Abortion bans catalyze waves of feminist, pro-choice organizing

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Pro-choice demonstration. Photo: jordanuhl7/Flickr

In Texas, if state Rep. Tony Tinderholt had his way, women who have an abortion could get the death penalty. Fortunately, his bill didn't make it out of committee. But in Alabama, a bill that sentences doctors who perform abortions to life in prison did pass and was signed into law by the governor. If it stands, it goes into effect in six months.

Dr. Yashica Robinson, the medical director of the Alabama Women's Center for Reproductive Alternatives, responded to the draconian law on the Democracy Now!news hour, saying, "I will have to choose between my freedom and staying out of jail and doing what is best for my patients … as a women's health provider, I understand how important abortion access is." The only exception in the ban is when the life of the mother is at stake. This, Dr. Robinson says, "puts us in a Catch-22 … we could be forced to let patients get near death, get very sick or ill, and potentially be harmed before we could proceed comfortably with doing what's best for women."

A rash of extreme anti-abortion bills like these are being pushed through state legislatures across the country, banning abortions or making them almost impossible to obtain. Abortion is a legal procedure in the United States, and state governments aren't allowed to ban it. But anti-choice crusaders in states with Republican-controlled governments, like Alabama, Georgia, Ohio and Missouri, are passing the laws anyway. Proponents of the laws are anticipating court challenges, hoping that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh will provide their long-sought swing vote to overturn the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.

This epidemic of unconstitutional legislation has ignited a firestorm of opposition. While a majority of state legislatures have passed restrictions on abortions, the majority of Americans are pro-choice. A national day of action to defend a woman's right to choose a safe, legal abortion was held Tuesday, with over 500 events in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. More than 80 groups collaborated in the organizing effort, including Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the American Civil Liberties Union and smaller, grassroots groups like All* Above All and Georgia-based SPARK Reproductive Justice Now.

"First, Trump and Pence filled the courts with judges willing to give politicians power and control over women's bodies. And we are looking at you, Brett Kavanaugh," Planned Parenthood President Dr. Leana Wen said to hundreds in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Then, she added, "they passed extreme bans in order to overturn Roe. Are we going to stand for that?" The crowd thundered "No!" in unison.

Elizabeth Nash of the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute laid out the scale of the assault on abortion rights Wednesday, writing: "Between January 1, 2019, and May 20, 2019, 378 abortion restrictions have been introduced across the nation, and 40% of them have been abortion bans. … A total of 17 bans have been enacted across 10 states so far this year." Alabama's is perhaps the most egregious, banning abortion in almost all cases, including for pregnancies resulting from incest or rape.

"By signing this bill, the governor and her colleagues in the state legislature have decided to waste millions in Alabama taxpayer dollars in order to defend a bill that is simply a political effort to overturn 46 years of precedent that has followed the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. We will not allow that to happen, and we will see them in court," Randall Marshall, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, stated. "Despite the governor signing this bill, clinics will remain open, and abortion is still a safe, legal medical procedure at all clinics in Alabama."

It is ironic that the Republican Party that decries "big government" is the one passing laws that force women to bear a child against their will -- in Alabama, it would force them to carry the child of their rapist. Also ironically, most of these laws are written by, debated, voted on and signed into law by men. Alabama's governor is a woman, but in the Alabama Senate, the vote was 25 to 6 – 25 white men.

On Wednesday, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, responding to the wave of anti-abortion laws sweeping the nation, put it simply: "Guys, guys, guys, just white guys … I say we don't agonize, we organize."

And that is what people are doing, nationally, from the largest cities to the smallest towns: organizing to ensure that we don't return to the unsafe, back-alley abortions that killed so many women before Roe v. Wade. Never again.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,300 stations. She is the co-author, with Denis Moynihan, of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times bestseller. This column originally appeared on Democracy Now!

Photo: jordanuhl7/Flickr

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