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Celebrating freedom? In five states, the government can force a woman to give birth against her will

This week, Americans will celebrate the Declaration of Independence and recognize their nation’s growth from a rebellious colony to a fifty-state global
AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman,, Jay Janner
AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman,, Jay Janner

This week, Americans will celebrate the Declaration of Independence and recognize their nation’s growth from a rebellious colony to a fifty-state global superpower. But in five of these fifty states, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were curtailed for many people this week as their state governments enacted new restrictions on abortion access.

As Rachel Maddow noted on Monday night, there is little political action to speak of in Washington, D.C., at the moment. Right now, the action is in the states. And if you’re in a red state, it’s abortion restriction time.

In Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, and South Dakota, states in which it was already quite difficult to obtain an abortion, it just got even harder. Like Ohio, which last Sunday implemented a handful of abortion restrictions, most of these five states have erected several different kinds of roadblocks between constitutionally protected healthcare and the citizens who want to access it.

In Kansas, for example, a long-time reproductive rights battleground, state legislators have attacked the supply-side of abortion: the doctors who provide them. Kansas doctors are now banned from participating in sex education in public schools, are legally required to inform their patients seeking abortions that after 20 weeks in the womb, fetuses can feel pain, and that “the abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.”

And even though the National Cancer Institute insists that no such link exists, doctors are now legally required to inform their patients of the link between abortion and breast cancer. Starting next year, the same bill, HB 2253, will begin blocking tax breaks for those clinics that allow patients to deduct abortion expenses from their tax returns. In Indiana and Alabama, too, doctors who provide abortions at clinics are under fire, facing strict new regulations that are designed to be impossible to adhere to, so that the clinics simply cannot stay open.

Indiana, Mississippi, and Alabama--like Michigan before them--have banned the use of telemedicine to prescribe RU 486, the abortion pill. This restriction hits hardest those patients in isolated or rural areas, far from doctors and clinics. RU 486 is used to end a pregnancy early on. In making it harder for those people to obtain abortions earlier in their pregnancies, those states are forcing them to resort to surgical abortions, which are costlier and harder to obtain.

South Dakota has taken a different route, erecting obstacles for the patient, rather than the doctor. Patients must now wait for 72 hours after seeing a doctor before undergoing a procedure–and weekends don’t count. South Dakota has two abortion providers, meaning that 76% of South Dakota women live in a county without a provider. The waiting period means patients must take even more time off work than they already would, arrange for accommodation near the provider, and for childcare for any children they already have. For many people, this represents an insurmountable financial and logistical barrier. So, though abortion is legal, it’s inaccessible by most measures.

In Texas, if Gov. Rick Perry gets his way, the second special session he called will result in the passage of an omnibus abortion bill that looks a lot like the bills that are taking effect in these five states. If that happens, all but 5 of 42 abortion clinics in Texas will be shut down. Texas will also impose restrictions on the use of RU 486, and will require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Ohio has also enacted this last requirement, in tandem with an amendment that makes it incredibly hard for doctors to obtain those privileges.

Finally, passage of the Texas bill will mean a 20-week abortion ban. This means that if you live in Texas and you discover after 20 weeks that your pregnancy is developing in a way that means your baby will not be able breathe on its own , you will be forced to carry that pregnancy to term, to give birth to a baby that cannot survive outside the womb. If you live in a rural area in Texas and discover that you are eight weeks pregnant, the new restrictions on RU 486 might mean that you have to have a surgical abortion, which is more expensive. If it takes you more than twelve weeks to save up for that abortion, too bad: it’s too late.

For the citizens of five states in our union–more, if you count Texas and Ohio–the government can coerce, compel, cajole, and outright force a person to give birth against her will. Whether it’s by making it harder for doctors to do their jobs, by cutting off a crucial medical lifeline between isolated women and their physicians, or by making abortion prohibitively expensive, that’s what these new laws do.

Lawmakers who voted for or signed these laws should be asked: if you think the government should be able to force an American citizen to give birth against her will, what exactly are you celebrating this weekend?