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Reproductive Rights Receding More Quickly for Some Women: A Review of “Crow After Roe“

(Image: IG Publishing)

Crow After Roe: How ‘Separate But Equal’ Has Become the New Standard in Women’s Health and How We Can Change That
by Robin Marty and Jessica Mason Pieklo
Forward by Gloria Feldt, IG Publishing, 2013
$16.95 paperback

Forty years post-Roe, advocates for reproductive justice have little to brag about. After all, women who have abortions are often shamed and scorned. What’s more, most of the country prohibits Medicaid from paying for abortions, imposes parental consent and notification requirements on teens, requires waiting periods between scheduling a procedure and actually having it, and mandates pre-abortion “counseling” that is all-too-frequently filled with misrepresentations and factual deception. That said, there’s also no reason for pro-choicers to hang their heads.

Authors Marty and Pieklo, both regular contributors to RH Reality Check, a daily blog focused on news and analysis about reproductive health and gender justice, zero in on 11 states: Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Texas and Utah. Each of those states, the authors report, have passed laws intended to force the Supreme Court to reconsider the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

The anti-abortion/contraception right wing has scored many short-term victories: passing bills banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, limiting the use of Skyped telemedical conferences to counsel women opting for medical abortions, criminalizing women who use drugs or alcohol while pregnant, forcing patients to view ultrasound images of the fetus they plan to abort, requiring visits to blatantly Christian “crisis pregnancy centers” before scheduling an abortion, and limiting access to contraception in federally funded health centers. Many of these measures are presently in legal limbo because of ongoing court challenges.

Gloria Feldt, former president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, puts the attacks in context. “Abortion is just the tip of a much larger ideological iceberg about women’s place in the world. The anti-choice right has leveled a volume and variety of attacks never before seen in this nation, and they will not stop until Roe is overturned and women are second-class citizens again,” she wrote in an introduction to the book.

The upshot, however, is not the same for all women, and Marty and Pieklo make clear that “while safe abortion will always be available for those with economic means, just as it was before Roe,” for rural and low-income women and women of color, the ability to obtain an abortion has become increasingly limited, creating the same type of segregation in reproductive health care that Jim Crow created in many arenas of the pre-1960s South. “In addition,” they continue, “rather than assisting these women by helping them prevent unintended pregnancies in the first place, the same politicians and activists working to end abortion are also trying to eliminate women’s ability to access contraception, either by extinguishing family planning funding, targeting and closing reproductive care clinics, or denying medical attention and birth control, under the name of conscience rights.”

Nowhere is this more blatant than in Texas. While many states and localities have tried to keep funds issued through Title X of the Public Health Services Act from going to Planned Parenthood, ultraconservative Texas governor Rick Perry has succeeded. He not only took $5 million in family planning funding away from the reproductive health care provider, he gave the money to sectarian crisis pregnancy centers, allowing them to proselytize more widely than ever before about the alleged evils of abortion and birth control. Perry calls it “state’s rights” and while his argument is not new, one of his rallying cries is that neither abortion nor contraception fall under the rubric of health care. This lunacy may give those who support reproductive justice an organizing mantle, for it’s hard to imagine most people agreeing with Perry and his allies on this.

A chant from the early 1990s keeps replaying in my head: “Abortion is health care; health care is a right.” Catchy, no?

Much of Crow After Roe centers on legal arguments – court cases are highlighted – with little focus on the actual individuals who are impacted by particular laws. One case, however, is showcased, and it is particularly egregious. When Indiana resident Bei Bei Shuai was eight months pregnant, she discovered that her boyfriend had lied to her. They couldn’t marry, he confessed, because he already had a wife in another state. Shocked and despondent, Shuai ingested rat poison in an attempt to kill herself. But she did not die. Instead, friends found her and took her to the emergency room, where she was treated. She recovered; her newborn daughter did not, and after languishing for several days, the baby, whom Shuai named Angel, died. Shuai was subsequently charged under the state’s feticide law. Lawyers representing Shuai argued that since suicide is not illegal in Indiana, the prosecution implied that trying to kill oneself is a crime only if attempted by a pregnant woman. In addition, they argued that the prosecution was unfairly selective, because under state law it is a class B felony “to intentionally cause another human being, by force, duress or deception to commit suicide,” and her ex was never arrested. Charges against Shuai are currently pending.

Other cases in which women ingested harmful substances while pregnant are also scrutinized in Crow After Roe. The authors’ conclusion is stark: “Under the pretense of protecting life, more and more states are subjecting women to criminal liabilities for pregnancies gone wrong. Much like the push for fetal personhood, feticide prosecutions targeting pregnant women effectively strip women of full legal status and instead place their rights and interests subordinate to those of the fetus.”

So what can be done to win back what has been lost? How can we be proactive rather than simply reactive? Some of Marty and Pieklo’s suggestions are standard fare: Elect more pro-choice legislators to statehouses and Congress, and support Planned Parenthood and other providers, to name a few. They also recommend building campaigns for reproductive choice through on-the-ground old-fashioned community organizing. One suggestion: expose taxpayer financing of crisis pregnancy centers and religious hospitals and push the government to fund agencies that dispense contraception instead.

I agree that this would be a good start, but much more is needed to win the hearts and minds of people who have been bombarded with messages linking abortion and murder.

People are moved by stories – a lesson made apparent by gay marriage proponents and those favoring immigration reform. When we hear about loving LGBT couples being treated unfairly, or about hardworking, taxpaying folks whose lives are hampered because they lack of a piece of paper, attitudes shift.

The same may be true for abortion. The Supreme Court did not write the Roe decision in a vacuum. The decision was issued after a broad social movement publicized the harm caused to real, living-and-breathing women by abortion restrictions. Today’s reproductive justice movement has, for the most part, shied away from the personal in favor of the political. It may be time to change course and once again remind one another of what it’s like to face an ill-timed or impossible pregnancy.