You’re not crazy if you increasingly feel like we are all living in a flashback episode of The Handmaid’s Tale. You know– when the Hulu series shows what it was like before the fictional evil Christian fundamentalist regime completely overthrows the U.S. government and June is still living her normal-ish life, yet we see brief news reports on TV screens about new crazy patriarchal laws that strip women of basic rights? Yeah, that.
To be honest, sometimes I’m going about my day, maybe washing dishes and listening to the news on the radio and I hear something about a fetal “heartbeat” bill in yet another state and I stop what I’m doing and think, “Is this how it [the downfall of a society into a patriarchal theocracy] starts? Or am I being… (to use a properly sexist term) hysterical?”
The answer is: perhaps– on any of it. I can’t pretend to know what will happen, but I do know that if we don’t have clarity on what’s happening now, anyone concerned with the future of reproductive health care laws in this country won’t know what to do about any of it, maybe until it’s too late.
So, let’s get some clarity.
Let’s start with the good news. (I’m using the descriptor “good” loosely. None of this is good at all.).
None of these laws are in effect right now.
Abortion is not illegal in any of these states.
And likely won’t be any time in the near-term.
Also, a lot of the language in the anti-choice bills being passed (in Georgia, Ohio, Mississippi, among others) is vague enough that we don’t know for sure that a lot of the scariest stuff being speculated about (like women being, you know, given life in prison or capital punishment for murder for having an illegal abortion because the fetus is now granted full “personhood” rights) would ever happen.
Consequently, Planned Parenthood is concerned about the misinformation and speculation women are reading about these present bills. (Slate had this misleading headline for a recent article: “Georgia just criminalized abortion. Women who terminate their pregnancies would receive life in prison.”).
Planned Parenthood’s Staci Fox told the Washington Post that “The news headlines and social media headlines that speculate about the bills’ unintended consequences are – at the very least – not productive. At most, they’re harmful.”
Fear and misinformation are already causing women to cancel their scheduled appointments and not to seek health care.
All of these bills are or will be challenged in court, by the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights, among others. Many similar bills have been previously blocked by federal judges. So, yeah, once again, they will probably will not take effect anytime in very near future.
I’m sorry to say, however, that these court challenges do pose serious threats to the future of reproductive choice in this country. In fact, the challenges themselves may actually be the whole point.
The Bad News: Anti-choice activists have a plan.
And that plan starts and ends with Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s newest Supreme Court appointee. They want these new laws to be challenged in federal courts and eventually end up in the Supreme Court. Conservatives see this present Supreme Court — with the addition of Brett Kavanaugh tilting it in a hard-right direction — as their best chance in a long time (possibly ever) of overturning Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized access to abortion services.
Before the latest conservative majority dominated the court, anti-choice legislation in the states were passed as “legal provocations,” meant to see how far anti-choice legislators could chip away gradually at Roe without ever seriously believing they could overturn the law altogether.
With Trump as president, the legal landscape is starkly changed. To be clear, the intention of the anti-choice movement is to eliminate Roe in its entirety, and they think their chances are pretty good at succeeding.
Here’s a great resource for how you can start right now, today, working to protect access to safe and legal abortions.
Alabama’s lieutenant governor Will Ainsworth was remarkably candid about the anti-choice movement’s goals in his state while attempting to pass the strictest abortion law in the country. This week the Alabama Senate chambers became a scene of chaos when Republicans tried to take out exceptions for rape and incest in their self-billed Human Life Protection Act. This bill, if passed, would criminalize abortion in Alabama, with punishments of at least 10 years for any doctor who performs an abortion.
Ainsworth said, “It is important we pass this statewide abortion ban legislation and begin a long overdue effort to directly challenge Roe v. Wade.” He added, “Now that President Donald Trump has supercharged the effort to remake the federal court system by appointing conservative jurists who will strictly interpret the Constitution, I feel confident that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade and finally correct its 46-year-old mistake.”
So what can ordinary people do about this escalation in the abortion wars and the real threat to Roe v. Wade?
First, don’t spread panic, misinformation, and speculation about the bills. Don’t rely solely on partisan news sources or social media for news updates.
Second, the most important action you can take is to research candidates who will defend reproductive choice and vote for them, particularly at the local level.
Yes, it matters who the president is since he/she is the one who will appoint Supreme Court justices. But remember that all of the anti-choice legislation we’re frightened about is coming out of state legislatures. It matters who your state representatives are– your local reps, and your governor.
The future of Roe v. Wade may depend on it.