6 Reasons 2015 May Have Been The Worst Year For Reproductive Rights Since 1973
Reproductive rights were in the news nonstop in 2015, and no wonder — socially and legislatively, it may have been the worst year since Roe v. Wade was passed 43 years ago. Despite bright spots like cracking down on crisis pregnancy centers in some states, improving access to reproductive services in some regions, and defending the rights of pregnant women in the justice system, it was a year of violence, smear campaigns, shocking legislation, and horrific comments from political leaders. As we face down a presidential election, reproductive justice will be a key issue — and those of us who support the right to choose need to be on our game.
Every year, it feels like we're saying that the year before was "the worst" for reproductive rights, and every year, it's actually alarmingly true. This highlights the fact that challenges are only growing, thanks to an increasingly hostile political climate that enables the passage of anti-choice laws on the state and federal law, emboldens anti-choice groups in campaigns attacking reproductive freedoms, incentivizes aggressive political rhetoric, and drags conversations about abortion further and further right.
Thanks to the current state of reproductive rights, the Left isn't just fighting for its life — it's also fighting to bring the conversation back to a variety of reproductive health issues. Here are six reasons 2015 may just have been the worst year for reproductive rights since Roe V. Wade was passed:
1. There Was An Explosion Of Anti-Choice Legislation
In 2015, 46 states considered 396 anti-choice bills, many drawn straight out of playbooks developed by the anti-abortion industrial complex. Of those, 17 tightened up on reproductive freedoms with 57 restrictions. For those keeping track at home, since the 2010 anti-choice sweep of state and federal legislature, almost 300 anti-choice bills have passed — roughly equal to the number passed in the previous 15 years. These legislative strategies attack choice from a number of angles, but they rely on a key idea: slowly but steadily tightening restrictions, starting in the most conservative regions of the country. Thus, many of 2015's laws centered on regions that already provide limited access to reproductive health services, like the South, Indiana, and Ohio.
These laws included: increasing waiting periods, requiring intrusive abortion counseling, attacks on telemedicine abortion, laws mandating the use of outdated abortion procedures, requirements to provide patients with medically incorrect information about "reversing" abortions, slicing and dicing access to abortion and birth control in insurance plans, increasing burdens to access for teens, crackdowns on admitting privileges, fetal personhood precedents, increasing the number of ultrasound laws, beefing up on record-keeping requirements, and, in Indiana, a law putting onerous restrictions on the disposition of fetal remains.
2. We Saw Injustice At Every Turn
In November, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed to hear a case that could set a major legal precedent akin to the huge legal watershed of Roe v. Wade. Whole Women's Health v. Cole challenges targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws like those used across the country, and in Texas in this case, to make it harder for patients to access abortion services. The justices could find that such laws create an undue burden on patients and providers, setting the stage for challenging individual TRAP laws in court. Or it could agree that such laws are reasonable, and in a conservative court, that's definitely a possible outcome, and one to be extremely worried about, as it will embolden states to pass more abortion restrictions.
Indian-American Purvi Patel made headlines for a very bad reason: She was the first woman to be convicted and sent to prison under Indiana's feticide laws. The precedent of her case means she likely won't be the last. Her story is also a tragic reminder of what happens when abortion access is so restricted that patients try to self-induce — in her instance, she might have slipped by unnoticed, but she was forced to seek hospital care after something went horribly wrong. One study in Texas indicated that some 100,000 people reported that they had tried to self-induce abortions, showing that this is not just a blip on the radar.
3. An All-Out War Was Waged On Planned Parenthood
Planned Parenthood endured such systemic and sustained attacks in 2015 that the venerable reproductive health provider deserves its own category. The organization was repeatedly targeted with defunding laws on both state and federal level, via tactics like slashing Medicaid funds and pushing through multiple pieces of federal legislation attempting to explicitly strip it of federal funds. Roughly one-third of Planned Parenthood's annual revenues come from federal assistance, and thanks to the Hyde Amendment, none of these funds can be used for abortion services.
Meanwhile, the Center for Medical Progress released a series of manipulative and potentially illegal films purporting to show Planned Parenthood executives making deals to sell fetal tissue to researchers. In fact, the use of fetal tissue in medical research is entirely legal — and vitally necessary — and while sale of human tissue for research is not legal, the collection of reasonable fees for collection, handling, and storage is permissible. After filing injunctions in an attempt to block the videos, some of which compromised the safety of providers, Planned Parenthood lost the fight and the group released more videos. The National Abortion Federation also joined the legal battle in response to concerns about videos filmed at educational meetings for providers. These videos contributed to a renewed fight against such research, compromising the future of medicine in America.
In November, tragedy struck at a Colorado Springs, Co., Planned Parenthood facility when a shooter fatally wounded three people and created chaos, temporarily cutting off abortion services in Southern Colorado. Since 1993, 11 people have been killed in anti-choice violence. Clinics across the country were also subjected to a series of arsons in the wake of the CMP videos.
4. We Saw Political Rhetoric Explode
Marco Rubio reiterated his opposition to abortion exceptions for victims of incest and rape, and oddly enough, people consider him an almost moderate candidate in the Republican field. Donald Trump's campaign keeps revealing ugly truths about how it views rape, Scott Walker told supporters he doesn't agree with abortion even to save a patient's life, and Ted Cruz suggested that the Planned Parenthood shooter could be a "transgendered [sic] lefist activist." Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, and Chris Christie all made shockingly graphic comments about killing babies for body parts.
5. There Were Cuts To Social Services
While abortion tends to sit at the center of the reproductive rights conversation along with birth control, it's not the only issue. Comprehensive reproductive rights also includes the right to keep a pregnancy and stay healthy and safe — to receive prenatal services, protections from domestic violence, assistance with child care, help with food costs, and access to a safe education for their children. 2015 followed a recent trend of radical cuts to social services that help women and children, and it should not come as a surprise to learn that women and children are among the most likely to live in poverty, especially in the case of families of color.
Federal K-12 education funding is dropping, House Republicans are slashing at food assistance and Medicaid, programs specifically targeting food insecurity for women and children are vulnerable, funding cuts to domestic violence programs are hitting shelters hard, multiple states attacked Medicaid funding for OB/GYN services, states like Illinois limited child care assistance, and parenting classes were shuttered or limited.
6. The Year Set The Stage For Ominous Trends In 2016
Hopefully, the funding cuts across the board will be reversed, and we will continue to see legal victories in cases attacking TRAP laws, though some of those outcomes will hinge on the Supreme Court decision. A mobilized liberal electorate could put more pro-choice lawmakers in state and federal government, as well as a pro-choice candidate in the White House.
The alternative, though, could be the perpetuation of the steady erosion of reproductive freedom in the United States, a grim thought indeed. With Republicans wooing their base in a presidential election cycle, we will be seeing a burst of lawmaking cracking down on reproductive rights in the hope of clinching control over Congress and the White House. For every anti-choice law proposed, let alone passed, Republicans are scoring points at home, and anti-choice groups are keeping watch so they can develop fall election guides. If they have their way, 2016 could result in a conservative sweep — and in 2017, we'll be writing about how 2016 was the worst year yet for reproductive rights.
Here's hoping they lose, and I'm wrong.