Defending Reproductive Rights

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If January and February are any indication, 2018 is going to be another tough year for reproductive rights. From the formation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to Trump’s live satellite feed appearance at the March for Life, it’s clear that the pattern of attacks on reproductive rights established in 2017 will continue in full force.

As Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, put it when commenting on the new HHS division, “the administration is doubling down on licensing discrimination against women and LGBT people, all in the name of religion. … They are prioritizing providers’ beliefs over patients’ health and lives. This administration isn’t increasing freedom — they’re paving the way for discrimination.”

2017 made it clear that pro-choice advocates working together are more than capable of thwarting the Trump administration’s anti-woman agenda. Already this year Congress voted down a 20-week abortion ban, and in December, multiple courts blocked rules that allow more employers to deny women contraceptive coverage.

But when every day seems to bring a new headline about legislation or policy threatening access to reproductive healthcare, it’s hard to know where to focus, which actions are most likely to bring about change.

Below, you’ll find targeted information for states that are on the front lines of the battle over access to reproductive healthcare as well as federal legislative updates and action items—so you’re equipped to take an active role resisting efforts to roll back reproductive rights!

 

What’s Happening at the National Level?

Thanks to the historic ruling in Whole Woman’s Health in 2016, many anti-choice laws targeting women’s health clinics with medically unnecessary regulations were challenged and overturned last year. Anti-choice advocates are now taking a different tact, according to a recent report by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR).

In 2018, look for more legislation targeting common second-trimester abortion methods and claiming to protect “fetal dignity.” Bans on abortions after 20 -weeks are also sweeping across the US, emphasized by the bill voted down by the Senate earlier this month. Also watch for the Trump administration to continue opening doors for discrimination under the guise of religious freedom.

Action Opportunities

  • IMMEDIATE! Tell HHS they should focus on patient rights as much as provider rights. The plan for the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division is still open for comment. Make your voice heard.

  • Tell Congress to support the Women’s Health Protection Act. This bill, which has been introduced in both the House and the Senate every year since 2013, protects women’s rights to safe, legal abortion care.

  • Become a Planned Parenthood Defender, and let the professionals keep you up to date. When you sign up, you’ll receive notices when action is critical.

  • Watch out for a resurrection of the 20-week abortion ban. Similar bills were introduced in 2014 and 2015, and it’s likely another will be introduced in 2018. If it does, tell congress to vote against it.

  • Vote in November! What’s even more powerful than making your voice heard to those already in office? Helping ensure only leaders who are committed to supporting reproductive rights ever find their way into office to start with! Find out how to register to vote in your state here.

 

Alabama

In November 2018, Alabama voters will decide whether the Alabama constitution will be amended to recognize “the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life.” Similar personhood laws and constitutional amendments have been introduced in other states, all with the same purpose—to undercut women’s rights to safe, legal abortion.

Action Opportunities

  • Register to vote! You can complete the online application here. Don’t forget, Alabama requires voters to register at least 15 days prior to the election in which they want to participate.

  • Help others register to vote! Once you’ve registered yourself, share your knowledge of the process with friends. And, if you have a vehicle at your disposal, offer to drive those without to the polls on November 6.

 

Arkansas

In 2017, Arkansas passed a number of anti-choice laws that are currently working their way through the court system. According to the CRR, a district court preliminarily blocked provisions that banned a common second-trimester abortion method, required families to be notified about the disposal of tissue from abortions and miscarriages, burdened doctors with finding all of a patient’s pregnancy-related medical records before performing an abortion, and required personal information on abortion patients under 17 be reported to law enforcement.

The decision has been appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

Action Opportunities

 

Kentucky

Kentucky may be the first state in the US to lose all abortion access. Its one remaining abortion provider, the EMW Women’s Surgical Center, is contesting a state requirement that it maintain a transfer and transport agreement with a local hospital in order to stay open. A district judge is expected to rule on the case in 2018.

Action Opportunities

 

Missouri

Missouri has introduced a personhood constitutional amendment, HJR 18. If this resolution passes, it will go to Missouri voters either in November or in a special election. Now’s the time to keep it off the ballot. The Missouri General Assembly will also vote on a 20-week abortion ban in 2018, HB1266.

Action Opportunities

  • Tell the Missouri General Assembly to vote no on HJR 18 and HB1266. You can find out who your legislators are here. Calling is more effective than email! Here are a couple of scripts if you need some help figuring out what to say.

  • Register to vote! You can download the application here. Don’t forget, Missouri requires voters to register by the fourth Wednesday prior to the election in which they want to participate.

 

Texas

Texas passed an omnibus anti-abortion bill last year that, among other provisions, banned the use of dilation and evacuation (D&E, a common second-trimester abortion method) and required fetal and embryonic tissue to be buried in a funeral-like setting. A district court preliminarily blocked both provisions. Litigation will continue in 2018.

Action Opportunities

  • Attend the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom In Action conference in Houston on April 14. The conference will “engage students and young professionals in fields that impact women's health: medicine, public health, law, social work, and more!” Learn more and register here.

  • Volunteer with Planned Parenthood Texas Votes. Get Texas-specific legislation updates, attend a legislative committee hearing or help out using your unique skill set. Learn more and sign up here.

 

All States

Didn’t see your state? Your help is still needed! Many of the national trends threatening reproductive rights will have to be fought state by state.

According to Media Matters, personhood bills from 2017 will carry over into 2018 for South Carolina, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Kansas, Iowa, Illinois and Alaska in addition to the states mentioned above. Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania will all vote on 20-week abortion ban bills carried over from 2017. New Mexico has already prefiled a 20-week abortion ban bill. In addition to Kentucky, five other states have only one abortion provider left: West Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota and Mississippi.

Action Opportunities

  • Contact your state chapter of Planned Parenthood or the ACLU and sign up to receive updates and calls to action. Many organizations allow you to specify whether you’re able to take action in person or prefer to help out via phone or internet.

  • Communicate with your state-level representatives regularly. Any form of contact is valuable, but phone calls are the best. And don’t feel like you should only call when your representative is falling down on the job. Praising elected officials who support reproductive rights is important as well.

Organize locally. Fundraising events to support pro-choice candidates, rallies to put pressure on elected officials, and gatherings to share information and support are powerful tools in the fight to protect reproductive rights.