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Pro-Choice Groups Fighting Back Against Onslaught of Abortion Restrictions

RaeAnn Roca Pickett Phone: 202-621-1409 Email:

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“2017 promises to be a year of extraordinary challenges to women’s access to reproductive health care,” said Jennifer Dalven, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Freedom Project. Given these challenges, pro-choice groups are faced with the question of how to move forward when anti-choice initiatives are coming from so many different directions.

“However, it would be a mistake to think that [increased restrictions] are what the public wants,” said Dalven. “Polls show that almost 70 percent of Americans believe Roe v. Wade should remain the law of the land and want a woman who has decided to have an abortion to be able to get one without facing shame and judgment. This election was a wake-up call. Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the Center for Reproductive Rights are experiencing big increases in support through donations and membership.”

Pro-choice and social justice organizations have reported unprecedented support and enthusiasm since the election. “I think it is very interesting to see the groundswell of support for women's rights post-election,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, the feminist health clinics that were at the center of the landmark Supreme Court decision last June that struck down two Texas TRAP [targeted regulation of abortion providers] laws restricting abortion. Less then 24 hours after the ruling, efforts to enact similar restrictions were thwarted in three other states as a result. “We have seen an 880 percent increase in unsolicited donations since October. This is huge!”

Organizations are forming coalitions and working together with a new level of energy. “Everyone understands that we have to fight for each other,” said Emily Tisch Sussman, campaign director for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the sister advocacy organization of the nonpartisan research and educational institute. “The immediate lessons learned from the election have been that there has to be some sort of cross-issue coming together. I’m seeing more collaborative work than I’ve ever seen.” In addition, CAP has found a public eager to help; its request for personal stories as part of advocacy efforts to fight the repeal of the Affordable Care Act greatly exceeded expectations.

“For many progressive groups, it has become critical to act in solidarity with ally organizations who are fighting in arenas that may not be our direct focus but which we understand to be part and parcel of the same struggle,” said Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. “It is because of this understanding that we have seen national coalitions, such as the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, strongly come out in defense of abortion access, contraceptive equity, and funding for health centers like Planned Parenthood. In turn, I've witnessed organizations like Planned Parenthood speak more boldly in support of immigration reform, knowing that it impacts the lives of their patients and advocates.”

However, pro-choice advocates are bracing for an onslaught of restrictive initiatives. At the federal level, this will most likely include attempts to pass a 20-week abortion ban, as well as defunding Planned Parenthood. In late January, Congress passed a bill to make permanent the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions except in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest. And at the state level, restrictive legislation has already been passed, even before Trump’s first day in office. In December, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed a 20-week abortion ban bill with no exceptions for rape, incest, the woman’s health, or fetal anomalies—a measure that is “horribly cruel, and will mean many women will need to cross state lines to have access to an abortion,” said Gabriel Mann, communications manager of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio.

During the first week of January, state legislators in Kentucky rushed through a mandatory ultrasound bill and a 20-week abortion ban, even coming in on Saturday to get them passed and signed into law, an “extraordinary” event, said Dalven.

The Texas Department of State Health Services enacted a requirement for clinics to have funerals or cremations for fetal remains, and although a judge issued a restraining order in late December that was upheld a month later, pro-choice advocates worry that this regulation signals a new direction for restricting access. “Now that TRAP laws have been proven to be unconstitutional, the anti-choice movement is trying a new tactic with regulations around funerals and cremations for fetal tissue,” said Kelly Baden, interim senior director of the U.S. Policy and Advocacy Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “This is a blatant attempt to shame women seeking abortions and a politically motivated attempt to ban abortions.”

It’s also logistically and economically impossible. “There’s only one crematorium in the whole state, in Dallas, that is willing to work with abortion clinics, and the cost for funerals is prohibitive—with costs upwards to $2,000 per funeral,” said Hagstrom Miller.

These legislative initiatives have ripple effects. “Any anti-abortion law that passes in one state is used as a model for other states,” said Lindsay Rodriguez, communications manager of the National Network of Abortion Funds. “The same can be said about proactive legislation to protect abortion rights. It's critical people are working at their local and state levels as well.”

Weeks after the election, Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the Center for Reproductive Rights together filed lawsuits in Alaska, Missouri, and North Carolina to protect and expand access to abortion. Activists are hopeful that the courts will remain a reliable defense against a newly emboldened anti-choice movement.
“Trump has made clear he supports the creation of an unconstitutional federal 20-week abortion ban and permanent restrictions on insurance coverage of abortion in federal programs like Medicaid,” said Megan Donovan, senior policy manager at the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization. “However, when it comes to protecting access to abortion, the American people are on our side. It is not a new thing for politicians that are anti–women’s rights and health to try everything they can to impose a minority view on the majority of Americans.”

Trump’s surprise election has served as a national rallying cry. “We have people paying attention in a new way,” said Baden. “Up until recently, its like we’ve been screaming into the wind. But this election has been a sea change, and people are literally taking to the streets in a way that we haven’t seen in a while. Our job now is to prepare for an all-hands-on-deck approach, building even more alliances with other social justice movements, and further illustrating the link between reproductive rights and economic and civil rights. It means calling out Trump’s nomination for secretary of labor for his opposition to minimum wage increases and paid sick leave because those are crucial women’s issues and reproductive justice issues, even if they aren’t explicit reproductive rights issues. We must be more cohesive, innovative, and nimble than ever before.”

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.