17 May Back to Basics: Contraception and Abortion
Let’s begin by acknowledging gladly that 77 percent of all Americans support the legal right to abortion — that’s seven in 10 citizens of the United States who believe abortion should remain legal and accessible. And let’s acknowledge that telemedicine, for use with medication abortion, has been a boon to women.
But let’s also understand that Ohio has just banned the use of telemedicine for precisely that purpose. And let’s further understand that, according to the Guttmacher Institute, states will be the main abortion battleground in 2021, that abortion rights are in grave peril, and that 2021 has already set a record in terms of abortion restrictions. An ordinance recently passed in Texas is one example, as are more under-the-radar local ordinances in other towns and cities. The Texas Legislature has approved first of its kind legislation for the tactics it uses to prevent access to abortion. It paves the way for any anti-abortion activist to sue abortion doctors, and also to sue anyone who provides funds for an abortion even if they didn’t know what the money was being used for. Since January 1 there have been a whopping 536 anti-science abortion restrictions driven by religious ideology, introduced across 46 states. Alarmingly, 61 abortion restrictions have passed in 13 different states. In fact, between April 6 and April 29, 28 devastating restrictions were signed into law in seven states. If this rate continues, the United States could see the highest number of abortion restrictions passed since Roe v. Wade became a constitutional right in 1973. (That information is from the Freedom from Religion Foundation.)
Donald Trump’s appointment to the Supreme Court of Amy Coney Barrett, who has openly written that “abortion is always immoral,” solidified the grip of the hard right wing on the court, again raising the question of whether the number of justices should be expanded, as has been the case in the past, for a fair balance. Indeed, after the latest Supreme Court ruling on abortion, the Women’s Health Protection Act is more important than ever.
Anti-choice extremists are also opposed to birth control for ideological reasons, and have worked hard to restrict access to contraception. Employers who want to deny their employees contraception coverage won at the Supreme Court in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Some states have enacted laws allowing some individuals and companies to refuse to provide or cover contraception. Meanwhile, on the international front, the so-called Geneva Consensus Declaration calls on nation states to promote women’s rights and health, but bars access to abortion, and it was signed by then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of the Trump administration. The core supporters of the Declaration are all authoritarian nations, including Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, Uganda, Belarus, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab emirates, Iraq, Sudan, South Sudan, and Libya. Most of the signatories are among the 20 worst places in the world to be a woman.
Michelle Goldberg, columnist in the New York Times, wrote that her conservative colleague, Ross Douthat, had noticed a debate within the anti-abortion movement sparked by an article by Notre Dame professor John Finnis in the Catholic journal First Things. Finnis argued that fetuses are persons under the 14th Amendment, and that the Supreme Court should thus rule abortion unconstitutional. The political implication, wrote Douthat, is that just jettisoning Roe is “woefully insufficient.” Damon Linker, a former editor at First Things and author of a book about the Catholic right, writes, “That is where the pro-life movement is headed — and the rest of the country better be ready for it. And reactionary Harvard law professor Adrian Vermeule wrote in The Atlantic last year, that even former Justice Scalia’s originalism “has now outlived its utility.” In a legal world dominated by liberalism, he wrote, originalism was a “useful rhetorical and political expedient,” but the conservative takeover of the judiciary has proceeded far enough that it can be dispensed with. Instead, he endorsed what he called “common-good constitutionalism,” an understanding of constitutional law that, among other things, “does not suffer from a horror of political domination and hierarchy, because it sees that law is parental, a wise teacher and an inculcator of good habits.”
So there it is, authoritarianism laid bare. And once again abortion lies at the heart of the matter: not only for women’s full humanity. But for democracy itself to survive.