June 27, 2016.
When San Diego’s Coalition for Reproductive Justice (formerly the Coalition for Reproductive Choice), scheduled a June 27, 2016 screening of Trapped many moons ago, we were ignorant of the date’s auspices. Trapped follows the travails of abortion providers and their patients following the enactment of HB 2—the 2013 Texas law requiring that (a) doctors performing abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic; and, (b) each abortion clinic meet standards for ambulatory surgical care centers. Serendipitously, we aired Trapped just hours after the Supreme Court of the United States held that HB 2 unconstitutionally placed an “undue burden” on women seeking an abortion in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
A little history: Traditionally, abortion foes prioritized the fetus, whereas advocates of abortion access have prioritized women’s lives and right to self-determination over any competing rights of the fetus.
In the last decade, the right-to-life camp has shifted gears, claiming that they are on the side of women—the more barriers to abortion, the better for women. Abortion, they began to argue, is inherently harmful to the woman physically, emotionally, and mentally. (NB: None of this is borne out by the evidence. Abortion is safer than childbirth. It is safer than a colonoscopy. Safer than liposuction. And, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), abortion does not cause mental health problems for most women.)
A survey of available data (courtesy of the Guttmacher Institute and the APA) suggests that abortion is not harmful to women. What is harmful is the stigma our society attaches to abortion, and the strategically placed barriers to early abortion access. (Early abortions are safer and less expensive than later ones). What I love most about Whole Woman’s Health is the Court’s refusal to give credence to falsified claims that TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion providers) laws do anything to help women. Why the refusal? Because the claims are not supported by evidence. We lawyers traffic in facts, and the record in Whole Woman’s Health is chock-full of facts demonstrating that barriers to abortion care are unhelpful and even dangerous.
The Court found the stated justification–keeping women safer–to be seriously lacking, and it found an unconstitutional undue burden. Among other persuasive facts, the Court considered that most abortions are not surgical, but medical (where the woman takes a pill to induce the abortion); thus, repudiating the opposition's assertion that abortions ought to occur at ambulatory surgical care centers.
State laws similar to HB 2 have proliferated in the past few years and are expected to face serious scrutiny in the wake of Whole Woman’s Health. As a result, the anti-abortion camp is expected to again revamp its strategy, returning their focus to the rights of the fetus, while reproductive justice advocates will continue to work toward the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, economic, and social well-being of women and girls.
The atmosphere at CRJ’s screening of Trapped was celebratory yet somber. In the wake of HB 2’s enactment, Texas lost half of its abortion clinics. Rebuilding will take time, and in the three years it took the case to wind its way through the courts, real women and girls bore HB 2’s consequences.
This blog was authored by Rebecca Zipp. Rebecca Zipp is the proud owner of a Notorious RBG t-shirt.