Pro-choice advocates fear that the wave of abortion restrictions sweeping through state legislatures are part of a broader strategy to completely abolish a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy – and they’re right.
The restrictions vary from state to state. North Dakota’s governor recently signed a law that could stop an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected. A federal judge temporarily blocked it, saying the measure was “clearly unconstitutional.” Texas just finished a much publicized debate about its new law that includes banning abortions after 20-weeks. Its opponents are readying legal challenges now.
In Alabama, we have a new law that requires abortion doctors to have agreements with nearby hospitals to admit their patients if something goes wrong during an abortion. It’s called having admitting privileges, but it appears our state’s hospitals don’t want anything to do with abortions or the doctors performing them.
“For a variety of reasons that differ depending on the hospital, they (the abortion doctors) cannot obtain local privileges,” reads the complaint filed in federal court in July by Planned Parenthood Southeast, which runs abortions clinics in Birmingham and Mobile, and Reproductive Health Services, which runs an abortion clinic in Montgomery. “The purpose and effect of this requirement, which is wholly unnecessary and unreasonable, is to impose a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking abortion prior to viability, in violation of their constitutional right to privacy.”
So, without nearby hospitals allowing admitting privileges, the abortion doctors couldn’t perform the procedures, clinics would lose their chief source of revenue and the facilities would close.
The true goal of the law is to “make all abortion illegal and inaccessible in Alabama,” said Nikema Williams, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood Southeast, when the Alabama bill passed last April. Despite all the talk about ensuring the facilities are safe and well-regulated, Williams and others believe the true goal is to close the state’s abortion clinics.
Of course it is, and when one considers that every week in Alabama more than 200 unborn babies are poisoned, dismembered and thrown into the trash, the admitting privileges of abortion doctors becomes an insignificant question.
A federal judge blocked Alabama’s law from taking effect until both sides ready their cases and the court decides upon its constitutionality. Until then, perhaps the pro-life movement should be careful about whatever rhetorical and legal arguments are made in support of the law. A winning point on this narrow question may come back to haunt future efforts, either by diluting our overall message that abortion always ends a life or by providing legal precedent for it to continue, just under stricter government oversight.
To be clear, we should certainly enact and defend any regulation that prevents even a single abortion, but we shouldn’t legitimize the practice, at any stage, by saying we’re focused on ensuring abortion is a well-regulated industry.
What if we win this case and the law is allowed to take effect, but a loophole is carved? The new status quo would be just as unacceptable. Our goal should remain, as Williams said, to make all abortion illegal and inaccessible in Alabama. And our strategy and arguments should always support that long-term goal, whatever short-term efforts are won or lost.
Meanwhile, it’s important to note that the pro-life movement is winning in its efforts to shutter abortion clinics, at least in Alabama.
After the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide in 1973, Alabama had about 10 abortion providers conducting less than 5,000 abortions annually, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization. That surged to 45 abortion providers statewide in the early 1980s conducting about 20,000 abortions annually in Alabama.
Since then the state has seen a steady decline. In 2005 there were only 13 abortion providers across the state. By 2008 that number dropped to eight providers, and the number of abortions fell below 11,000 in 2009, the latest year data is publicly available.
Today there are only five abortion providers left statewide, and the goal of the pro-life movement should remain to support every alternative, enact every restriction, create every obstacle, until the number of abortion providers in Alabama falls to the only acceptable number – zero.
J. Pepper Bryars grew up in Mobile and is now a writer living in Huntsville. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.