People will be analyzing the Nov. 6th election for months, if not years, to come. Many already say President Obama won re-election in great part due to his support of a woman’s ability to make her own personal medical decisions without interference from politicians.
As a result of the election, we will move ahead with implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). By eliminating many out-of-pocket costs associated with preventive healthcare, the ACA will dramatically expand the number of people who can receive high-quality, affordable care from trusted and essential providers like Planned Parenthood.
At Planned Parenthood alone, nearly three million women a year already rely on close to 800 health centers for a range of personal and preventive health care services, such as gynecological and breast exams, STI testing and counseling, Pap tests, HIV testing, and more. The ACA’s provisions will enable millions more women to take advantage of these services with no co-pays or deductibles.
Although we have a women’s health champion in the White House, manifestations of fervently anti-choice agendas remain present at both the federal and state levels. Below, we will examine some of those state attacks. As their proponents begin recycling the scraps of this year’s anti-choice campaigns into renewed efforts down the road, we will certainly keep a close watch.
State Issues: Recap and Moving Forward
In five states – Colorado, Nevada, Florida, Arizona, and Ohio – anti-choice initiatives to define “personhood” as beginning from the moment of fertilization either failed to gather either enough signatures to be voted upon by citizens or, if they did, were rejected at the polls. Although the presence of these efforts reflects a continuing trend of attacks on the safe and legal termination of a woman’s pregnancy, trends within states indicate a weakening popularity for the anti-choice “personhood” tactic.
Proponents of personhood amendments in Colorado failed to gather the legally required number of signatures necessary to place the issue on the Nov. 6th ballot, whereas with similar initiatives, in both 2008 and 2010, they were actually voted on though subsequently defeated by wide margins. In Nevada, two separate personhood measures also failed to gather enough signatures, mirroring the outcome of a previous personhood initiative in 2010. Mean while, in Florida, personhood supporters neglected to deliver the requisite materials to the state by the 2012 deadline to appear on this year’s ballot.
Arizona state legislators attempted to redress the stalling of personhood legislation by referring SB 1494 to the November 6th ballot. Although this effort also failed, Arizona HB 2036 has traversed the federal court system as legal sparring continues over the restrictive nature of the legislation. The bill would ban all abortion procedures after 20 weeks of gestation, earlier than any other state. Concerns exist over the bill’s lack of exceptions for women who discover fetal birth defects or other life-threatening conditions beyond 20 weeks into their pregnancy. As it stands, the bill stymies a woman’s ability to decide to end her pregnancy within pre-existing legal parameters.
Efforts on behalf of advancing a personhood amendment in Ohio yielded too few signatures to be listed on the November 6th ballot, although the state has other threats to reproductive freedom pending. Ohio HB 125 would outlaw abortion, even within the legal limits prescribed by Roe v. Wade (1973), if a fetal heartbeat can be detected. According to reports by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Ohio’s state legislators have come to a consensus on the bill and may pass it by the end of this year.
Unlike these states that focused on abortion restrictions, Texas navigated state healthcare laws in an effort to insert clauses that would defund family planning services, particularly its seven Planned Parenthood affiliates. However, these affiliates have successfully referred to the state court system and made progress towards the dissolution of the state’s anti-choice administrative rules passed in 2011. These rules stipulate that health care providers who terminate a woman’s pregnancy, counsel her on options that include abortion, or associate with providers that do either, will lose all state funding. After suing the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the Planned Parenthood affiliates received an affirmative decision that prohibits that state from canceling their funding for being affiliates of an organization that offers safe and legal abortion services.
A woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy has become much more precarious in Mississippi, where the state’s only abortion provider, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, has been mired in bureaucratic and legal struggles to remain open. In 2011, Mississippi voters rejected a personhood amendment to the state constitution, though anti-choice legislators have adapted the intent of this failed amendment into a “targeted regulation of abortion providers” (TRAP) law. On July 1st of this year, a new law took effect mandating that abortion providers must be certified as obstetricians/gynecologists who also have privileges at local hospitals. Mississippi is the only state with such strict, and medically unfounded, provisions. The law masquerades as safeguarding women’s health, though its intent is to make the termination of a woman’s pregnancy a nonexistent option in Mississippi. Following the enactment of this law, a federal judge ruled that the Jackson Women’s Health Organization may continue to operate without criminal or civil penalties while it pursues legal challenge to the state law.
Unfortunately, these state initiatives only reflect a portion of the anti-choice efforts currently unfolding across the country, and we expect to see more challenges to reproductive freedom in the future.
Where Pennsylvania Stands
Pennsylvania’s status quo on reproductive freedom stems from a governor, state legislature, and congressional representatives that lean predominantly towards anti-choice policies. Like Mississippi, this state has endured its share of TRAP laws, most notably Act 122, signed into law in December 2011 by Governor Corbett. The law requires all abortion facilities to meet standards of classification as an “ambulatory surgical facility,” often entailing additional administrative and architectural alterations. The law imposes restrictions that do not have an immediate impact on women’s health. Rather, it places a financial chokehold on abortion providers, thereby diminishing a woman’s ability to access safe and reputable abortion facilities in the state.
A positive note to remember is the lifting of a separate financial barrier to reproductive health services, accomplished by maintaining the Affordable Care Act. Moving forward, the framework for Pennsylvanians to receive care under the ACA will depend on the actions of the Pennsylvania state government, which has about a month to develop a state health insurance exchange program within the parameters of the ACA. If it fails to deliver, the federal government will intervene to establish a health insurance exchange in the state.
Despite the severe challenges to women’s reproductive freedom in each of these states, women across the nation expressed to policymakers that their ability to make personal decisions about what is best for their reproductive health is a personal priority. Although we expect continued attacks on the essential domains of women’s health care – from funding for Planned Parenthood, to access to contraception, to safe and legal abortion – we are stronger than ever to hold our leaders accountable for protecting our reproductive freedom.