Why States Matter
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Why States Matter

So, Abortion Goes Back to the States? Alright, Then.


ell, it’s official: the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority has decided to “return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.” It’s now up to each state to decide how much it values women, and how far it will go to protect women’s reproductive — human — rights.

This would be no problem if we were living in, say, utopia. But in fact, many of the “people’s elected representatives,” mostly of the Republican variety, have been working to restrict abortion for years. Last year alone, they enacted 108 abortion restrictions across the country.

And so, here we are, as of Friday, June 24, 2022, living in a country where 44 states either substantially restrict abortion or, in the case of eight states and counting, ban it outright.

“Who Can Get An Abortion?”

A medical question has become one of legal categorization. Categorizing abortion recipients implies that some patients are worthier of the procedure than others, and encourages prurient lawmakers to indulge in a sort of pornography of need around who deserves the dignity of bodily autonomy and who doesn’t.

Some situations you’d think beyond argument: rape and incest, for example. The fact that only seven states explicitly allow an exception for abortion in the case of rape or incest says everything you need to know about the barbarism of our current society.

But — and — what about everyone else? What about the teenager who used contraception incorrectly and got pregnant (perhaps she lives in one of the 34 states that mandates abstinence-centered sex ed in schools)? Or the mother who didn’t think she needed contraception, and who knows she can’t provide for another child? What about the woman who, gasp, in a moment of weakness threw caution to the winds and had unprotected sex? The woman who did “everything right” and still knows she’s not ready to raise a child? What about ANY PERSON WITH A UTERUS, who needs an abortion SIMPLY BECAUSE — because she knows best when or whether to start a family, because she deserves the same bodily autonomy as the man who impregnated her, because she’s a human being?

If we’re haggling about “who can” and “who can’t” control their reproduction, we’ve missed the point.

Illegal Pregnancy

In fact, we’re living in a country where all pregnancies, not just unplanned ones, now qualify as potentially criminal acts. What about the woman who does want children, who decides she is financially and emotionally ready to start or expand a family… and who miscarries? This is not an academic question: about 10 in 100 known pregnancies end in pregnancy loss before 13 weeks, according to the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists. And as anyone who’s ever been pregnant (except for Amy Coney Barrett, apparently) knows, even the safest, lowest-risk pregnancy is serious business. According to a study in Obstetrics & Gynecology, “legal induced abortion is markedly safer than childbirth. The risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion. Similarly, the overall morbidity associated with childbirth exceeds that with abortion.”

Pregnancy is even riskier if you live here in the US. In what should be a national disgrace of a public-health emergency, the US has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed nations. We have fewer maternity protections and benefits than any other developed countries. (Do we even count as “developed,” any more? Maybe “devolving”?) More than 120 of the planet’s 195 countries provide paid maternity leave and benefits. Not us; we provide ZERO! As with guns, we are proud outliers.

From Private Misfortune to Public Crime

Used to be, a miscarriage was a private tragedy. But now that Roe has fallen and states are free to legislate women’s menstrual cycles at will, every miscarriage is going to be scrutinized, with the grieving woman considered guilty until proven innocent. How do you convince a panel of anti-women, anti-science witch-hunters that you didn’t induce an abortion, honest?

Judging by other countries with draconian anti-abortion laws, you don’t. Take El Salvador, where a pregnant 22-year-old woman recently miscarried after suffering emergency complications. She found herself sentenced to 30 years in jail for an alleged abortion, despite already being a mom to a two-year-old son. “Pro-life,” indeed.

As women become potential criminals, so their medical caregivers become targets. “Pro-life” extremists in the US have been murdering doctors all along, but now, post-Roe, we have state bureaucracy in on the game to an unprecedented degree. Since the 1980s, states have been imposing targeted restrictions on abortion providers (TRAP laws), mandating everything from onerous licensing requirements to facilities’ corridor size, but the point has been to curtail abortion access, not endanger providers (at least, not explicitly).

Texas, always one to go big, upped the ante in August 2021 with its “Heartbeat Act,” offering private individuals a $10,000 bounty to rat out not only abortion providers, but anyone who “aids and abets” an abortion, e.g. insurers, pharmacists, clinic receptionists, et al.

And now, it’s out in the open: medical care is a potential crime. In Wisconsin, for example — one of Sister District’s 2022 states — an 1849 law is now in effect (pending legal challenges), banning abortion except when “necessary… to save the life of the mother.” The doctor who dares perform an abortion that doesn’t explicitly qualify as “life-saving” could face up to six years in prison and $10,000 in fines.

Unbelievably, yet not, this is still too lenient for some Americans. Wisconsin NPR quotes Pro-Life Wisconsin Executive Director Matt Sande: “There is a broad and undefined ‘life of the mother’ exception that we would like to eliminate. We would like to replace it with language requiring equal care for mother and child.” His and other groups are urging lawmakers to pass a “personhood amendment” to ban abortion in the state constitution. While even the concept of “saving the mother’s life” is an insultingly low bar — as if death were the only consequence that counted, as if psychological anguish, financial penury, non-fatal medical consequences, curtailed education, all the other potential consequences of an unwanted pregnancy, just didn’t matter — it’s still shocking to see “life of the mother” written off like this.


If you care about women — and about children, and families, and justice, and medicine, and science — you care about abortion. And if you care about abortion, you need to prove it at the ballot box. We the people don’t elect the Supreme Court Justices (far from it! the three youngest were appointed by a president who lost the popular vote and who subsequently tried to overthrow the government), but we do elect our state legislators. Elected state legislators have been chipping away at abortion rights for years. Elected state legislators have the power to craft laws that either curtail or expand human rights. Whom we elect at the state level can determine life or death, particularly for our poorer and less privileged citizens. If abortion is now under state control, let’s damn well get women’s health champions into state office. See you at the polls.

- Juliet Eastland

Four SDP States at Risk of Losing Abortion Rights:

Primary election August 2, general election November 8.
A pre-Roe AZ law banning abortion and criminalizing providers was blocked by a court in 1973, but was just declared enforceable by the Republican State Attorney General. This decision contradicts that of the Republican Governor, who recently signed a law banning abortions at 15 weeks. Pending the final legal decision, virtually all clinics have stopped providing abortions. Either way, women lose.

General election November 8.
In 2019, GA passed the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act, codifying “fetal personhood” language and banning abortion after six weeks. A court blocked the Act, but the state filed an appeal, and a court stayed the case pending the SCOTUS decision. Women and providers are still awaiting the final verdict.

Primary election August 2, general election November 8.
A pre-Roe law that would ban nearly all abortions has been blocked in state court, and the Democratic Governor and Attorney General have said they will not enforce the ban.

Primary election August 9, general election November 8.
A pre-Civil-War law bans nearly all abortions and makes performing them a felony, with the exception of saving the life of the mother. Anti-abortion groups would like to remove this exception and pass a constitutional amendment enshrining “fetal personhood.” The Democratic Governor and Attorney General have filed a lawsuit attempting to block the ban.

NB: Governor and AG seats are up for election in all four states.

SDP MA-RI Focus:

General election November 8.
Abortion is legal up to 24 weeks but is not protected by state law. In addition, PA is one of 14 states that directly funds “crisis pregnancy centers” — fake clinics, often religiously affiliated, that aim to pressure women out of getting abortions by giving incomplete and/or misleading information about sexual health. Our MA-RI alumna Rep. Melissa Shusterman has sponsored legislation to boost funding for genuine abortion providers.

The GOP-controlled state legislature (General Assembly) has crafted an amendment stating that the “policy of Pennsylvania is to protect the life of every unborn child from conception to birth”; certifying that the state constitution does not ensure “any right relating to abortion or the public funding thereof”; and protecting any future anti-abortion legislation from challenges in state court. [Update: on 7/7/22, literally under cover of darkness, the General Assembly passed the amendment, which must be re-approved in the next legislative session before appearing on the ballot. LET’S FLIP THE STATE HOUSE, SHALL WE?]

The current Democratic Governor, who has stood fast against all sorts of similar egregious legislation coming from the GOP-controlled state legislature, is termed out. New maps make flipping the state House a possibility (hello, Dan Williams and Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz!) — an absolutely critical bulwark should the GOP nominee, Doug Mastriano, win the gubernatorial election. This is a guy who champions a six-week abortion ban, opposes all exceptions (including to save the mother’s life), and supports criminal penalties for medical providers. Oh, and who paid to bus rioters to the January 6 protest. Let’s GOTV!



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