TPM Cafe: Opinion

Abortion Rights May Be In Shambles By July 1

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Sipa USA / Olivier Douliery

A last-minute temporary injunction of Kansas’s new ban on D&E abortions will keep that state from losing the ability to offer abortion services past the first trimester, a situation that would have occurred otherwise as of July 1. District Court Judge Larry Hendricks announced on Thursday that the ban will be put on hold for now while litigation surrounding the law continues. Without the injunction, abortion clinics must either induce labor to end a pregnancy that has proceeded past 14 weeks gestation, or simply tell the patient to carry her pregnancy to term.

Meanwhile, July 1 is also the start date of a new 48-hour, face-to-face waiting period the Tennessee legislature passed earlier this spring. That waiting period, as well as a law requiring all abortion clinics meet much more stringent, medically unnecessary “ambulatory surgical center” regulations, was signed by the Governor in May and also will be enforced at the first of the month. A request for an injunction was filed late on June 25, and it is unclear yet if a judge will block it.

Tennessee’s previous 48-hour waiting period was blocked by the state supreme court in 2000. However, a statewide voter referendum in 2014 changed the language of the state constitution to allow the legislature to pass more bills challenging the right to an abortion. This constitutional change has abortion opponents convinced that this time the state court will not intervene on their new restrictions.

Florida, too, will have their own new face-to-face, two-appointment waiting period effective on July 1st, although theirs is just 24 hours long. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida and the Center for Reproductive Rights is representing providers who sued to stop that waiting period from going into effect. Whether or not abortion rights supporters will walk away at the end of the month with an injunction is still up in the air, although a judge said he would rule “very soon.” Mandatory 24-hour waits are not uncommon in the country, with Wisconsin, Ohio and Texas among those who make a person make two trips at least 24 hours apart in order to terminate a pregnancy. This makes it harder for legal experts to argue that it is an undue burden on a person trying to obtain an abortion and successfully get the law blocked.

Face-to-face, in-person doctors’ visits prior to a mandatory waiting period is the simplest way to double the physical and financial resources necessary for a pregnant person to obtain an abortion. It also exponentially increases the time it takes to schedule an abortion now that each patient must be seen by a doctor twice. Even worse, these new laws have been passed in states that traditionally have better access to abortion clinics than their far more conservative neighbors, making them the place pregnant people turn to when they want to get an abortion without jumping through nearly so many hoops in the process.

The arrival of out-of-state abortion seekers was in fact one of the key motivators of anti-abortion politicians who introduced Tennessee’s two-day wait. They cited the state’s alleged reputation as an “abortion destination” and the fact that that approximately 25 percent of those seeking terminations were not state residents as a sign that the state had become a fixture in “abortion tourism.” In reality, by being buttressed by states like Mississippi, Arkansas and Missouri, all of which have only one clinic, and Alabama and Kentucky, which are limited in access as well, the real shock is that they don’t see more out-of-state patients for abortions to start with.

Florida is in a similar situation, due to its proximity to Georgia and Alabama, which both have clinic access issues in the southern half of the state. Alabama’s own 48 hour wait makes navigating the system difficult for those who don’t live in one of the two cities in the bottom half of the state with a clinic, and southern Georgia’s own clinics are so sparse a woman was recently arrested for inducing her own abortion rather than try to travel the two hours in just one direction she likely would have needed to go to access legal care.

Is a 24-hour wait between two in-person clinic visits in Florida insurmountable if a person really wants an abortion? Probably not for most patients. Is a 48-hour wait between visits in Tennessee impossible? Maybe not, although it is definitely getting closer. Is a ban on almost all abortion after the first trimester in Kansas an undue burden on the constitutional right to access a legal abortion? I would think that most courts would say yes, but obviously abortion opponents believe there is at least one judge further on in the court system who will disagree with that statement.

Each of these laws passed independently in their own state houses, and each was argued on its own merits unrelated to each other. Now each new restriction could potentially go into effect on July 1 or soon after, depending on appeals—the same period where Texas, too, could close most of its abortion clinics. Together, that impact will be huge.

Traveling to a nearby state to avoid waiting periods and have just one appointment at a clinic will no longer be an option for many in the Southeast. With more time legally required for patients to meet with doctors wait times prior to booking an initial appointment will grow. With limits on the type of procedure a doctor can use to end the pregnancy if the Kansas D&E ban does not remain blocked, the window in which to actually schedule that abortion will shrink.

Without the intervention of the courts—and not just one court but many courts—the ability to access a safe, legal abortion in the southeast and beyond may be in complete shambles on July 1.

Of course, that was exactly the goal of anti-abortion lawmakers in the first place.

Robin Marty is a freelance writer, speaker and activist. Her current project, Clinic Stories, focuses on telling the history of legal abortion one clinic at a time. Robin's articles have appeared at Cosmopolitan.com, Rolling Stone, Politico, Ms. Magazine and other publications.