Last week, the supreme court justices disappointed both medical and political sides by upholding state laws criminalizing abortion. Now, some pro-life representatives are demanding Congress un-tax the revenue collected by abortion facilities, or risk defunding the only legislative branch that can change this. If that happens, expect state representatives to repeat the supreme court’s ruling in the Hyde Amendment.
We’re facing a perfect storm of anti-abortion politics. In the House, Ted Cruz, as standard-bearer for the anti-abortion movement, is leading the charge to defund Planned Parenthood. Leading the nation’s large abortion clinics, Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute and Sarah Stoesz of the Center for Reproductive Rights caution that defunding the clinics would have a very negative impact on thousands of low-income women and others who rely on family planning services and medical care.
Meanwhile, a number of right-wing states are advancing aggressive legislation across the country, essentially turning the South into the Wild West on abortion. And these states are not alone. The Texas legislature, which last session repeatedly voted to regulate the state’s abortion clinics out of existence, passed a law this year that would impose egregious new regulations on abortion facilities in the state. In a quiet, behind-the-scenes maneuver, the law’s advocates met with the attorneys general of all the other states and agreed to combine their lawsuits to block the Texas law in federal court.
In Ohio, lawmakers passed and the governor signed a bill that will require patients to undergo an extra ultrasound procedure and listen to a prerecorded lecture on the fetus’s neural structure. In Pennsylvania, lawmakers passed and the governor signed a law that bans abortions after 20 weeks unless the fetus is lethal or the mother’s life is in danger. And in Georgia, lawmakers passed a law that would require the state’s family planning clinics to offer abortions for a cost of $1,300, as well as other procedures associated with abortion.
Although each state attempted to defend itself and the right to abortion in each case, the decision comes down to the judges who were sitting on the court. The justices ruled 5-3 in favor of admitting fees (requiring doctors to provide abortions at public hospitals) and for the right to force women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound. But by ruling 5-3 that it was unconstitutional to force doctors to violate medical ethics and bring a late-term abortion out of secrecy and into the light of day, the justices were just as likely to rule in favor of eliminating abortion entirely. That would mean they upheld a ban on abortion in all or some of the states — perhaps for as long as the year 2044.
Congress won’t simply have to repeal or defund Planned Parenthood to ensure women can get what they need, though that can happen. The Supremes’ ruling also means members of Congress have the same power to assist medical professionals in resisting wrongful mandates as judicial review gives to medical experts.
Activists in states all over the country are joining this fight. A few, such as South Dakota legislator George Meyer, have proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow states to prohibit the US Congress from ever funding abortions again. Mr. Meyer points out that current laws don’t work and that women are still turning to abortion in order to make ends meet. They should have the same ability to go to the doctor.
Another Republican legislator, Bob Kopp, recently wrote an editorial in the Charlotte Observer asking his colleagues for tax-breaks for medical centers that don’t provide abortion services. If the physicians live, and stay in business, that would make a financial difference. Although this possibility has not been introduced, it would hardly be surprising if medical establishments who would object to serving abortion patients were allowed to collect tax money regardless of what’s required of their staff.
Democrats have also started thinking creatively about how to protect reproductive rights in the US. Hillary Clinton has come out for additional government funding for breast cancer. And not to be outdone, Bernie Sanders proposes a $5bn fund to fund family planning clinics.
The real solutions are to make abortion services part of the system, and to protect health care professionals who oppose abortion as well as those who do. As opposed to imposing technology on women, for example, a government fund could fund the training of doctors and support their communities.
Public financing of abortion is not just theoretical. In Minnesota, legislators recently passed a law which makes it clear that one doctor’s personal convictions have no bearing on taxpayers’ money, and that his or her ethical obligations should override all political considerations.
In Washington state, an agreement has been reached to force clinics to provide all the training required by law for ultrasound and for sedation. Doctors would not be allowed to invoke ethical convictions about medical procedures in order to dodge other