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War Against Women

Proposed laws from Republicans would have dire consequences for women’s health

February 9, 2011, 1:00 am

In Kentucky and Oklahoma, abortion-seeking women are required to receive an ultrasound and a technician’s description of the fetus before an abortion can be performed.

New Mexico’s parental notification bill was introduced by state Sen. William Sharer, R-San Juan, who has, in fact, been busy introducing a spate of anti-choice legislation over the past month. Bill SB 239 would prohibit “late-term” abortions (defined in this case as an abortion in which the fetus is “viable”—a medical, not a legal, term), while a separate piece of legislation would prohibit all abortions after 20 weeks (the generally-accepted point of viability is at least 23 weeks). Meanwhile, yet another bill, SB 225, would put bizarre restrictions on abortion clinic staff, barring them from “intentionally and repeatedly contact[ing] a person against the person’s wishes.”

Most outrageously, a bill called HB 30, or the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” defines a fetus as an “unborn child” and states that “[w]hoever commits murder of an unborn child in the first degree is guilty of a capital felony” (see sidebar below).

In Kansas, Republican state Rep. Lance Kinzer introduced a particularly draconian parental notification bill, which would require women under the age of 18 to receive the explicit consent of both parents before seeking an abortion. Exceptions would only be made in cases in which “family sexual abuse” is involved, and even then women would need the approval of one parent. The bill’s supporters cite false and misleading data about how young women who have abortions are more likely to have mental health issues than those who carry their pregnancies to term—when in fact, the exact opposite is true, according to a study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

What’s more, the Times reports that Kansas’ new governor, former Sen. Sam Brownback, plans to lead the state Legislature in adopting measures that were previously vetoed by his less conservative successors, “including regulations that will make it harder to open abortion clinics or to perform abortions in the second trimester.”

Kansas already has some of the most regressive abortion laws in the country; for instance, the state will not allow a women to seek an abortion after the point of viability unless two separate doctors agree that she risks “irreparable harm” by giving birth.

In Arkansas, a troubling bill that’s now on its way to the state Senate floor would severely limit abortion coverage under private insurance plans. CNBC reports that the proposed bill “takes advantage of a part of the federal health care overhaul that allows states to restrict abortion coverage by private plans in the new insurance exchanges” and, if passed, would require women to purchase a special rider or policy if they ever plan to get an abortion. Similar laws have already been enacted in several other states, but as National Abortion Federation President Vicki Saporta notes, “Telling a woman to buy a separate abortion rider that doesn’t even currently exist is not an answer.”

In Kentucky, the state is the second, after Oklahoma, to pass legislation requiring women not only to undergo an ultrasound before seeking an abortion (as is the case in many states), but to actually be shown the ultrasound screen while a technician describes the fetus in detail. If a woman chooses to avert her eyes from the screen, she will still be subjected to the technician’s description. Kentucky women also will be required to wait 24 hours before they can receive an abortion procedure.

Outrageously, there is no exemption in the bill for cases of rape or incest. Doctors who disobey the law face fines of up to $250,000.

Although Oklahoma’s bill is being challenged in court, Kentucky’s anti-choice “victory” has prompted a number of other states—including Indiana, Maryland, Montana, Ohio, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming—to consider similar legislation.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry is supporting a bill similar to Kentucky’s, which would require women who seek abortions to undergo forced ultrasounds, listen to the fetal heartbeat, and have the fetus described to them in detail hours before a scheduled abortion procedure. In fact, Perry is not only supporting the legislation, but declaring it an “emergency” priority, hinting to anti-choicers in the state that he’ll fast-track the bill for passage, even though the state is faced with an actual emergency—a budget shortfall of up to $27 billion (that’s billion with a B).

And he’s doing this even though he’s previously threatened to secede due to excessive government oversight of his state. Apparently oversight of states is not OK, but oversight of women’s bodies is?

Perry’s track record on reproductive rights is already dismal, having implemented the country’s most stringent restrictions on late-term abortions and strict parental consent rules. He also supports abstinence-only-until-marriage education for teens—which clearly doesn’t work, since Texas has some of the highest rates of teen motherhood in the country.
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