Anti-choice Republicans are chipping away at reproductive rights from all angles, particularly on the state level. Often, lawmakers advance several different abortion restrictions simultaneously — as is currently the case in Arkansas and North Dakota — and it can be difficult to unwrap the rhetoric to figure out exactly what all of those proposed measures would mean for the women in their state. Underneath all the euphemisms intended to disguise Republican affronts to women’s health, here’s what anti-abortion lawmakers really mean:
1. Fetal pain laws
Nebraska was the first state to pass a 20-week ban on abortion, relying on the medically disputed assumption that fetuses can feel pain after that point. Since then, seven other states have followed suit and passed similar types of restrictions — which came to be known as “fetal pain” laws. But don’t be fooled. The idea that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks of pregnancy is junk science, even though the anti-abortion community continues to tout it as fact. In reality, fetal pain bans represent a dangerous step toward rolling back women’s constitutional right to an abortion. Under Roe v. Wade, legal abortion is guaranteed until the point of viability, which generally occurs around 24 weeks of pregnancy — but 20-week bans move the goalposts, seeking to narrow the window when women may legally terminate a pregnancy. Two fetal pain laws are currently being blocked in court for overstepping Roe, but anti-abortion lawmakers keep pushing them anyway.
2. Heartbeat bans
Heartbeat bans go even further than fetal pain measures do, seeking to outlaw abortions as soon as a a fetal heartbeat can be detected — which can occur as early as six weeks, before many women even realize they’re pregnant. Fetal heartbeat bills are clearly unconstitutional, since they would narrow women’s window to access legal reproductive services by about 17 weeks. Nonetheless, heartbeat measures popped in states across the country at the beginning of this legislative session. And it’s important to remember that this type of legislation would also necessitate an invasive, unnecessary transvaginal probe for women seeking abortions. Transvaginal ultrasounds are the only way for doctors to clearly detect a fetal heartbeat so early in a pregnancy.
3. Webcam abortions
When abortion advocates decry “webcam abortions,” they’re actually referring to the common medical practice of using video technology to allow doctors to consult with women remotely to prescribe the RU-486 abortion pill. Those type of remote abortion consultations help expand reproductive access for low-income women in rural areas, who often don’t live near an abortion clinic and can’t afford the transportation to travel to the closest one. Taking an abortion pill doesn’t require the presence of a medical professional — even when women are able to consult with their doctors in person, they often go home to take the pill in privacy — and studies have shown that connecting women with their doctors via video technology is just as safe and effective as when women visit the doctor’s office in person.
4. Crisis pregnancy centers
The anti-choice community often tries to push “crisis pregnancy centers” (CPCs) as a valid alternative to women’s health clinics — in fact, when Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) defunded the Planned Parenthood affiliates in his state, he claimed that women could access the same services at CPCs. But that’s not true. CPCs are simply fronts for the anti-abortion agenda, and they push misleading medical information and shame-based conservative propaganda to dissuade women from making their own decisions about their bodies. Rather than providing pregnant women with the full range of reproductive resources they may need, CPCs actually prey on vulnerable women and attempt to emotionally manipulate them.
5. “Informed consent” or “woman’s right to know” measures
It seems like everyone would want to support a measure designed to ensure that women seeking abortions have the best, most accurate medical information about the procedure. But that’s not really what’s at the heart of these anti-choice initiatives. Abortion opponents want to enact every possible roadblock for women seeking abortions, including measures to attempt to shame them out of their decision to have the procedure — such as requiring women to look at the image of their ultrasound, requiring women to receive detailed information about fetuses’ stages of development, or requiring doctors to hold a “counseling” session to ensure that women are making the decision based on their own free will. These types of barriers aren’t in place to ensure patients’ safety before other medical procedures, and that’s because they’re not really about protecting women. They’re about trying to convince women to change their minds about what’s best for their bodies, despite the fact that nearly 90 percent of women are already very confident about their decision to have an abortion when they first approach a doctor.
6. “TRAP” laws, or steps to make abortion clinics safer
Just like “informed consent” measures, laws to make sure that abortion clinics are up to code aren’t actually concerned with women’s safety. Instead, anti-abortion lawmakers push to over-regulate abortion providers as an indirect method of restricting women’s access to reproductive services. Abortion is already an extremely safe procedure, and there’s no need to hold abortion doctors to a higher standard than other medical professionals. When abortion opponents talk about making women’s abortion care as safe and healthy as possible, they’re really talking about driving abortion providers out of business by requiring them to make unnecessary, costly updates. Burdensome laws to force abortion clinics to shut their doors are advancing all over the country, including in states like Texas, Alabama, North Dakota, Indiana, and Mississippi. Women’s health advocates refer to this type of legislation as the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP.