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Eleanor J. Bader
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O nce upon a time, physicians- in-training learned to do abortions as a routine part of their schooling. As a result, the roster of experienced practitioners grew. What’s more, a network of freestanding clinics developed and the number of abortions began to increase. By 1980—seven years after the Supreme Court issued the Roe v. Wade decision—29.3 of every 1,000 pregnancies were surgically terminated.
Flash forward to 2003. According to a recent study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI), the surgical abortion rate is now 21.3 per 1,000, a 3 percent decline since 1996 and a 27 percent decline since l980. Not surprisingly, the anti- abortion movement is ecstatic and its leaders are patting themselves on the back for a job well done. Some of their jubilation is well-founded. The anti-abortion movement has clearly succeeded in getting states to promulgate onerous restrictions on access; the percentage of teenagers having sexual intercourse has fallen; and encounters with vitriolic picketers in front of clinics have made many women think twice about ending a pregnancy.
Nonetheless, it is a mistake to give the antis full credit for the reduced number of procedures. Indeed, AGI estimates that increased access to birth control, including “morning after” emergency contraception, has contributed to the abortion drop-off. According to AGI calculations, 51,000 abortions were prevented by emergency contraception in 2000 alone.Lawrence B. Finer, Assistant Director of Research at AGI, also believes that mifepristone (formerly called RU-486) has played a small but significant role in abortion provision: 6 percent of all abortions—130,000 procedures—were done with mifepristone during the first 6 months of 2001 and Finer believes that this percentage will escalate as both providers and patients become more familiar with the drug.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends. The AGI study, released on the 30th anniversary of the Roe decision, reveals a huge decrease in the number of clinics, hospitals, and private physicians who perform abortions, from 2,908 in 1982 to 1,819 today. This decrease has had a significant pragmatic impact: 1 in 4 women now have to travel at least 50 miles to obtain reproductive healthcare. Worse, 8 percent have to travel 100 miles or more. Overall, the picture is stark: 86 of the country’s 276 metropolitan areas—cities like Canton, Ohio; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Provo, Utah; and Scranton, Pennsylvania—are without a single abortion facility and only 3 percent of rural counties have providers.
Part of the blame for this limited access rests on the fact that 57 percent of the doctors who perform abortions are aged 50 and older. Couple this with a bewildering and costly array of state-imposed restrictions on how, when, and where a provider can operate, and you can practically see the number of clinicians dwindle before your eyes.
The restrictions, called Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider (TRAP) laws, allow states to place specific licensing or management obligations on abortion facilities, restrictions that are not imposed on other types of ambulatory health centers. Says the National Abortion Federation (NAF), “TRAP laws are designed to discourage doctors from providing abortion services.” Such laws are presently in effect in 17 states and Puerto Rico.
A relatively new way to restrict access, they are already having a disastrous impact.
Take South Carolina as a case in point. In 1995 providers there received a 30-page document from the Department of Health and Environmental Control dictating a bevy of licensing requirements for anyone performing 5 or more abortions a month in either a private office or clinic. Among the requirements: 6 air changes per hour in the recovery and operating rooms; temperature maintenance between 72 to 76 degrees at all times; removal of grass and weeds from land surrounding the office; and the installation of particular alarms in all restrooms. The regulations also gave state health inspectors the right to peruse patient records whenever they choose, confidentiality be damned. Although a lower court found the law to be unconstitutional, in September 2002 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit overturned the decision. “The rationality of distinguishing between abortion and other medical services when regulating physicians or women’s health care providers has long been acknowledged,” the judges wrote. “Abortion is inherently different from other medical procedures.”
This judicial go-ahead emboldened the antis and 10 states are presently considering a variety of TRAP laws. “The bills come in two flavors,” says Janet Crepps, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy. “Some put all the details—air current restrictions; staffing requirements; regulations about temperature and door width—into the legislation. Other bills are very broad and give state licensing departments the right to draft regulations for abortion clinics. These restrictions leave providers vulnerable to constant changes. A shift in the legislature can lead to a shift in licensing staff so every two years there can be new rules. When this happens abortion stops being medical care and becomes a political football.”
In South Carolina there has been a 29 percent drop in the number of providers since the state’s TRAP law took effect in 2001; 10 remaining clinics are concentrated in three cities: Charleston, Columbia, and Greenville. Add to the mix the fact that the state does not fund Medicaid abortions and requires young women to get the consent of a parent or guardian before having the procedure, and the reasons South Carolina’s abortion rate has declined become exceedingly clear.
Still, at this juncture, one-third of all women in the U.S. will have an abortion at some point between ages 15 and 45. This number may be smaller than it used to be, but it is nevertheless significant.
The National Coalition of Abortion Providers (NCAP) is urging reproductive health activists to not only fight burdensome TRAP laws, but to reframe the debate by reclaiming the ethical ground that reproductive choice represents. “While more than one million women a year have abortions in the United states, abortion is a highly stigmatized procedure,” NCAP’s website admits. “Most people are uncomfortable talking about the issue and if they do it is often in judgmental or uninformed terms. The stigma associated with abortion can have unfortunate consequences. It can cause unnecessary guilt or remorse and it can lead to a feeling of alienation or isolation...supporters of legal abortion need to challenge the notion that abortion is immoral. It is time to lift the veil of secrecy and candidly address the core of the abortion experience: the relief, the conflict, the confusion, the sadness and the empowerment.”
Eleanor J. Bader is the co-author of Targets of Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism and a frequent contributor to In These Times, Library Journal, the NY Law Journal, and the Progressive
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.