By Joan Trossman Bien
Forty years ago I heard the words that I never imagined would be spoken: The United States Supreme Court has held that abortion is legal. I grew up in Illinois where it was illegal and I went to college in Colorado where it was illegal. Like so many other students, I had a plan and access to $400. That’s what it would cost to go to California for an abortion, if necessary.
I was just lucky in that I never had an unplanned pregnancy. My generation fought mightily to make the procedure legal. We won. It is legal. A lot of people seem to have forgotten that fact.
In New Mexico, a Republican lawmaker has introduced the most insane of all anti-abortion ploys, one that is a cowardly, back-handed attempt to make it illegal for the most vulnerable of all pregnancies. It messes with a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy that was caused by rape or incest.
Republican Cathrynn Brown introduced a bill that would make it a third-degree felony to tamper with evidence in a criminal rape case. That evidence being the fetus. Seriously. An abortion would be considered a case of tampering with evidence.
The proposed law reads:
“Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is a result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime.”
Apparently, the victim of the rape, whose body inexplicably failed to repel the pregnancy, as implied by a Republican in Congress, must continue with the pregnancy until the evidence, er, baby, is born. Voila! The evidence arrives!
Never mind the rape kit evidence collected at the hospital. Thousands of such rape kits all over the country are waiting a long time to be processed. That is the evidence.. But Brown knows that.
When reasonable politicians heard about Brown’s outrageous bill, the indignation of men of conscience and the outrage of women with working brains wailed through the night. Brown could not hold her ground and learned, to her surprise and horror, that the result of her bill would be the prosecution of the rape victim if she terminated the pregnancy.
So Brown rewrote the offensive law to protect the victim from prosecution. Instead, it would bring down the wrath of the state on the heads of the physician and other health professionals.
I will admit that Roe v. Wade is not written as well as it should have been. Each time a court has been faced with a challenge to the law, the rulings have made it harder to get an abortion.
In 1976, the Hyde Amendment prevented the federal government from paying for abortions for poor women. That put the financial burden on the shoulders of the poorest women, those least able to afford an abortion, much less a child. It was the beginning of a long slide downhill.
The high court, in its infinite wisdom, has allowed states to place reasonable restrictions on abortion. It was in 1995 in the Casey case where the language became really unclear. A new standard was established just for women and abortions. It said that no state restriction may place an “undue burden” on a women’s ability to get access to having an abortion.
2011 was a banner year for the aggressive cult that calls itself the “pro-life” movement. Ninety-two restrictions on abortion made it into the law books. I’m certain that all 92 laws aimed at restricting the legal rights of women do not place an undue burden on restricting a woman’s access.
2012 saw another 43 restrictions placed on women and more than half of those laws, 24 to be specific, were passed in only six states. Those restrictions attacked insurance coverage, later abortions, and medication abortion. No undue burden there, apparently.
In states where all abortion providers have been driven out, often in fear for their lives, it is now illegal to prescribe medication to terminate a pregnancy if the prescription is made through telecommuncations. Those doctors are now required to meet the woman face to face before they can prescribe. Since there are no providers in those states, it is not possible to meet the standards of the laws. Undue burden?
Virginia defiantly passed a law that requires a woman to undergo an ultrasound along with a waiting period before she can have her pregnancy terminated.
Virginia also passed a law which requires a facility that performs more than five abortions a month to meet the same architectural standards as a hospital. That law is still under review. I guess if the facility performs no more than five terminations a month, its architecture is just fine.
In Michigan, any facility that performs more than 120 abortions a year must meet the same architectural and licensing standards as an out-patient surgi-center. I guess if that they perform 119 abortions in a year, they don’t need a license or an architectural upgrade.
In just two years, 135 restrictions have been placed on a woman’s right to control her own reproductive destiny. Again, it seems that all 135 of these new restrictions, all together, do not place an undue burden on a woman. The Supreme Court is just now realizing precisely why it takes a lot of care and foresight to presume to take on the responsibility of setting a new constitutional standard. Looks like the one set in Casey was a bust. But we are now stuck with it.
Is the law of the land so irrelevant that a small minority of citizens feel it is their duty to undermine the critical rights of all American women? If they are against abortion, then they shouldn’t have one.
It also seems incredibly out of whack that most lawmakers are still men. Should they really have the power to determine the destiny of all women?
So who are the real criminals? And why are we still fighting the same war that was won more than a generation ago?
Joan Trossman Bien has been writing news most of her professional life. She started writing as an intern at KNX Newsradio and wrote as a freelancer at nearly every television station in Los Angeles. She graduated from law school in 2004. At present, she is a regular writer for cover features at the Ventura County Reporter and Pasadena Weekly. She enjoys writing about an array of topics including health care, politics, women’s issues, and social justice. Bien lives with her journalist husband in Ventura County. They have one grown daughter who is also a journalist. Bien hales from Glencoe, Ill., a small suburb outside Chicago.