By STEFANIE LEVI
The struggle for women’s right to choose gained an important, if temporary, victory in the state of Texas. On June 29, in a five to four vote, the U. S. Supreme Court blocked HB2, a portion of Texas’ new abortion laws that would have forced the July 1 closure of many of the state’s abortion clinics. Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer, and Kennedy granted the application for an emergency stay in the case of Whole Women’s health, et al v. Cole, Commissioner, and Texas DHS, et al.
This action puts on hold a June 9 ruling from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that had previously upheld Texas’ new abortion laws as “not being unconstitutionally burdensome on women.” This will allow a number of clinics to remain open, including Whole Women’s Health, in Austin, whose owners filed the lawsuit with the Supreme Court [SCOTUS].
In its statement on the decision, NARAL Pro-Choice America pointed out: “In early June, the politically charged 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld provisions of an anti-abortion law passed in 2013, HB2. The law has already forced more than half of Texas’  abortion clinics to close and would leave the state with fewer than 10 abortion clinics had the Supreme Court not intervened.”
“[The decision] only postpones a public health disaster,” said NARAL Pro-Choice Executive Director Heather Busby. “Health care should not depend on your zip code or your bank balance. We can celebrate this decision today, but the reality is that Texans’ health and safety are still in jeopardy.”
The statistical impact of the justices’ ruling was succinctly voiced by Susan Hays, legislative counsel for NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, “If the Court had not issued this order today, we would have more than 60,000 Texas women trying to fit through nine clinic doors per year.” Hays also said the stay will ensure low-income women and those living in rural areas can access clinics closer to home.
“We’re relieved that the High Court has, once again, prevented anti-choice politicians from pushing safe and affordable abortion care entirely out of reach for Texas women, said Amy Hagstrom Miller, chief executive of Whole Women’s Health, one of the plaintiffs in the case.
The ever-morphing strategies of the religious right and politicians whose aim is to completely overturn women’s constitutional right to safe abortion, as ruled by SCOTUS in 1973 in Roe v. Wade, are evident in Texas’ HB2 and in a plethora of other states’ anti-abortion legislation. Severely circumscribing the entire social milieu necessary for women to receive accurate medical information about abortion procedures and to have a safe, timely abortion has been the modus operandi of anti-abortion proponents for five decades.
HB2 would have banned all abortions except in the case of rape or incest with a minor. It required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges with a hospital located within 30 miles of the clinic, and stated that clinics must contain the same equipment as ambulatory surgery centers. Moreover, clinics were required to administer abortion-inducing medications in the presence of a doctor, a stipulation that would have forced many patients to travel long distances.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ June 9 ruling was a clear example of how legal precedent is set in the apparently never-ending war on women’s right to choose abortion. The three Fifth Circuit judges who wrote the opinion pointed to the 1992 Supreme Court ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld Pennsylvania’s 24-hour waiting period for any woman seeking an abortion. The SCOTUS justices found that such restrictions were constitutional unless they proved to be an “undue burden” for women seeking abortions.
The Fifth Circuit judges followed many other state courts in their interpretation of the “undue burden” clause in order to uphold increasingly restrictive abortion laws. The appellate judges noted that the High Court had acknowledged in Casey that Pennsylvania’s 24-hour waiting period would be “particularly burdensome” for poor rural women and would have ‘the effect of increasing the cost and risk of delay of abortions,’ but the Court had not considered such factors to be an “undue burden.”
In recent anti-abortion legislation, the religious or political authors and proponents often couch the control over women’s reproductive rights in terms of “concern for the health and welfare of the mother and fetus.” This is particularly appealing to those looking to build careers in the religious sector and those hell-bent on promoting their own political trajectories. But this manipulation comes at the cost of the quality of women’s and children’s lives—if not life itself!
The constant battles on multiple fronts for every woman in the U. S. to have the right to safe and legal abortion as protected under Roe v. Wade is a reminder of the roots of those same struggles here and elsewhere on our planet—in particular under capitalist regimes.
Dianne Feeley, in Against the Current, reviewing Leslie Reagan’s book, “When Abortion Was A Crime,” points out that for white women in the early days of European settlement on this continent, and later, also for slave women in what is now the United States, abortion was not a crime. According to “both Common Law and popular belief … prior to quickening, a woman had a right to abort the fetus and restore her menstruation cycle.” It was precisely with the advent of the American Medical Association in 1857 that the formal campaign to make abortion illegal was initiated.
Just a couple of years before Roe v. Wade was passed, in her book “Woman’s Estate,” Juliet Mitchell told us: “Degrees of availability of contraception and abortion differ in the various countries. In all of them its distribution and safety is random and haphazard. In none of them is it considered the automatic right of every woman. In all of them it is the privilege of the rich (white middle class) or the abuse of the poor (e.g. the use of Puerto Ricans as guinea pigs in testing birth control devices).
“Even the most liberal laws on abortion, as in Scandinavia, England and New York, force the woman to provide ‘reasons’ which are equivalent to self-denigration (physical or financial difficulties are rarely as acceptable as confession of psychological ineptitude). All this in industrial countries urging (for the rest of the world?) population control: countries extolling individualism and its correlate—a high degree of personal attention for the young child.
“All these countries exhibit an essential imbalance of production and consumption. Women as housewives are seen as the main agents of consumption. The ethic of consumption (spending money) is counterposed divisively to that of production (creating wealth)— the province of the husband. Appealed to as consumers, women are also the chief agents of that appeal: used aesthetically and sexually they sell themselves to themselves. Used in these advertisements they also lure men into the temptation of ‘luxury’ spending.
“Woman’s fundamental job as provider of food, health and welfare comes to seem an extravagance and so does she along with it. Her responsibility for the most basic needs of people is converted into a leisure-time activity and she a play-thing (if she is young enough) that accompanies such work.”
At the intersection of race, gender, sexuality, class, and geography, women in the U.S. (and in other countries) must rise together in organized struggle to take control over our biology, which includes all of our reproductive rights. This means we will have to use defensive and offensive strategies to combat the confrontations and setbacks thrown our way through regressive and progressive reformists and by the radical right-wing anti-abortionists, just to keep our little bit of ground as we advance.
Photo: Pro-choice activists face anti-abortion proponents in Austin, Texas, in January 2015. Eric Gay / AP