Hyde amendment were to go away at the federal level without any benefit changes, then states that cover abortion could obtain a federal matching payment for those services. But states that do not want to cover abortion would not have to do so.

“The only real impact would be that the states that include abortion currently would be able to pull down the federal match,” she said.

Data on how many abortions are currently covered by federal funding under the three exceptions is limited.

A 2019 Government Accountability Office report, using state-reported numbers, said the average number of abortions eligible for federal funding per year between 2013 and 2017 was about 1,339 or fewer.

But the number acknowledges various gaps in data, including for several states and for services covered by managed care.

Separate data from 2014 shows that in states that follow Hyde restrictions, Medicaid covered only 1.5% of abortions.

“There’s very few cases of Medicaid paying for abortion in the Hyde states. Even for the cases of rape, incest and life endangerment, it’s very few abortions being paid for because you have to jump through a whole bunch of hoops to get it covered,” said Sobel.

Meanwhile, the overall number of abortions performed in the United States has been falling.

Still, the fight over abortion restrictions will likely be a major flashpoint in appropriations debates and on the campaign trail. The House is expected to vote next week on a package of seven fiscal 2022 spending bills that will omit the Hyde limits. It’s unlikely that Republicans will sign on without the restrictions.

Democrats say repealing the Hyde Amendment would remove barriers for low-income women and women of color who are disproportionately affected by the ban.

But Republicans say the Hyde Amendment protects the rights of taxpayers who oppose abortion and has increased the nation’s birth rate.

States can use their own funding to provide abortion coverage for Medicaid and CHIP outside of the three Hyde Amendment exceptions, but only 16 do, including Illinois, Maryland and New York.

California is the most populous state that covers abortion broadly. Enrollees don’t pay out-of-pocket costs or have to give medical justification.

Without Hyde limits, the biggest changes might be seen in left-leaning states, like Colorado or Delaware, that currently do not cover most abortions under Medicaid except for the three allowed circumstances.The Columbian is becoming a rare example of a news organization with local, family ownership. Subscribe today to support local journalism and help us to build a stronger community.Subscribe Today

Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia do not cover abortion except under the three Hyde exceptions for individuals with federal coverage. Additionally, South Dakota, the only state with abortion funding restrictions more restrictive than Hyde, covers abortion under Medicaid only when necessary to protect the life of the woman.

The Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, estimates that 7.8 million women of reproductive age are covered by Medicaid in these 34 states and D.C., and half of them are women of color.

Elizabeth Nash, interim associate director of state issues at the Guttmacher Institute, said any changes to allow more abortion funding would not have an immediate effect.

For instance, abortion providers would only be paid if they are Medicaid providers. Nash said state officials who oppose abortion could make it harder for providers to become Medicaid providers or increase red tape.

“I really do think that the lag time will unfortunately be an issue,” she said.

Guttmacher national data also shows that among women of reproductive age, 29% of Black women and 25% of Hispanic women had Medicaid coverage in 2019. That number drops to 15% for white women and 12% for Asian women.

Researchers at the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health, or ANSIRH, program within the University of California, San Francisco’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health conducted a national study of individuals who were searching online for abortions.

The April study found that residents of states that do not have broad Medicaid coverage of abortion faced more financial barriers and spent more time seeking an abortion. It found Black and Latina women were more likely than white and Asian women to still be pregnant and seeking an abortion when followed up with four weeks later.

“These findings indicate that restoring federal Medicaid coverage of abortion by repealing the Hyde Amendment would remove an often insurmountable barrier to abortion care for low-income people,” the researchers wrote.

ANSIRH data from a 2018 report showed that women who end up giving birth instead of getting a wanted abortion saw an almost fourfold increase in the odds that their household income was below the federal poverty level.

Kaiser Family Foundation data suggests that if abortion coverage were available across Medicaid, more women would have abortions. But the number of Medicaid-funded abortions would depend on factors like the number and availability of local abortion providers, state-level restrictions on abortion, income demographics and local reimbursement rates.

For some low-income women, not having coverage of abortion serves as a de facto ban.

A 2019 peer-reviewed study in BMC Women’s Health showed that in Louisiana, 29% of pregnant women who qualify for Medicaid would have had an abortion if it were covered.

Destiny Lopez, co-president of All Above All, which supports repealing the Hyde Amendment, called abortion access in the U.S. “a patchwork and a puzzle.”

“You have created an unfair and unjust system because women with means will always be able to get an abortion in this country,” Lopez said.

Hyde Amendment supporters see it differently.

Michael New, a research associate of political science and social research at The Catholic University of America and Charlotte Lozier Institute associate scholar, does not want Hyde removed.

The Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the conservative Susan B. Anthony List, estimates that the Hyde Amendment resulted in 2,409,311 births from 1976 to 2020.

“I think that researchers, both pro-life and researchers who support legal abortion, pretty much all agree that the Hyde Amendment lowers the abortion rate and saves lives,” he said.

He disagrees that Hyde singles out certain people.

“Hyde is a policy that encourages women to seek life-affirming alternatives like pregnancy help centers and other resources for support. I don’t think Hyde is targeting people. I think it’s protecting people,” New said.

The fight over the Hyde Amendment is just beginning. The House Appropriations Committee advanced its fiscal 2022 Labor-HHS-Education spending bill on July 15, with all Republicans voting against the measure.

“It’s my hope that members on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers can negotiate spending that is responsible and will not lead to financial disaster. But the first step toward negotiation is the full reinstatement of the Hyde Amendment,” said House Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations ranking member Tom Cole, R-Okla., who offered an amendment during the markup to restore Hyde language into the bill.

It was rejected, with only one Democrat, Henry Cuellar of Texas, voting for it.

Senate Republicans already said they won’t support a spending bill without Hyde language.

Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., an appropriator, went to the House markup to show his support for the language. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also spoke on the Senate floor last week in favor of Hyde limits.

Republican opposition to changing this policy has not stopped Democrats from moving forward, which has the blessing of President Joe Biden. Biden had supported Hyde before announcing in 2019 he had changed his stance.

Source: https://www.columbian.com/news/2021/jul/26/hyde-amendment-fight-just-the-first-step-in-changing-abortion-coverage/

Insurers sometimes don’t cover certain contraceptive methods for free, though they are supposed to cover most by law. Even for long-established methods, like IUDs, insurers sometimes make it hard for women to get coverage by requiring preapproval.
BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

For Stephanie Force, finding a birth control method that she likes and can get without paying out of pocket has been a struggle, despite the Affordable Care Act’s promise of free contraceptives for women and adolescent girls in most health plans.

The 27-year-old physician recruiter in Roanoke, Va., was perfectly happy with the NuvaRing, a flexible vaginal ring that women insert monthly to release hormones to prevent pregnancy. But her insurer, Anthem, stopped covering the branded product and switched her to a generic version in early 2020. Force says the new product left her with headaches and feeling irritable and short-tempered.

After talking to her OB-GYN, Force tried an IUD. But that made her feel worse: She had bad cramps, gained 10 pounds and developed severe hormonal acne. Plus, she was charged $248 for an ultrasound her provider used to guide the insertion of the device, a charge she successfully fought.

Force also considered a couple of birth control products approved in recent years: a non-hormonal vaginal gel called Phexxi and a vaginal ring called Annovera that can be used for a year. But Phexxi isn’t covered by her employer health plan, and she would owe a $45 copayment for Annovera.Article continues after sponsor message

Despite the Affordable Care Act’s guarantees for free contraception coverage, Force’s experience illustrates that even for women whose health plans are subject to the law’s requirements, obtaining the right product at no cost can be onerous. New types of contraceptives aren’t automatically incorporated into the federal list of required methods that insurers use to guide coverage decisions.

In addition, some health plans continue to discourage use of even long-established methods, like IUDs, by requiring providers to get approval from the plan before prescribing them.

Consumer advocates who have studied the issue say a process is spelled out in federal rules for women to get the contraceptives they need, but far too few people know that’s an option. (For more on how to do this, see the final section below.)

Ultimately, Force went back to the generic version of the NuvaRing, despite the side effects she continues to experience. She’d prefer to be on the branded NuvaRing, which didn’t give her problems, and the ping-ponging from method to method has left her exhausted and furious.

“I cannot believe what hoops I have had to jump through between September 2020 and June 2021,” Force says, “between switching from the generic NuvaRing to the IUD and then back, fighting my insurance and OB-GYN’s office on the ultrasound charge.”

In a statement, Anthem says, “Anthem health plans cover 222 contraceptive products at $0 cost share on our ACA Preventive List.” The company went on to say that it covers “at least one product” in each of 18 categories of contraception methods approved by the FDA.

A policy meant to cut contraceptives’ costs

Contraception is a very personal choice, and what meets one woman’s needs may not meet another’s. If avoiding pregnancy is a woman’s top priority, a virtually fail-safe method like an IUD may be the right solution. But for someone who’s considering getting pregnant soon, a readily reversible method like a birth control pill might be the best option. Side effects are important to consider as well, since women respond differently to the hormones in various birth control products.

Before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) required no-cost birth control coverage, researchers estimate that up to 44% of women’s out-of-pocket health care spending went toward contraceptives. The ACA requires most commercial health plans to cover a comprehensive list of Food and Drug Administration-approved methods without charging women anything.

Church plans and religious nonprofits, as well as employers and schools that object to contraception, are exempt from the coverage requirements. Plans that were grandfathered under the law are also exempt. Uninsured women don’t benefit from the mandate either.

But the federal rules do not require health plans to cover every single contraceptive. After the ACA passed in 2010, the federal Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) developed guidelines for women’s preventive services.

Those guidelines say women should have access without cost sharing to a list that covers the 18 FDA-approved methods, including oral contraceptives, vaginal rings, cervical caps, IUDs, implantable rods and sterilization. Under federal rules, health plans must cover at least one product in each category.

New products are left out

Neither the HRSA guidelines nor a birth control chart published by the FDA addresses newer methods, including Phexxi, a gel that regulates vaginal acidity to reduce the odds a sperm reaches an egg. It was approved by the FDA last year.

Nor do they incorporate fertility-awareness mobile phone apps the FDA approved in recent years such as Natural Cycles, which tracks a woman’s temperature and menstrual cycle to avoid pregnancy.

“There’s a real need for new guidance that keeps up with new methods,” says Mara Gandal-Powers, director of birth control access at the National Women’s Law Center.

Many insurers have balked at covering Phexxi, says Rameshwari Gupta, director of strategic markets for Evofem Biosciences, which markets Phexxi. A box of 12 single-use applicators — consumers use one before having sex — costs $267.50 without insurance, she says.

“When I started talking to payers, they all said, ‘Where are you on this FDA chart?’ ” she says.

According to an FDA spokesperson, the birth control chart is for consumer education purposes only and “was not created with the intent of driving coverage decisions.” The agency is in the process of updating it.

In a statement, the HRSA says it is reviewing the evidence on contraceptives and expects to complete its review late this year. If it opts to make revisions, it will publish draft recommendations to update the women’s preventive services guidelines. These will be finalized after a public comment period and become effective a year later.

At this point, health plans consider Phexxi to be a spermicide and are required to cover only one type of spermicide without cost sharing, says Kristine Grow, a senior vice president at AHIP, a health insurance trade organization.

“If Phexxi is indeed considered a new method of contraception, both the FDA and HRSA would need to make this clear,” she added.

Cost sharing and preapprovals limit access to some methods

The vaginal ring Annovera, approved by the FDA in 2018, is typically covered by health plans, according to Grow, though it may not be available without cost sharing. The average retail price is $2,457 a year, according to GoodRx.

One way plans have made it difficult for women to access certain contraceptives, even those on the list of approved methods, is by requiring that their providers get approval from the insurer first, often by providing documentation that the product is medically necessary.

Under UnitedHealthcare’s coverage policy for Phexxi, for example, before coverage will be authorized, members must have documented reasons that they are unable to use eight other contraceptive methods, including oral contraceptives, the contraceptive patch, a vaginal ring, injections and spermicides. Providers also must attest that they have counseled patients that Phexxi is less effective at preventing pregnancy than some other methods.

In a statement, UnitedHealthcare says it covers “a broad array” of generic and brand-name options, and it follows scientific evidence to develop its list.

Yet consumers have a way to get the specific method that is most appropriate for them, according to a report by the National Women’s Law Center.

How to get a birth control method covered

Under federal rules, if a doctor or other health care provider determines that a patient needs a particular contraceptive, even if it’s not on the list of approved products for the patient’s plan, the insurer is required to have an expedient process for the patient to seek a waiver.

“It’s not up to the insurance company whether to cover that method — it’s up to the provider,” says Adam Sonfield, executive editor for policy analysis at the Guttmacher Institute, a research and advocacy organization focused on women’s reproductive health.

But according to the National Women’s Law Center report, many insurers, patients and their providers aren’t aware of the requirement, and state agencies don’t enforce these so-called exceptions policies.

If patients run into trouble getting the method they want, “we typically recommend filing an appeal with their insurance provider,” says Gretchen Borchelt, vice president for reproductive rights and health at the National Women’s Law Center.

Stephanie Force says she was unaware of any process she could have used to get the NuvaRing covered without cost sharing. Neither her health care provider nor the insurer mentioned the possibility.

She recently had an appointment with a new provider who she hopes will be a better advocate for her.

Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/07/21/1018483557/contraception-is-free-to-women-except-when-its-not?fbclid=IwAR3xeXX_ooW4LopGTaS2niREyRw1KWGGcmvkUjWp9jPe-UGgiMYleAAVQ3k&t=1627674911543

Protesters rally against a bill outlawing abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected outside the Texas Capitol on May 29 in Austin.Sergio Flores / Getty Images file

Abortion advocates in Texas say the law will encourage their opponents to flood courts with lawsuits that will cripple their ability to operate.

For Anna Rupani, harassment comes with the job.

As the co-executive director at Fund Texas Choice — a practical-support abortion fund in Texas that helps women travel to places, both in and out of the state, where they can receive abortion care — she’s been the target of protests, violent threats, online bullying and terrifying mail.

But should a novel law in her state go into effect Sept. 1, those who oppose her work will be able to express themselves through the courts — with the likely practical effect of suing her fund and others like it into oblivion.

That law, known as S.B. 8, bans abortions in Texas as early as six weeks into pregnancy — before many women even know they are pregnant. But unlike every other anti-abortion law, Texas’ unique ban will be enforced through private citizens’ lawsuits, rather than through state government. It includes first-of-its-kind language that allows anyone, even someone outside Texas, to sue an abortion provider or anyone else who helped someone get an abortion after the six-week limit for at least $10,000 per defendant.

“This is basically all to create a chilling effect. Even if these lawsuits are thrown out, organizations like ours will have to keep defending themselves in court every time,” Rupani said. “It’s all about putting us out of business.”

Targets could include not only abortion funds and practical support organizations that provide women in need with money, transportation, lodging, recovery care and child care, but also doctors, nurses, domestic violence counselors and even friends, parents, spouses and clergy members who drive a woman to a clinic or even just provide counseling about whether to have the procedure. Abortion-rights groups have filed a suit in federal court seeking to block the law from going into effect.

Abortion-rights advocates in Texas say the law will encourage their opponents to flood courts with lawsuits that will cripple their ability to operate — their limited time and resources spent on fighting suits instead of care and support. If that happens, women will be isolated from the little support available to them during these vulnerable moments. In interviews, they called the law “insidious,” “draconian,” “cruel” and “pernicious.”

Experts who study and track abortion access, however, said the law is actually the embodiment of a broader, more extreme and increasingly aggressive wave of vigilantism that, at least in the anti-abortion movement, began with protests and sporadic acts of violence. The threat then moved online, they said, and now, in Texas at least, it has moved to the courts, where abortion foes will be empowered to hunt for financial bounties by suing their opponents.

Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that studies reproductive health rights, said one of the law’s most concerning pieces is that its enforcement was in the hands of individuals, not law enforcement, eager to shut down and harass abortion clinics and support providers.

“It literally provides a financial incentive for the kind of harassment and vigilantism we’ve seen grow decade after decade,” she said.

Legal experts said that if the law is upheld, anti-abortion activists will face an uphill battle proving in court that other people’s abortions are personally injurious to them, the typical hurdle for allowing this kind of a lawsuit to advance in court. Still, it will nevertheless bring mischief for abortion care advocates, legal experts said, by inviting frivolous lawsuits that abortion supporters will have to pay to defend against, even if they win every single one.

“It’s the legalization of harassment without holding the government liable,” Rupani said.

Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has lauded the bill as a measure that “ensures that the life of every unborn child who has a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion.” Its author, Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes, has frequently spoken of his belief that the bill will more effectively stand up to legal challenges than previous ones that relied on law enforcement, and at least one prominent anti-abortion group, Right to Life East Texas, has vowed to begin suing individuals under the law as soon as it goes into effect.

‘It’s bounty hunting’

S.B. 8 doesn’t outright criminalize abortions after six weeks, but rather encourages civil lawsuits at the municipal, county and state level targeting the process by which a woman might seek abortion care.

The law is also uniquely designed to disadvantage defendants, experts said. All damages would go right into the plaintiff’s pocket. If a defendant wins, they still must pay their own legal fees, but if a plaintiff bringing a suit wins, the defendant must pay both sides’ legal fees. Individuals who are thought to be helping a woman obtain abortion care can be sued multiple times by different people and parties.

“It bakes in incentives and takes away disincentives for vigilante enforcement,” said Adriana Piñon, a senior staff attorney and policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

“It’s bounty hunting,” added the Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, president of the National Abortion Federation. “Abusive spouses, disapproving parents, angry neighbors or people with no relation at all will all have a legal right to harass,” she said, before connecting it to a broader rise in extremism in recent years.

“This kind incentivized vigilantism isn’t just about abortion issues. It’s private individuals patrolling the border with guns; it’s insurrectionists storming the U.S. Capitol. Now it’s the ability to sue about helping with or providing abortion care,” she said. “It’s part of a growing level and climate of vigilantism and violence that large chunks of the country feel is justified.”

‘A new and frightening chapter’

The use of aggressive tactics against abortion-rights groups is nothing new. But the prevalence and intensity of those tactics have grown in recent years.

According to NAF’s latest violence and disruption report, acts of violence and disruption targeting abortion providers — including invasions, trespassing, assault and battery, death threats and threats of harm, hate mail, hate calls, hate emails and bomb threats — rose 22 percent to more than 153,000 incidents in 2019 (the most recent year NAF has assessed), an all-time high, the majority of which were incidents of picketing.

Multiple officials at abortion funds and abortion clinics described a huge uptick in hacking and online bullying in recent years, too.

That includes Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, a network of abortion clinics across Texas, and a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit to block S.B. 8 from going into effect, who said her group has seen hundreds of attempts by hackers to take her group’s site down and access her group’s databases.

But because of S.B. 8, she and numerous others said, the venue for that kind of intimidation would now be the U.S. court system.

“It’s the unusual next venue for that kind of surveillance and harassment and intimidation that anti-abortion folks have engaged against clinics and patients for decades,” she said.

“But it’s nonetheless yet another new and frightening chapter, because it’s formalized the ability for the anti-abortion movement to have a private cause of action against clinics and people helping others get to the clinic,” she added.

Lawyers working on the suit to block the law from going into effect have expressed cautious optimism about their case, even though they are challenging a law that was cleverly designed with a new, untested enforcement mechanism in mind.

“We don’t think Texas’ strategy is going to be successful because, even though private individuals are enabled to file suits, ultimately there are still government officials in charge of enforcement of the law. It’s just that these officials are in the court system, not law enforcement,” said Marc Hearron, who as senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights is working on the suit.

But abortion-rights advocates say that doesn’t matter: If the law is upheld, the avalanche of lawsuits still means just about anyone who opposes abortion could use the court system to stop people like Zaena Zamora, who runs the Frontera Fund, which provides money for care and travel. As a result, Zamora could be sued by countless people for each woman she has helped receive abortion care.

Last year, Zamora helped about 400 women who live in the southern-most tip of Texas, predominantly Hispanic and below the poverty line, travel within and outside of the state to receive care. That would amount to a minimum of $4 million in damages owed, plus legal fees for both sides in each suit. Zamora’s yearly budget for practical support and abortion care funds is below $100,000.

“It would bury us in litigation and bills that would undoubtedly stop us from doing the work we do,” Zamora said. “Imagine being able to pocket $10,000 for harassing a group like ours. The cruelty is the point.”

Source: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/insidious-draconian-cruel-new-texas-abortion-law-empowers-vigilantism-experts-n1274642

The right to an abortion is protected under Roe v. Wade, even in dozens of Texas cities that have declared abortion unlawful.

Edinburg, Texas, was the latest city that tried to become a “sanctuary city for the unborn” and outlaw abortion within city limits.

Another day, another Texas government trying to outlaw abortion.

The latest is Edinburg, a Rio Grande Valley city that tried last week to pass an ordinance that would have made it “unlawful” to provide an abortion or help someone access an abortion within the city.

At an Edinburg city council meeting last Tuesday, abortion advocates dominated more than three hours of public testimony against the proposal—and at the end of the night, not a single council member made a motion to vote on the anti-abortion ordinance, and the measure effectively died.

Elsewhere in Texas, abortion advocates have been less successful at preventing similar ordinances. In Lubbock, for example, after the city council rejected a “sanctuary city for the unborn” ordinance, voters ended up passing the measure in May. (Last month, a federal district judge dismissed a lawsuit that attempted to block the Lubbock ordinance from going into effect.)

Around two dozen cities have declared themselves “sanctuary cities for the unborn” in the last two years. Last year, the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity (which I’m on the board of) and Texas Equal Access Fund sued seven east Texas cities that passed anti-abortion ordinances that called abortion rights groups “criminal organizations” and prohibited them from operating with city limits. The lawsuit was dropped after the cities agreed to revise the ordinances’ language.

Zaena Zamora, executive director of Frontera Fund, and Nancy Cárdenas Peña, Texas director of policy and advocacy at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, are two of the advocates who spoke at the Edinburg council meeting. I talked with them last week about the harm inflicted by these anti-choice ordinances and what you can do to help fight against them.

When it comes to these local ordinances, it’s important to know that they don’t outweigh federal law. The right to an abortion is protected under Roe v. Wade, even in cities that have declared abortion unlawful. But the ordinances still cause mass confusion, spread misinformation, instill fear and stigma, and criminalize the important and necessary work of reproductive justice groups across the state.

This interview has been lightly edited for context and clarity.

Rewire News Group: How are you feeling knowing that the Edinburg ordinance has effectively died?

Zaena Zamora: It was an amazing experience being at the city council meeting and witnessing our community turn out to support abortion access. It was affirming and powerful to hear the testimonies of community members and to see the group of supporters who were outside the meeting room cheering them on. Being an abortion fund and advocating for abortion rights in Texas is often an uphill and emotional battle, and this past year’s legislation was particularly brutal.

This was such an important win for us because this is our community. Community members showed up, they were passionate and fought for our rights, and we won. It’s exactly the inspiration we needed.

Nancy Cárdenas Peña: I can’t quite put it into words, but I’ll try my best. It was an energizing moment that felt amazing and powerful. On one hand, you had the direct response of our collective efforts to bring out residents who played such an important role in the process. But it was also a reminder for anyone who lives outside of the valley: Religion is not synonymous with anti-choice. The Rio Grande Valley is not anti-choice. It was a purely grassroots local movement created from the strength of local leaders.

How would the ordinance have affected Texans seeking abortions—particularly Black and brown Texans, low-income families, Spanish-speaking folks, and undocumented individuals who are already disproportionately impacted by abortion restrictions and stigma—in an area where abortion access is already limited?

ZZ: Technically, the ordinance would not have affected people’s access to abortion in Edinburg because there is no abortion provider in the city. However, it would have created a dangerous narrative and spread false information to those seeking abortion. Anti-abortion ordinances are racist policies because those who are most affected are BIPOC individuals and, particularly in the Rio Grande Valley, undocumented individuals and those with English language barriers. Part of the goal of these anti-abortion ordinances is to create confusion around the legality of abortion. The language used in this ordinance also further stigmatizes and shames those who want to have an abortion and stokes fear in those who would help them.

NCP: It’s important to acknowledge the patterns of anti-choice policy across Texas and how that plays out in our own cities. The ordinance that the city of Edinburg attempted to pass was one of many attempts by anti-choice organizations to incorporate municipalities into their own political agenda. It strained the ability for medical professionals to exercise their expertise when it comes to the health of their patients and even adopted language around $10,000 bounties for people doing abortion advocacy work within the Edinburg city limits.

This was the first time we’ve seen local policy incorporate the newly adopted Senate Bill 8, signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott and set to take effect in September, with specific language about the criminalization of a safe medical procedure in a community that is criminalized enough with the presence of border patrol, ICE, DEA, and police. Black and brown communities are often the recipients of criminalization efforts, and it’s important to note that although the restrictions of anti-choice bills are terrible for Texas, it’s incredibly more severe for Black and brown folks who deserve access to the full spectrum of reproductive health-care services.

Border communities like the Rio Grande Valley are restricted by internal immigration checkpoints that prevent people without papers from leaving. It’s imperative that our work continue to preserve the only remaining abortion clinic in the Rio Grande Valley from anti-choice efforts like the one we saw in Edinburg.

If these ordinances don’t actually outlaw abortion, why is it important they be rejected? What is the impact of even one person believing abortion is illegal because of them?

ZZ: I think it’s important to let our elected officials know that community members are not going to let them dictate their morals on their citizens. For those who seek abortion, it’s powerful to see their community stand up for their rights and to know that there is a network of support available to them. Particularly in the Rio Grande Valley, I feel like had the ordinance passed it would have created a domino effect of other neighboring municipalities adopting similar anti-abortion laws.

Abortion is lifesaving health care. Having even one person believe it is illegal can fan the flames of misinformation, which can have a devastating impact on a community.

NCP: The fight should not be just at the state legislature. There is incredible power in organizing locally. When you observe a pattern of cities adopting anti-choice language, especially in areas with clinics, it’s not a matter of “if” this comes to our city, it’s “when.” One of the biggest obstacles we face is education of the community when it comes to determining if abortion is legal or not.

It’s important to note the options Texans have in spite of the anti-choice rhetoric. Call your local clinic. Call your local abortion fund. Texans still have options when it comes to accessing abortion care regardless of the narrative spun by people who would deny Texans the freedom to make their own reproductive health-care decisions.

What would it mean for the work of abortion funds and practical support organizations to be considered “unlawful” under these types of anti-choice ordinances?

ZZ: Abortion funds and practical support organizations provide a vital service to the communities they serve. As I said in my public comment, Frontera Fund pledged help to over 400 people in our community. These types of anti-choice ordinances directly name abortion funds (not specific, but in general) as organizations that “aid and abet” and put us in danger of frivolous civil litigation and harassment that impedes us from doing our work.

What can you tell people who want to get involved and speak against harmful legislation?

ZZ: One way to help is to just say the word “abortion.” It is not a dirty word. It is health care! Talk to your friends, family, and community members about why access to safe and legal abortion is important to you and your community. Check out and support Frontera Fund and sign up to volunteer, donate, and/or learn more about the work we do. Or check out your local abortion fund by going to abortionfunds.org. And for readers in Texas, go to needabortion.org.

NCP: There are plenty of ways to get involved and fight back against restrictive abortion bills. Please follow the organizations that are working on the ground. Follow us on social media. Donate to keep our work alive. There is always a space for folks who hold a passion to fight for their communities. Invest resources with the leadership and power that already exists in the Rio Grande Valley.

The activism in the Rio Grande Valley needs to be led by the amazing talent, especially the new generation of people who are ready to fight for their communities, that live in the Rio Grande Valley. We’ve consistently heard stereotypes from entities, individuals, organizations about a “lack of organizing power” in the Rio Grande Valley, but since the defeat of the anti-choice ordinance in Edinburg, it’s been a little quiet on their end and the silence is appreciated.

Source: https://rewirenewsgroup.com/article/2021/07/27/abortion-is-legal-but-texas-cities-keep-trying-to-outlaw-it/

Protesters hold signs as they rally in support of Planned Parenthood and pro-choice (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Republicans’anti-abortion crusade is not just dangerous, it is costly

or the first time in decades, the House Appropriations Committee passed a spending bill last week without a ban on federal funds being used on abortions for patients on Medicaid. On the state level, however, Republican-dominated legislatures across the country are ramming through a raft of anti-abortion legislation that is not only harmful but incredibly costly. 

On Thursday, the attorney general of Mississippi is expected to file briefs with the Supreme Court as it prepares to rule on yet another abortion case, Jackson Women’s Health v. Dobbs, later this year. Experts predict the case could continue a long pattern of supposedly fiscally conservative, anti-abortion state governments spending significant taxpayer dollars on abortion laws that don’t hold legal water, if the court strikes down Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. 

After all, just two years ago, a judge ruled Mississippi owed Jackson Women’s Health Organization more than $750,000 in attorneys’ fees, after blocking the state from enforcing its unconstitutional clinic shutdown law. Jackson Women’s Health runs one of Mississippi’s three remaining abortion clinics. Compared with around 90% of US counties, 99% of Mississippi counties lack an abortion provider.

Mississippi’s clinic shutdown law had required abortion clinics to have hospital admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, despite the safety of abortion care, and the extreme rarity of abortion patients needing to go to the hospital. Medically unnecessary requirements like this, which were at the heart of the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt Supreme Court case of 2016, are specifically designed to force clinics to shut down. Following the Whole Woman’s Health case which overturned a Texas law, a federal judge ruled the state of Texas owed the reproductive health organization $2.3 million in legal fees later that year. In Arkansas, a federal judge on Tuesday blocked a law banning nearly all abortions in the state while its constitutionality is reviewed in court. 

Among the most common — and justified — criticisms of the anti-abortion movement is its single-minded focus on forcing pregnancy and birth, rather than investing in life, children, families, and pregnant people. 

“It goes without saying that the [Mississippi] state government wastes huge sums of money on writing, passing, and defending abortion restrictions,” Shannon Brewer, director of Jackson Women’s Health, told Salon. According to Brewer, this “essentially deprives people of health care services,” and “disproves the notion legislators refuse to fund abortion care and Medicaid expansion because of their fiscally conservative core values.”Advertisement:

Texas and Mississippi aren’t the only states where exorbitant amounts of state funding are dedicated to defending abortion bans in court.

The Washington Post reported in 2019 that between 2016 and that year, several states defending anti-abortion laws in court had spent nearly $10 million in legal fees. Some of the most notable offenders include North Carolina, which was ordered by a federal judge to pay more than $1 million in legal fees to attorneys who challenged and successfully overturned a state law requiring people seeking abortion care to first have an ultrasound, in 2016. That same year, another judge ordered Alabama to pay ACLU lawyers $1.7 million in legal fees, after federal courts struck down a 2013 hospital admitting privileges law in the state.

Also in 2016, Wisconsin was ordered to pay $1.6 million in legal fees to Planned Parenthood, Alaska was required to pay $995,000 to the Center for Reproductive RIghts, and North Dakota was required to pay nearly $500,000, also to the Center for Reproductive Rights — all in defense of these states’ unconstitutional abortion laws. There are numerous other states, including Ohio, Arizona, Missouri, and others, that have been ordered to pay legal fees in a similar cost range while trying to defend the indefensible in the last three years. 

Reproductive rights advocates in Missouri recently celebrated a crucial victory when their state legislature defeated an attempt to block a bill that funds the state’s Medicaid health care program for the poor, due to its coverage of abortion and contraception. But states’ approach to funding reproductive health care like abortion has long been a point of contention — especially as many states that severely restrict funding for abortion care are the same states that spend hundreds of thousands, even millions, on defending abortion bans in court.

Notably, many of these states, which also have the most restrictions on abortion, have some of the worst child and maternal health outcomes in the country. This is no coincidence, Elisabeth Smith, chief counsel of state policy at the Center for Reproductive Rights, tells Salon. 

“When we think about the money that is being spent litigating unconstitutional abortion restrictions, that money could absolutely be better spent supporting people in these states through Medicaid expansion, child care support, family leave, extended post-partum Medicaid coverage, Title X funding,” Smith said. “States with the most abortion restrictions have implemented the fewest social policies that have been proven to help pregnant people, children, families.”

As recent as last summer, the Supreme Court ruled to strike down a clinic shutdown law in Louisiana, in the case of June Medical Services v. Russo. As a result, Louisiana could be forced to pay $9 million in legal fees to the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented June Medical Services in the case. According to Smith, litigation around the case has continued even after the Supreme Court ruling, because the state has continued to “challenge protective orders and other orders that require information about the doctors’ identities to be destroyed” to this day, nearly one year later.

Despite the jarring costs of defending laws that will likely be struck down by even some conservative judges, many states have continued to introduce, pass and sign abortion bans at an alarming rate. One week in April saw more states introduce abortion restrictions than any other single week in recent history. Hundreds of restrictions have been passed in the last decade alone. Smith says states are well-aware of the legal costs of their crusade — they also know they’ll always have the taxpayer dollars to pay for it.

Who’s really paying the price?

“State legislators know these bills will be challenged, and they know the state will pay for representation,” Smith said. In fact, she cites how this session, legislators in North Dakota even said in a committee hearing for two total abortion bans that they had the budget to pay for the litigation to defend them.

Jennifer Driver, senior director of reproductive rights at the State Innovation Exchange (SiX), which is a network of state legislators who support reproductive health, rights, and justice, recalls a similar conversation in a South Carolina committee meeting on a six-week abortion ban. “We heard anti-abortion legislators say you can’t put a dollar on the amount of life,” Driver recalled to Salon. “Yet, these same legislators don’t have the same philosophy when it comes to expanding social protections and programs for women and children.”

According to Driver, some will pay the price of costly legal battles for abortion bans, more than others. During the Great Recession, after states slashed funding for education and health care budgets, the lasting impact of this, Driver says, fell hardest on “low-income, Black and brown communities,” and “years of public divestment” has left these communities less prepared to weather public health and economic crises like COVID, today.Advertisement:

“Just this past winter folks in Jackson went without running water for a month and were still told to boil our water for an entire month after,” Brewer said. “Our water delivery system had been openly crumbling and contaminated for years before the system finally broke.” 

But instead of offering Jackson residents any support or funding for clean running water, the state is continuing its costly war on legal abortion, all on the taxpayer dime.

A glaring double standard

Since 1976, Congress has repeatedly maintained the Hyde Amendment as a budget provision to restrict public coverage and funding of abortion care. Hyde, which is widely understood as an abortion ban for low-income people, is often portrayed by anti-abortion politicians as a fair compromise that upholds religious freedom and saves taxpayer dollars.

“Prohibiting coverage is never about saving a state money, but is completely about ideological opposition to standard reproductive health care,” Smith said.

Aside from the obvious problems with Hyde, namely that it separates abortion care from all other health care, and can force one in four women on Medicaid seeking an abortion to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, its existence — and the existence of dozens of state-level abortion coverage bans — highlights a glaring double standard in restrictions on how taxpayer dollars can be spent. On top of the millions of dollars in legal fees defending abortion bans, dozens of states have also directed funding to anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers,” which target and deceive pregnant people with anti-abortion propaganda. At least 10 states have recently diverted federal welfare funding to anti-abortion clinics.

Citing the famous Turnaway Study, which found people who aren’t able to afford abortion care become singificantly more likely to fall into poverty or remain in abusive relationships, among other detrimental impacts, Driver says it’s important to consider who’s most affected by Hyde and coverage bans. “Not only are we talking about continuing to keep folks in poverty, we’re continuing to consistently keep folks of color in poverty,” she said.

The Hyde Amendment, of course, exists all while people who are more likely to be targeted by police must pay for police departments they may morally oppose, or the inflated military budget. Residents of states that pass abortion ban after abortion ban must watch their tax dollars fund state governments’ costly legal defenses of these bans in court. 

“It would take hours to detail all the weak and hypocritical arguments used by governments to deny people their rights,” Brewer said.

A glimpse at a broken court system

As the Supreme Court’s ruling on Jackson Women’s Health v. Dobbs looms ahead, advocates and health providers are holding their breath.

“Everyone at the Center is very concerned that the court decided to hear this case, but if precedent means anything, we will absolutely win,” Smith said. “The ban at issue in the case flies in the face of nearly 50 years of precedent.”

While Brewer notes that if Mississippi loses the case, the state “could be on the hook for over a million dollars in legal fees,” she’s concerned about how the court, which includes three Trump-appointed Justices, could rule.Advertisement:

“The state may finally be victorious in their long-fought crusade to end abortion access in the state of Mississippi,” Brewer said. “The description of these laws being ‘blatantly unconstitutional’ is true today, but may not be true in 2022.” She notes that what’s deemed “constitutional” has continuously “fluctuated with the agendas of those currently in power.”

According to Driver, while state legislatures have often been ground zero for dangerous abortion laws, the Republican US Senate’s shaping of the judicial landscape has posed a threat to state abortion laws for years. “We saw Mitch McConnell change the Senate rules not once but twice in the last four years, in order to really pack the courts with conservative judges,” Driver said. “States have the ability to then rush and pass additional restrictions, and if upheld, these would overturn Roe.”

There’s also been plenty of political interference with the court system to attack abortion on the state level.

In 2019, when a court in Alaska found the state’s Medicaid program must cover abortion care, Gov. Mike Dunleavy line-item vetoed $334,700 from the judiciary system’s budget — the same amount the state had spent on abortion care the year before. This move prompted legal action from the ACLU of Alaska, and an Alaskan judge ruled Dunleavy’s veto had been unconstitutional last fall. (Notably, the court’s 2019 decision in favor of Medicaid coverage of abortion cost the state $98,625 in legal fees to Planned Parenthood; it’s not clear how much the state owes the ACLU of Alaska as of October.)

Just as states funnel millions of taxpayer dollars toward defending abortion bans in the legal system, many have also weaponized the legal system to prosecute people for their pregnancy outcomes. Several states have applied feticide laws meant to protect pregnant people from domestic violence to instead criminally charge them for harming their fetus, if they miscarry, self-induce an abortion, or struggle with substance abuse problems.Advertisement:

There have been several recent, high-profile cases in which women have been prosecuted and even jailed for pregnancy loss, including Marshae Jones, a Black woman who was jailed for losing her pregnancy after being shot in the stomach in 2019; Amber Abreu, who faced felony charges for “procuring a miscarriage” for using abortion pills in 2007; and Purvi Patel who was sent to prison for inducing an abortion, contradictorily charged with feticide and child abuse for using medication abortion in 2013. Just as states spend in the millions on defending abortion bans and restrictions, they’re also leading efforts to prosecute and criminalize people for the outcomes of their pregnancies. 

This is, again, one of the many hypocrisies of the state-level anti-abortion crusade that Brewer says are too expansive to be tracked at this point. “We are so used to injustices being imposed on us without just rationale that we don’t even bother to point out the inconsistencies anymore,” she said. 

Ultimately, Driver sees the forthcoming Supreme Court case and ongoing legal battles as indication that “we can’t solely rely on the courts.”

“The courts are extremely important,” Driver said, “but no matter what the outcome of the case is, we must continue to push, to resist policies that are denying people their basic human right to bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom.”

Source: https://www.salon.com/2021/07/22/the-cost-of-the-gops-war-against-abortion-is-adding-up–and-taxpayers-are-footing-the-bill/

“We’re doing pretty OK, other than the bogus laws, and we’re working on that. As far as community, we got each other’s back,” Jackson-based community organizer Amanda Furdge said.
 Getty Images

Mississippi has a health-care crisis. By asking the Supreme Court to ban abortion, attorneys for the state are deepening it.

Mississippi’s justification for unconstitutional abortion restrictions has long revolved around the assertion that the laws, like the 15-week ban recently taken up by the Supreme Court, protect women and children.

But the reality is now, and has long been, that Mississippi women and children’s health and economic security is not prioritized.

“There are just so many different intersections that we meet at here in Mississippi as Black women when it comes to all of those things that ultimately affect our reproductive rights and our reproductive justice,” said Jackson-based community organizer Amanda Furdge. “The lens is like a kaleidoscope—you’re just turning the dial and seeing what you’re going to land on.”

Furdge points to inequities in health care, child care, and education access that disproportionately impact women of color in Mississippi. “We’re talking about the things that we need all the way into 2021 that we’ve been asking for since our mothers and grandmothers have been asking for them,” she said.

When it comes to the most basic health, education, and poverty outcomes, Mississippi consistently ranks at the bottom.

More infants die here before their first birthday than anywhere else in the United States and most developed countries. The state’s infant mortality rate, while improved recently, is still nearly 9 deaths for every 1,000 births—comparable to Turkey and Brazil. Black infants die at nearly double the rate of white infants.

The racial disparity mostly tracks back to premature births, which can largely be thwarted by wraparound care before, during, and after pregnancy—something out of reach for many due to health insurance barriers. Nearly 1 in 5 women of reproductive age in Mississippi lack health insurance, compared to 13 percent nationwide.

“For us as Black women who are born and raised here in Mississippi and knowing Mississippi’s history as it pertains to Black people in general—but particularly Black women and how we are valued or not valued—we come from the lens of still trying to get equal pay, still trying to get adequate, fully funded child care and adequate, fully funded public education,” Furdge said.

Mississippi is the last state without an equal pay statute. It has restrictive barriers around accessing low-income child care and support programs, and it hasn’t fully funded its public education system since 2007.“There’s nothing about the moves that [the state legislature] has made that backs up this idea that they’re trying to act in the interest of protecting women and/or children.”
-Izzy Pellegrine, sociologist and researcher at Mississippi State University

And a higher rate of people die during pregnancy, labor, or postpartum than in most other states. The state’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee points to Medicaid expansion—or at least extension during the postpartum period—as one part of the solution. The state has refused both, despite new incentives from the Biden administration and evidence that comprehensive health insurance saves lives, particularly during pregnancy and postpartum.

Pregnant people can access Medicaid insurance, but it cuts off two months after they give birth, just as many postpartum complications start to arise. In Mississippi, 86 percent of maternal deaths happen after labor, including more than a third after six weeks—a period in which health insurance is critical to accessing life-saving care.

Mississippi is one of 12 states that hasn’t adopted Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which could have provided health insurance to about 166,000 Mississippians and cut uninsurance rates in half.

Even for folks here with insurance, barriers pop up along the way. Half the state sits in maternity care deserts, which means big pockets of areas don’t have obstetric hospitals, birth centers, OB-GYNs, or certified nurse midwives.

No evidence of protecting women and kids

Aside from expanding Medicaid, researchers here point to evidence-based policies that would help Mississippians plan pregnancies: comprehensive sex ed and improved access to birth control. These policies not only save lives but have a side effect of reducing abortion.

There’s a long list of interventions to decrease infant mortality and unintended pregnancies, and increase access to prenatal care, Izzy Pellegrine, sociologist and researcher at Mississippi State University, said. “But that’s not what we’re doing.”

Mississippi public schools have two options for sex ed curriculum: abstinence-only or abstinence-plus, both of which revolve around preventing sex before marriage. Classes are separated by gender, instructors cannot physically demonstrate birth control methods, and parents must opt-in.

“It’s just a little bit difficult to square the idea that our priorities are protecting women and children when the outcomes we are trying to protect people from are ones we know how to prevent, and we’re not taking the steps to prevent those,” Pellegrine said. “There’s nothing about the moves that [the state legislature] has made that backs up this idea that they’re trying to act in the interest of protecting women and/or children.”

Mississippi’s teen pregnancy and teen STI rates are among the highest in the nation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 41 percent of Mississippi high school students have had sex. Of those, 52 percent did not use a condom and 69 percent forwent contraceptives like birth control pills or an IUD the last time they had sex.

“If what we really want to do is improve outcomes, sex ed we know for sure is the place to start,” Pellegrine said. “It would be a lot cheaper for us to do a better job at sex ed than for us to continue these embattled abortion restrictions.”

From 2012 to 2018, the state spent nearly $1 million defending abortion restrictions that were almost all overturned by federal courts. And that was before the current 15-week ban or the subsequent six-week ban moved through the appeals stage.

Further, Pellegrine points out that most of the state is already under a de facto abortion ban because of years of TRAP laws—targeted regulation of abortion providers—that chipped away at access, forcing more Mississippians seeking abortion care to leave the state—at a higher rate than everywhere except Missouri and South Carolina.

“If we think about how abortion access is structured, for most women in Mississippi, we’re already living in an effectively post-Roe situation,” Pellegrine said.

‘A problem of class resources’

Most national coverage points out that abortion bans disproportionately impact women of color in Mississippi, where 72 percent of abortion patients are Black, painting the picture that only Black women seek abortions here. Not only does the state have the highest proportion of Black residents—nearly 40 percent of the population—in the country, the barriers to abortion care and health care in general disproportionately impact those living in poverty, of which a third of Black Mississippians are.

White pregnant people tend to leave the state for abortion care, “but that’s really a problem of class resources,” Pellegrine said.

“And the relationship between race and class is obviously deeply interwoven and especially in a place that has a history like Mississippi. But it’s not a function of racial differences in acts, it’s the relationship between race and class and how that shapes access to health care.”

Furdge, the community organizer, adds that abortion restrictions come down to race and gender power dynamics that have always been at play here.

“You know human beings, you know women and children intimately who directly benefit or not from the way that laws are being made and carried out,” she said. “If [lawmakers] really cared, they would put themselves in our shoes. You don’t even have to walk, you can just try them on and see how they fit.”

But Furdge also points to the legacy of grassroots organizers in Mississippi, particularly Black women like Fannie Lou Hamer and Myrlie Evers-Williams, and hopes national groups will help build off Mississippi momentum. She invoked a quote from Hamer: “Mississippi is not actually Mississippi’s problem, Mississippi is America’s problem”—and not just because the current 15-week case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, has the power to threaten abortion access for much of the country.

“We’re doing pretty OK, other than the bogus laws, and we’re working on that,” Furdge said. “As far as community, we got each other’s back. I believe we have one of the strongest and most grassroots, most loving, family-oriented, organizing structures in Mississippi than anywhere else.”

Source: https://rewirenewsgroup.com/article/2021/07/23/if-mississippi-were-truly-pro-life-it-would-stop-banning-abortion/

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear a case that could do away with or weaken the constitutional right to an abortion, Colorado is situated among states with highly restrictive anti-abortion policies that could cut off access to the procedure for their residents if Roe falls. 

Colorado is considered an abortion safe haven due to its lack of restrictions on abortion, so the state could have a critical role to play for people across the country who are seeking abortion care in a post-Roe America. 

And while people already travel to Colorado from all over the country for abortion care due to laws in other states that make abortion inaccessible, particularly for abortions later in pregnancy, it could eventually become one of the only states in the region where abortion is legal at all depending on the outcome of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

The case concerns a Mississippi law banning abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy, a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade’s ruling that abortion cannot be heavily restricted prior to viability, which usually occurs around 24 weeks, though there’s no hard and fast line. Upholding the Mississippi law means delivering a devastating blow to Roe, and while it’s difficult to predict the outcome, both abortion rights advocates and foes see the case as the likely beginning of the end of the federal right to an abortion.

Over half of women live in states that would likely ban abortion if that happens, and it’d be up to Colorado and a handful of other states that are considered abortion safe havens–including states on the East and West coast and a handful of states in the central U.S.–to provide access for huge pockets of the United States.

For example, many states in the region, including Utah, Idaho, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and North and South Dakota have so-called “trigger bans” that would prohibit abortion immediately if Roe were overturned, some of which were passed this year.

Some states, like UtahIdaho, and Arizona, have gestational bans on abortion occurring after 15 weeks but prior to viability that have been blocked by courts but could take effect depending on the outcome of the case.

Arizona doesn’t have a trigger ban, but does have a law on the books from before Roe was decided that bans abortion. Roe made the law unenforceable, but state officials could choose to enforce it if the court reverses Roe. 

New Mexico had a similar pre-Roe abortion ban on the books up until this year when state lawmakers repealed it, a move that cemented New Mexico’s status as an abortion care safe haven in a potential post-Roe America. If Roe falls, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada will serve as islands of abortion access in a sea of hostility that spans the West, the Midwest, and the South. 

A Fresh Onslaught of Restrictions

Even before the court’s announcement in May that it would hear the Mississippi case, anti-abortion state lawmakers were delivering a sustained assault on abortion rights and access. Now, they’re as emboldened as ever by the possibility that once-unconstitutional measures could be upheld by an increasingly conservative judiciary at all levels of the federal court system, thanks to the Trump administration and former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s unprecedented focus on nominating and confirming hundreds of judges. As a result, it’s been the worst year on record for abortion rights as 2021 state legislative sessions draw to a close.

Those legislators passed a whopping 90 abortion restrictions this year alone, more than any other year since Roe was decided in 1973, according to a report from the Guttmacher Institute. 

“The 2021 abortion restrictions amplify the harm of earlier ones,” the report states. “Each additional restriction increases patients’ logistic, financial and legal barriers to care, especially in regions where entire clusters of states are hostile to abortion.”

Colorado is surrounded by these clusters.

“Our doors are open and we’re not going anywhere, but the thing we’ve been worried about and have warned people about for years is happening,” said Jack Teter, Regional Director of Government Affairs for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM), which encompasses Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Southern Nevada.

Teter pointed out that Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada already serve a high number of out-of-state patients, including patients from nearly every state in the country, due to restrictions that are currently in place. He said the demand for abortion access in Colorado is only going to increase. 

For example, when Texas lawmakers ordered abortion clinics to shut down in the spring of 2020 as covid-19 began to ravage the United States, PPRM saw a 1200 percent increase in patients from Texas, according to Teter, which provided a snapshot of what a post-Roe future could look like.  

“These barriers to access disproportionately harm women of color, rural folks, and undocumented patients,” Teter said. “For many of our patients for whom healthcare broadly and reproductive health care specifically has been historically out of reach, this will make it even worse for those communities.”  

Anti-abortion state lawmakers are doing everything they can to restrict abortion and pass laws that might be unconstitutional now, but could be enforceable later depending on the Supreme Court’s decision. 

“They’re limiting abortion access to the highest extent that they constitutionally can, which is strong indication that as soon as they can do more, they will,” Teter said. 

In Texas, lawmakers shocked abortion rights advocates and legal experts with a first-of-its-kind abortion restriction that deputizes citizens to enforce a ban on abortion. 

The law, which passed in May and is set to go into effect Sept. 1, not only bans essentially all abortions prior to six weeks of pregnancy, but enables private citizens to sue anyone who performs or helps someone obtain an illegal abortion and awards them at least $10,000 if they win the lawsuit. It essentially creates an abortion bounty hunt, providing an incentive for citizens to catch their neighbors, friends, classmates, and coworkers in the act of violating the ban, including by helping someone pay for a procedure, providing information about where they can get one, or simply giving them a ride. 

The scope of the law is far-reaching, and it’s unclear what kind of impact it could have on Texas patients attempting to travel out of state to seek abortion care and whether they’ll be able to get the logistical and financial support they need. 

“All of that uncertainty and fear, it creates a chilling effect for patients, it scares their friends, and it creates a situation in which someone might say, ‘hey can you drive me to my appointment,’ and someone’s like, ‘I don’t know, can I?’” said Teter. “It’s horrifically cruel.” 

It’s a new, untested approach to restricting abortion that may be copied by other states who are seeking to criminalize care. And Teter says this is just the beginning.

“This is just starting,” he said. “The Supreme Court decision hasn’t even happened yet. This is the first pass. This is the first legislative session.”

Oklahoma and Idaho also passed bans on abortion at six weeks this year, in addition to a slew of other restrictions. Several states, including Arizona, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Montana, passed restrictions on abortion via telemedicine, which allows abortion medication to be prescribed remotely and picked up at a local health center or delivered via mail. 

In many states in the region, people seeking abortion medication, a safe and effective method for ending early pregnancies, will have to drive potentially hundreds of miles simply to take a pill in a doctor’s office. That, of course, requires that you have a car and can afford gas, or have the ability to buy a plane ticket.

In some states, the landscape of abortion rights and access shifted this year due to Republican election wins. 

Montana Governor Greg Gianforte’s 2020 election win, for example, gave Republicans total control over state government for the first time in 16 years. As a result, lawmakers in Montana, where over half of all women live in a county without an abortion provider, passed several anti-abortion measures, including restricting abortion to 20 weeks or earlier, prohibiting health insurance plans purchased through the state exchange from covering abortion, banning abortion via telemedicine, and requiring abortion providers to offer patients the option to view an ultrasound, a measure designed to shame and coerce patients. 

While Montana’s constitution affirms the right to an abortion, meaning abortion would be legal in Montana if Roe fell, lawmakers have demonstrated that they’ll restrict abortion in any way they can to the extent that the constitution allows. In fact, they nearly passed an initiative that would have asked voters to add a constitutional amendment that defines life as beginning at conception and would have banned all abortion, but were just five votes short

A Grave Threat in Kansas

The situation in Kansas is similar to that of Montana: while these states have abortion protections in their constitutions, anti-abortion lawmakers are in charge, and they’ve shown they’ll do everything in their power to strip reproductive rights from their constituents. 

In Kansas, voters will soon be asked to decide on a ballot initiative that would amend the state’s constitution to explicitly state that there is no right to an abortion.

The measure, which was just barely approved by a two-thirds majority in Kansas’ Senate, would overturn the Kansas Supreme Court’s 2019 decision that declared abortion a “fundamental right” under the state’s bill of rights. While the measure doesn’t explicitly ban abortion, it adds language to the constitution declaring that abortion rights are not protected and that state lawmakers can regulate it as they see fit. Given the strong anti-abortion majority in Kansas’ legislature, a ban on abortion is implied. 

“This could pave the way for all-out bans or other types of laws that block access,” said Myfy Jensen-Fellows, Volunteer and Community Engagement Manager for Trust Women, which runs abortion clinics in underserved communities in Kansas and Oklahoma. “We know that this is particularly devastating for marginalized communities. Many people already have to travel great distances, outside of their communities, to access care.”

What’s more, the measure will appear on the state’s August 2022 primary ballot, something abortion rights activists say is all the more concerning. 

“The date of this ballot measure is a strategic move,” Jensen-Fellows said. “There tends to be a much lower voter turnout during primary elections, which in Kansas tends to favor Republican turnout.”

While voters who are not affiliated with a major political party are not allowed to vote for candidates in primary elections in Kansas, all registered voters in the state are eligible to vote on statewide ballot questions, something Jensen-Fellows has been a source of confusion. 

“While we believe there is a path forward, there is a need for public education on the matter and get out the vote efforts,” she said.  

How Safe Are Our Rights in Colorado?

Colorado’s shift to the left has brought about significant policy change when it comes to reproductive rights, but the state has yet to enact abortion protections in state law, meaning that while the state has relatively few restrictions on abortion, it doesn’t guarantee abortion rights independently of Roe. 

But with pro-choice majorities in Colorado’s House of Representatives and Senate, in addition to the Governor’s Mansion, it’s highly unlikely that the state would enact a law restricting abortion. 

For Teter, Colorado’s lack of a law that affirms abortion rights isn’t a cause for concern given the state’s history of protecting those rights at the ballot box and at the Capitol. 

“Abortion access is safe here,” Teter said. “It’s safe here because the voters in this state have demonstrated multiple times that they’re not interesting in banning abortion or making it difficult to access. It’s safe here because of our strong legislative majorities.” 

He has a point: While these kinds of constitutional and statutory abortion protections can serve as a backstop if Roe falls, even states that do have them, like Montana and Kansas, are under threat when anti-choice state lawmakers who search for every possible avenue to restrict abortion are in power.

Teter said that while pro-abortion rights lawmakers in other states are forced on the defensive, Colorado’s political landscape affords advocates the opportunity to focus their efforts instead on expanding reproductive health access, particularly for underserved communities. 

“In Colorado, where we know that both public opinion and political majorities support access to abortion care, we can instead focus on expanding access for patients,” Teter said.

For example, this year, Colorado passed legislation that provided contraceptives for undocumented immigrants, expanded abortion access for sexual assault survivors, set clearer health care standards for pregnant women who are incarcerated, and more. 

Teter said it’s about making sure our house is in order and that Coloradans are cared for as we prepare for a post-Roe era. That way, we can focus more of our efforts on helping the woman driving hundreds of miles from Bismarck to Denver for care. 

Source: https://coloradotimesrecorder.com/2021/07/abortion-rights-remain-strong-in-co-as-surrounding-states-look-to-dismantle-them-ahead-of-supreme-court-case/38271/

Women hold green handkerchiefs during a protest in support of legal and safe abortion in Mexico City, Mexico, February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido/File Photo

MEXICO CITY, July 20 (Reuters) – Mexico’s southeastern state of Veracruz will become the fourth state in the predominantly Roman Catholic country to clear away criminal penalties for elective abortion after lawmakers on Tuesday voted to decriminalize the procedure.

The initiative to allow abortions by choice passed in a 25-13 vote with one abstention, Veracruz’s Congress said in a statement.

The state will join Mexico City, Oaxaca and Hidalgo, which decriminalized abortion just late last month, as places where women can now choose to have abortions within 12 weeks of pregnancy. 

“We thought this day was so far off that we’re in shock, in the best way possible,” said a tweet from Brujas del Mar, a Veracruz feminist group, while noting that most of Mexico’s states have yet to follow suit.

“Let’s go after the 28 (states) that are left.”

Veracruz is one of just three states in Mexico that does not mandate jail time for women who have unauthorized abortions, according to data from advocacy group GIRE, in a region where traditional anti-abortion attitudes have only recently started to shift.

Even as Argentina legalized the procedure in December, several of more than 20 Latin American nations still ban abortion outright, including El Salvador, which has sentenced some women to up to 40 years in prison.

Veracruz became a focal point in Mexico’s abortion debate last year when the Supreme Court ruled against a proposal to decriminalize abortion in the state, a move condemned by women’s rights activists.

Source: https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/mexicos-veracruz-state-votes-allow-abortion-joining-three-other-regions-2021-07-20/?fbclid=IwAR3SXhI04abUv4407nwk5jsvX_Zi896xWx1QUn53OImc5Q-zFD8Y9UdlQr8

Stories appeared in Danish press 20 July detailing cross-party proposal to provide free abortions for limited number of Polish women in Denmark

Danish press reported that political parties the Red-Green Alliance and the Social Liberal Party want the Danish state to allocate DKK20 million (over €2.7 million) over four years to help people from Poland to have abortions in Denmark. If all goes to plan, the DKK20 million will go to the organisation Sex & Society, which – in cooperation with the international network Abortion Without Borders – will make abortion accessible to about 165 people per year. The proposal was also supported by the liberal-conservative Venstre party, currently the largest in opposition. 

Denmark allows abortion on request until the twelfth week, unless the life or health of the pregnant person is in danger. This proposal could be particularly helpful for people given diagnoses of foetal abnormality or genetic defects in the second or third trimester of pregnancy – those people who were hit hardest by Poland’s “constitutional tribunal” (pseudo-court) decisions on 22 October 2020.  

Since the tribunal’s decision came into force, the Abortion Without Borders initiative has helped more than 20,000 Polish people access abortions. More than 800 of these cases were in the second trimester of pregnancy and needed to access care in a clinic abroad. Abortion Without Borders recipients most often travel to clinics in the Netherlands and England, but occasionally travel to hospitals and clinics elsewhere in Europe. The total amount of financial support provided by all the organisations that are part of Abortion Without Borders from October 22, 2020 is more than half a million Polish zloty/over €100,000. This amount includes not only the cost of the procedure, but also travel, accommodation abroad and, where required, Covid tests. 

Abortion Without Borders welcomes the news of this Danish proposal to support people from Poland. If the proposal passes through Danish government, Abortion Without Borders will be able to help 165 more people a year to access safe and free abortion.  

Abortion Without Borders (AWB) was founded on 11 December 2019 to help people with an unwanted pregnancy in Poland or abroad. During its first year, more than 5,000 people turned to us for help to terminate their pregnancy. Since 22 October 2021, the number of people seeking abortion support has increased exponentially. The initiative Abortion Without Borders consists of Women On the Net (Poland), Abortion Dream Team (Poland), Women Help Women (international), Abortion Network Amsterdam (Netherlands), Ciocia Basia (Germany) or Abortion Support Network (England). Abortion Without Borders informs about the safe abortion options available, provides consultation before, during and after the abortion, informs how to get safe pills for pharmacological abortion, supports financially, logistically and practically in organizing abortions abroad. 

Abortion Without Borders values: 

  • We help people access abortions 
  • We reduce stigma around abortion, whether with pills at home or at a clinic abroad 
  • We never ask clients how they got pregnant or why they want abortions, but trust and respect the autonomy of pregnant people 
  • We ensure that “I can’t afford an abortion” is never the only reason someone has a baby, or another baby.

Source: https://www.asn.org.uk/abortion-without-borders-thrilled-that-denmark-is-considering-helping-polish-people-access-abortions-abroad/?fbclid=IwAR06mVO7IP0zhPneL1wD9YOvhUbB4-kCSSXkP0jkMVb1AY3SLRUkZyKBt38

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