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The Most Dangerous Time For Women’s Rights in Decades

| May 21, 2019

Not necessarily a museum piece. (National Museum of American History)

By Martha Burk

We’re living in the most perilous time for abortion rights and reproductive freedom since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.

While some erosion of abortion rights has occurred over the decades — parental consent laws, waiting periods, procedure curtailment — the fundamental right has largely been by ruled by the courts, and viewed by the public, as guaranteed under Roe.Around 60 percent of Americans support a legal right to the procedure.  


Now state legislatures are escalating their assault on that right — and on the women who attempt to exercise it.

Yes, merely banning abortion isn’t enough for some on the rabid right — they want to criminalize it altogether. Alabama’s legislature just passed a bill that would make performing an abortion punishable by up to 99 years in prison. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.

In Georgia, some speculate that the state’s new anti-abortion law leaves open the possibility for women obtaining an abortion after six weeks, or even miscarrying, to be charged with murder.

Since President Trump succeeded in elevating Brett Kavanaugh — an abortion foe, alleged sexual assailant, and mean drunk to boot — to the Supreme Court, his right-wing lynch mob has launched a laser-focused attack on reproductive freedom. They’ve been flooding the states with anti-abortion legislation in hopes of getting a case to the Supreme Court that will overturn Roe.

Republicans paved the way for Trump’s conservative hijack of the judiciary during Obama’s tenure. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell held the Supreme Court seat created by Justice Scalia’s death vacant for more than a year until the next election, along with 108 other federal judgeships that require only Senate approval. Trump is wasting no time filling the vacancies.

To grease the wheels, the Judiciary Committee has ended the decades-old practice of seeking advice from the American Bar Association on nominee qualifications and started holding hearings during congressional recesses. Recently the Senate voted to shortcut the process even more by reducing the time between final confirmation votes on district court judges from 30 hours to just two.

other-wordsCurrently, 85 percent of Trump’s circuit court nominees are members of the Federalist Society, an ultra-conservative legal network strongly connected to anti-abortion organizations.

Many of Trump’s nominees for lower courts are outspoken foes of abortion rights themselves. Case in point: In a ruling upholding the constitutionality of a Kentucky law requiring abortion providers to perform an ultrasound and make the fetal heartbeat audible to the patient, Judge John K. Bush referred to “unborn life” rather than “fetus.”

Packing the courts with anti-choice judges is a necessary precursor of the larger strategy taking aim squarely at Roe. Judges can’t decide until they have something to decide on — and arch-conservative zealots are serving up plenty of potential cases.

More than 250 bills restricting abortions have been filed in 41 states this year. At least a third have successfully passed 20-week abortion bans, based on the unfounded assertion that a fetus can feel pain 20 weeks after fertilization. “Fetal heartbeat bans,” which outlaw abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, have passed in at least six states and are being pushed in several more. Some of these laws, like Ohio’s, offer no exceptions for rape or incest.

Doctors say such bans could outlaw abortions as early as five weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant. Though laws have been blocked from taking effect pending court challenges, abortion opponents are banking on at least one of these attempts being upheld by Trump’s anti-abortion Supreme Court majority, overturning Roe.

Georgia and Alabama have moved the goalposts for extreme anti-abortion laws. But the most horrific bill of all was recently debated in the Texas state legislature. It defines all abortions as murder, punishable by death in Texas. It hasn’t passed yet, but the numbers are frightening: 446 people testified in favor the Texas measure, with only 54 standing against it.

Will burning at the stake be next? Be very afraid.

Martha Burk is the director of the Corporate Accountability Project for the National Council of Women’s Organizations (NCWO) and the author of the book Your Voice, Your Vote. Follow Martha on Twitter @MarthaBurk.

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20 Responses for “The Most Dangerous Time For Women’s Rights in Decades”

  1. Edith Campins says:

    This administration and its Republican minions are taking us back to the dark ages one state, one law at a the time.
    Abortion is a personal choice and only the individual knows the factors the make it a necessary choice. We need the government and the zealots out of our lives. What makes your view more valid than mine? Why are your religious beliefs more important than mine? What gives anyone the right to tell me what to do with my body? No one is asking you to pay for an abortion or to have one.
    Where are the laws telling males what they can or cannot do with their bodies?

  2. Laura says:

    Alongside this is the equally concerning (if not more so) HB 544, currently up for the Alabama house. This would mean that if you accuse someone of rape and they get a ‘not guilty’ verdict, you’re liable for up to ten years in prison – meaning that if the Sheriff bungles evidence, or similar situations (keep in mind ‘not guilty’ does not mean ‘innocent’) you could be facing more prison time than your rapist ever will. Who’s going to report rape? Is it safe for me to go to Uni in Alabama any more, knowing how frats work?

    We really are stepping into the dark ages.

  3. DSkeels says:

    The right to life first and foremost can only be forfeited if a person becomes an active threat to another person or commits a particularly heinous and violent crime. Since there can be no such thing as punitive abortion or proportion in self-defense, all is evil because all abortion kills innocent and defenseless people. You can disagree with our case, but if our “don’t kill people” position sends you into a blind rage, that should tell you something about your own psychological state.

  4. Agkistrodon says:

    Just think about the rights of UNBORN FEMALES. Don’t THEY have any rights?

  5. Michael Cocchiola says:

    O.k., DSkeels, tell me again how you can make that very convenient judgment that abortion is evil, yet state-mandated death for “a particularly heinous and violent crime” is quite acceptable? And you cleverly worked in justification for guns and stand your ground murder (“active threat”). Nice going. Except isn’t killing another human being still a killing? If you are Christian, does your God somehow differentiate between an abortion and an execution?

  6. Palmcoaster says:

    You just said it Michael, Dkeels advocates against women’s rights with the excuse of “don’t kill people” betcha she is totally supportive of the death penalty at the same time. Such a hypocrisy!
    Leave Roe versus Wade off your paws.

  7. Mary Fusco says:

    Any woman who is sexually active and does not wish for a pregnancy needs to be on birth control. This way you are in control of your body and do not have to chase some guy for child support. If a woman is the victim of rape or incest, a decision needs to be made early. Abortion is not a form of birth control1!

  8. snapperhead says:

    My feelings on abortion are if you don’t believe in them then don’t get one. It’s nobody’s business outside of the persons involved.Believing in the spooky guy in the sky fairy tale doesn’t give you the right to stick your nose in other peoples business.

  9. iva hadit says:

    Mary Fusco, no one said abortion was a “form of birth control”. News flash — contraception doesn’t always work. Also, over 90 percent of abortions are done in the first trimester. One more thing… abortion is a private matter. Everyone else MYOB!

  10. Agkistrodon says:

    Snapperhead, I am Not a Christian, NOR ANY religion. I am a University Trained BIOLOGIST, Yet I still do NOT believe in the killing of an unborn child.

  11. Lin says:

    Until recently, I believed abortion should be safe legal and rare. I am a feminist but I can tell you that my definition of feminism differs from many feminists. When I was very young, and before the recent years’ scientific advances, I thought of the fetus as a clump of cells. Not anymore.

    The heart begins to beat in the embryo very early and the fetus can be viable at the end of the 2nd trimester. That’s a baby. And all the whooping and laughing by the New York legislators and the Virginia governor’s blithe comments as a doctor about the mother deciding life or death even after the birth is disgusting. No, this is not a woman’s rights issue anymore. That baby has rights, and what about the father? Animals have more rights than our own children? This is not something to be celebrated and videos put out about how happy I am I had an abortion or several abortions. For goodness sake, birth control is abundant.

    Before you throw those exceptions at me, I do believe that there are times when abortion may be compassionately considered, health of mother and baby, rape, incest. But look at the science, read the JAMA, we know such a mountain more about fetal development since those Supreme Court justices made that Roe vs Wade decision. And there are many women who made the decision back then without the knowledge that we have now. Many women do not know the history of the racial component to Margaret Sanger’s goals. Think about it, consider this is a life that the woman is taking.

    This is not just an abstract concept that we can all use as political concept. Have a heart.

  12. starryid says:

    NEWSFLASH – Iva had it to some abortion IS a form of birth control… You are right that abortion IS a “private” matter and should be paid for accordingly – from ” private” funds – not our tax dollars!

  13. snapperhead says:

    Agkistrodon..who cares what you believe and what you claim to be trained in…it’s none of your business if you’re not directly involved. Government shoudn’t mandate that a woman give birth to a child they don’t want. No statistics to prove it but i’d bet the pro-lifers made up a majority of the people furious over a government mandate for health insurance. but they’re ok with a much more burdensome government mandate..hypocrites much? No need for the extraneous use of CAPS either.

  14. Agkistrodon says:

    Snapperhead, That is Funny cause you are the one who brought up the “spooky Guy” in the sky, but when I tell you that does not apply to me you turn it. That dog don’t hunt. Find another excuse.

  15. Bill says:

    History will view the abortion era as it does slavery. Abortion will end as slavery ended, it the abortion era will be a stain on our culture forever.

  16. Sherry says:

    Men should NOT be making decisions about the rights of women over such vital and scared control of their own bodies. . . period!

    Those of you who put a fetus’ rights above a women’s rights . . . who in the hell are you to make such a determination?

    I have actually held the hand of a friend during such a procedure. . . very early in pregnancy. She was 17 and date raped. Of course her “boy friend” was a no show. Her very poor and religious parents also. Her doctor told her she had a bad heart and would likely not even survive the pregnancy even if she could care for the child. OK. . . what would you do if that were your daughter or sister? FORCE her to go through a highly life threatening pregnancy and be burdened with a child at age 17, or put yet another baby in the lousy “social system”. in the USA

    The lady is now happily married and a successful professional photographer. Who are any of you to make such critical decisions for others? A woman’s body and life are hers to protect and control within reasonable legal limits. Men don’t have a clue, and should stay completely out of it!!!

  17. Lin says:

    I’ve done my share of handholding in my life too — we were 18 years old. She was confronted with a pregnancy. Her boyfriend told her to get an abortion she refused and raised that child who is now a successful doctor with children of his own.

    I agree with you, Sherry, about exceptions. But we all have life experiences and the “who the hell are you to decide?” is how we got laws protecting partial birth abortions and infanticide. Someone has to consider the innocent life of the baby.

  18. beachcat says:

    Don’t you just love it? White men and most Republicans love to save that fetus, but when it is born, they send out hate messages. Why? Because they won’t expand Medicaid to assist children who need insurance. Why? Because instead of banning assault weapons, they want to encourage gun owners to shoot up schools and kill children….and even arm teachers, for God’s sake.Three is more. You get the picture. Right wing legislators don’t care about children. They just wish to become famous for their unprecedented, unfair, illegal legislation. Folks, abortion is none of your business.

  19. Sherry says:

    Excellent points beachcat!

    The majority of “right to lifers” are often the first ones to morally judge and ridicule single mothers. Meanwhile, they complain about taxes for social services to feed the children they insisted be born. They are hypocrites who insist all fetuses be born and then refuse to provide assistance with the huge, life changing burden of such FORCED decisions. They only support “RIGHT TO BIRTH”. . . to hell with what happens afterwards!

    I would love to know where that same “moral outrage” is when it comes to the of down right lies and twisted, misleading statements that pour out of the White House daily . Oh “obstruction of justice, and circumventing Congress”. . . that is all OK! What horrifically despicable points of view from those who threw away their moral compass years ago!

  20. Jay Thomas Goldman says:

    I would like to say no matter how you want to paint this it comes down to either defending abortion as birth control or down right Nazism, eliminate the weaker members of society who might drain resources from the healthy. Should we sterilize people too to keep them from passing on inferior genes? I remember my parents, aunts and uncles talking about growing with and suffering under Nazis and how they said it could never happen here. I’m sure a lot of the people in Germany and elsewhere who espoused and even fought for Nazi ideas didn’t do it for evil but thought it was right. But thinking it right doe not make it so. I speak harshly because this is a harsh subject. The killing of the weakest human being even an unborn one speaks volumes about any society. We should find compassionate care for those who have an unplanned pregnancy and for those whose who are victims. I know its a tough path and I have walked it myself. 42 years ago my now wife got pregnant at 17. We looked into all options and I am glad we chose to keep our daughter, I can’t imagine life without her even with ALL the hardships

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