The United States is a dangerous place to be a woman. An onslaught of laws has chipped away at abortion rights since Donald Trump’s inauguration as president two and a half years ago.
So far this year at least 13 states have introduced bills to outlaw abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy. A new law in Alabama, effectively banning abortion, has hardened the battleground.
The Alabama bill makes abortion illegal except where pregnancy poses a “serious health risk”. There are no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
Doctors face 99 years in jail if they perform an abortion.
The bill was signed into state law by Republican Governor Kay Ivey. She said it was a “powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is a sacred gift from God”.
Jan, an activist in Michigan, said that the bills are part of a bigger attack.
“Many states have been trying to put forward anti-abortion laws,” she said. “The long term strategy is to have laws that will be overturned in a lower court. Then one or many can be appealed and find their way to the Supreme Court.
“The plan is to have Roe v Wade reversed.”
Row v Wade was the landmark case in 1973 that made abortion a legal right. Right wingers have fought it ever since.
But seven out of ten Americans believe that abortion should be legal.
So some right wingers think a better strategy is to try and undermine existing abortion rights gradually. For instance, many “heartbeat bills” that aim to outlaw abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected have failed.
But anti-choice politicians also use other tactics, such as forcing women to undergo counselling before they have an abortion.
There are only three abortion clinics in Alabama—a state with a population of 2.5 million women.
Yanica Robinson is medical director at the Alabama Women’s Centre for Reproductive Alternatives.
She said women face “many obstacles just related to their postcode and financial status”.
Many women undertake a six to eight hour drive to get to her clinic. Many sleep in the parking garage because Alabama law forces women to undergo counselling 48 hours before an abortion.
Yanica described how they face a battle, “trying to coordinate time off work, come up with the finances and arranging travel”.
Across the US, one quarter of women of reproductive age would need to travel at least 50 kilometres to reach the nearest abortion clinic. And the poorest are hit the hardest.
Most abortion care can’t be paid for by federal cash under the Medicaid programme, which the poorest rely on for help with medical costs. And 26 states restrict abortion care for women who use discounted private insurance provided through the Affordable Care Act.
Attacks on abortion didn’t begin with Trump—424 abortion restrictions were enacted at state-level between 2010-18. But it’s no surprise that Trump—a billionaire who boasts of sexually assaulting women—has overseen huge attacks on choice. Trump demanded that women who have abortions should receive “some form of punishment”.
One of his first acts was to stop government funding to international organisations that provide information on or offer abortions. He’s surrounded himself with vile anti-abortionists, such as deputy president Mike Pence.
Trump has also filled the federal judicial system with conservatives who want to limit access to abortion or stop it altogether.
Both Trump’s nominees to the Supreme Court are on the right wing of the Republican Party. The appointments of Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 mean the court now has an anti-choice majority.
New Jersey campaigner Fiona said, “Gorsuch and Kavanaugh will have a negative and lasting impact on women’s issues. These white, conservative men are on the Supreme Court for life and are only in their 50s.”
The Alabama law is the first to directly challenge Roe v Wade. And it comes as the anti-choice minority are emboldened. But there is a long history of resistance to attacks on abortion rights in the US.
The fight for abortion rights was a big part of women’s liberation protests in the 1960s. Women set up their own abortion services. Pressure from campaigners lay behind Row v Wade. And the struggle continues today.
Two Alabama groups that support women accessing abortion services reported record donations. And the National Network of Abortion Funds received donations of over £83,000 in two days—20 per cent of their total donations for the last year.
Tough laws don’t stop abortions, they just make them dangerous. If Alabama’s law comes into force, women will die. That’s why everything has to be thrown at defending and extending a woman’s right to choose.
By Sarah Bates