Across the country, supporters of reproductive freedom were chilled when Texas passed an anti-abortion law, Senate Bill 8, that put private citizens, not the state, in charge of its enforcement.
Having passed the legislature in spring of 2021, the bill banned abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected – usually at about six weeks. But it also prohibits state officials from enforcing it, instead deputizing ordinary citizens, including those from outside Texas, to sue health care providers - and awards them $10,000 per abortion if they are successful.
“We know that when abortion is limited, it doesn’t reduce the number of abortions, only the safety of the procedure,” said Jen Allen, Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates Chief Executive Officer.
Allen added that while bills like that in Texas – ones that encourage vigilantism among anti-abortion groups – are not yet on the horizon for the six states within the PPGNHAIK alliance, they very well may be in 2022.
“This is a very, very hostile environment for reproductive rights,” said Allen. “The Texas stuff can spread, and it is spreading.”
For example, “we saw a small city in northern Kentucky where someone was agitating to bring up an ordinance to become a ‘sanctuary city’ like Lubbock, Texas has done.” Allen said that even in states with more friendly legislatures, like Washington, more attempts at “sanctuary cities” should be expected.
“This is absolutely terrifying,” Allen said. The Texas law Bill 8 is set to take effect September 1, 2021.
Christine Charbonneau, Chief Executive Officer of Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawai’i, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky commented: “We are seeing bold maneuvering by our opponents in ‘red’ States in advance of the ruling in the Mississippi Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health case. We fear that the Supreme Court is poised to gut or overturn Roe v Wade. The most heinous and cynical version of this so far is new Texas law; it financially incentivizes neighbors... to intervene in a woman’s abortion decision. Because Texas itself takes no responsibility for those interactions, this law cannot be challenged until it is actually used to the detriment of a woman seeking care.”
Allen noted that there is a clear and present danger that Roe v Wade will be overturned soon with the Mississippi Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health case, which will be taken up by the US Supreme Court next month. “Conservatives are very hopeful.”
“We will keep providing care for patients, no matter what. But if Roe is overturned, and anti-abortion clauses in state constitutions take effect, things will become much, much harder.”
In the worst-case event, Allen wished to remind supporters of reproductive freedom that “Planned Parenthood has the means and the resources to cross state lines for patients.”
While some state legislatures are gearing up to try to pass constitutional amendments that would immediately make abortion illegal in the state should Roe v. Wade be overturned, others are chipping away at reproductive freedom in subtle and insidious ways.
With all these concurrent threats to reproductive care access, what should reproductive rights supporters be aware of right now?
Jen Allen explained the situation in each state across the PPGNHAIK affiliate.
"In Washington, there are no immediate threats to abortion access,” Allen said. “However, it is worth noting that even in ‘liberal’ states, the ability to get access to abortion care can still be very challenging.”
“We have great laws in Washington and we don’t see threats on the horizon, but access could still be better. We are also seeing greater adversity and protest activity here. Someone broke out all the windows at the Spokane Planned Parenthood health center. There is increasing protest activity at the Everett health center. Things like these create increased access barriers for patients,” said Allen.
Allen noted that Hawai’i has “good abortion access laws” and a legislature that is friendly to reproductive access.
“We are pleased we just passed a law [HB576] in the last legislative session in which nurses can provide in-clinic abortion and medication abortion,” she said.
However, in Hawai’i, access tends to be worse than other states because “you have to fly to other islands. That’s been extremely difficult for patients during the pandemic.”
“We get people who come from other parts of the Pacific to Hawai’i for abortion care. In Guam, we lost the last abortion provider, so people have to come here,” noted Laurie Field, PPAA Hawai’i State Director. Field noted that Guam to Hawai’i is a 4,000-mile flight, one way, which takes over 7 hours.
Allen stated the goals in Hawai’i are to increase access and to increase the number of providers.
Allen expressed great concern about a potential constitutional convention that could prove a great threat to Alaskan abortion access.
“We see threats to abortion access every year in Alaska, but they have a really wonderful constitution in terms of the protection it offers.”
But in the 2022 general election, Alaskan voters will decide whether to hold a constitutional convention.
“If this happens, we could see attacks on the protections that keep abortion safe and legal in Alaska,” Allen said.
While the constitutional convention is being advertised to voters as something that could enshrine the Permanent Fund Dividend, removal of abortion protections from the constitution could be a disastrous consequence.
“Alaskan legislators are extremely hostile to abortion access,” said Allen. “We are at real risk of losing access to care.”
Allen said the top priority in Alaska is retaining access. “There are so many rural populations. We have to maintain access for people who already travel such a long way to get it.”
“Idaho is one of the states that is already poised to end access to abortion if Roe is overturned,” said Allen.
Idaho already has a statute written into its constitution that would immediately ban abortion if Roe v Wade were overturned. This is known as a “trigger ban.”
Allen noted that Idaho is one of the most hostile states to abortion rights in the country.
“It's very hard to be a patient or a provider in Idaho,” said Allen. “Access is very limited and very difficult, and it could get even worse.”
She added, “Idaho is closely connected with Washington when we think of where we need to provide extra protection. Lots of folks would cross the state border to receive care.”
Allen said that Idaho’s extremely hostile legislature has an anti-abortion supermajority, and “will take away as much access as the courts will allow.”
Allen noted that in addition to attacking reproductive freedom, the Idaho legislature has been busy aggressively attacking trans youth and rejecting public health and safety measures like masks over the course of the pandemic.
She stated the best thing supporters can do is pressure their legislators.
Jen Allen said that Kentucky is an “interesting” situation, with a hostile legislature but a sympathetic governor.
“It is a very hostile general assembly,” said Allen. “They started this year and ended this year attacking abortion care. They did that before anything else, despite the pandemic.”
“Governor Beshear is very helpful,” she said. She explained that although anti-abortion extremists have a veto-proof majority, Governor Beshear “has helped in other ways,” including issuing the abortion license for Planned Parenthood to begin providing abortion in Kentucky again last year.
Allen marked that there is a constitutional amendment to ban abortion on the ballot in Kentucky.
“Kentucky already has a lot of bad laws limiting access to abortion. The constitutional amendment will be on the ballot in 2022, and it’s designed that we can’t challenge any abortion restrictions in court,” Allen said.
Allen emphasized that “we’ll be counting on the voters.”
“Indiana is another state on the ‘trigger ban’ list, so access is greatly at risk in that state,” said Allen. “Indiana’s legislature has done nothing but demonstrate how hostile it is to reproductive health care access.”
“It is one of the worst states in the nation, in terms of sheer volume of [hostile] legislation,” she said.
In fact, since Roe, Indiana has passed 64 pieces legislation curtailing reproductive health care on the state level. Only Louisiana has seen more restrictions on abortion, birth control and other reproductive health care.
Allen said there is a large disconnect between the hostility of the legislature and polls of public opinion about abortion in Indiana.
“A few years before the strategic alliance [that formed PPGNHAIK], Planned Parenthood did some polling out there, and we found there is a majority of support for safe, legal abortion among Hoosiers,” said Allen.
However, during the last legislative session, five bills impacting reproductive freedom were introduced, and four out of those five passed.
LaKimba DeSadier, Indiana State Director for PPAA, highlighted HB1577 as one of the more dangerous pieces of legislation to pass. The bill restricts telemedicine for reproductive health care and places more restrictions on minor access to reproductive health care.
DeSadier said there are plans to continue fighting. “We helped drive around 900 emails to the Governor urging him to veto these stigmatizing abortion restrictions.”
“We are preparing ourselves for the fight. Because the upcoming legislative session will be short, that makes it all the more dangerous,” DeSadier said.
In addition to being one of the worst states in anti-abortion legislation, Indiana is also currently ranked 48th in terms of maternal mortality.
“That is a top priority. We are working on that. Black women are dying at a rate 2.5 times higher [than white women] and that is unacceptable,” said DeSadier.
“The Indiana state legislature has a maternal mortality committee. We supported that committee,” DeSadier explained, noting that some legislators made moves to tie maternal mortality bills to abortion restriction.
“Senate Enrolled Act 10 makes expansions in the Statewide Maternal Mortality Review Commission to allow for mental health considerations. Early in session, we submitted written testimony in support of the bill which was acknowledged for the record by the committee chair. Unfortunately, later in the process an amendment was folded into the bill to insert stigmatizing abortion language,” she explained.
DeSadier and Allen noted that it is a common tactic of opponents to slip harmful language into things that, at first glance, seem designed to help women.
Should Roe fall, DeSadier and Allen agreed that abortion care will certainly continue for Indiana patients in coordination with other health care providers across state lines.
“Planned Parenthood will do everything to make access possible for patients,” said Allen.
What Can You Do?
A direct and impactful way you can make a difference is to donate.
One of the most important things supporters of reproductive freedom can do is to “hold your legislators accountable,” said DeSadier.
“We need supporters... to pay attention to what their legislators are doing and hold them accountable for doing their work. Have a conversation with your legislator, write them a letter. Get involved... as an advocate,” advised DeSadier.
Allen added that as protestors become more and more emboldened, volunteers are needed at some health centers.
Lastly, please vote, and encourage others to do the same.