One frigid night this past February, I flew to Ohio to watch democracy in action. The next day, the Ohio state Legislature was voting on whether to defund Planned Parenthood, a fallout of the by then entirely discredited videos that purported to show that the organization sold fetal tissue for profit. I didn’t want to go. With a Republican supermajority in both the state’s House and Senate, it seemed a fait accompli that House Bill 294 would pass, pulling $1.3 million from the Ohio branch of the country’s largest provider of reproductive health care. I watched the blinking lights of Columbus approach through a tiny airplane window bleary with ice. The city looked cold, unwelcoming, though maybe that had more to do with what was going on inside my head than outside it. I was, it seemed, in the midst of having a miscarriage.
The day before, my husband and I had gone to a prenatal appointment, expecting to see, for the first time, the tiny flickering heartbeat of our seven-week-old embryo. “Hmmmm,” the doctor had said, moving the ultrasound wand back and forth for an interminable amount of time, as grainy, indecipherable images flickered on the screen. Her brow furrowed. Things were not progressing as they should. Actually, things were not progressing at all. Now, I was traveling with a bottle of 20 Percocets tucked between my socks in case I passed the fetal tissue while I was alone in an Ohio hotel room, on a trip to literally watch the reproductive rights of women diminish before my eyes. I was told the process could “feel like labor.” I was also told that if I didn’t complete the miscarriage naturally, I could have the tissue removed via a dilation and curettage – a procedure that in other circumstances is known as an abortion.
Up until this point, I had been lucky enough to never really have to think about something happening in my body that I couldn’t manage or control. My first pregnancy, two years back, had been textbook. And I was born in 1979, a safe six years after the passage of Roe v. Wade. My right to control my reproductive history – as well as my personal reproductive health – was something I took for granted. I think it’s safe to say that I’d been asleep at the wheel.
I shouldn’t have been. Since 2011, more than 280 laws have been passed across 31 states to limit or restrict access to abortion. Some target women seeking the procedure, making the process more onerous (multiple clinic visits), more time-consuming (mandatory waiting periods), more costly (the procedure is not covered by federal Medicaid programs and in some states cannot be covered by private insurance plans that participate in Obamacare) and more shaming (forced ultrasounds, brochures on adoption, and mandatory counseling services replete with false information and scare tactics that operate under the assumption that a woman cannot be trusted to make an informed decision on her own). But the real game-changer came when the anti-choice movement realized that instead of targeting women – which was kind of bad for PR and maybe flew in the face of the Constitution – they could target providers. In fact, they could target providers under the auspices of ”protecting women’s health,” which, as an anti-choice tactic, works beautifully: States can’t overturn Roe v. Wade, but they can regulate health care.