It’s undeniable that American women are facing a dire crisis when it comes to reproductive healthcare. From 2011 to 2013, a record 205 abortion restrictions were enacted throughout the country – topping the total of 189 abortion restrictions enacted in the entire preceding decade. In 2013 alone, 39 states enacted 141 provisions related to reproductive rights, and half of those restricted abortion care specifically. Unfortunately, 2014 is right on trend so far. According to the Guttmacher Institute, legislators have introduced a combined 733 provisions related to sexual and reproductive health and rights so far this year, and it’s only May.
As the war on reproductive rights wages on, the types of restrictions proposed and passed in state legislatures have grown increasingly egregious and some, outright preposterous. Here are a few of 2014’s most outrageous laws so far:
1. South Carolina tries to extend “Stand Your Ground” to fetuses
Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law has been widely criticized, particularly in response to the deaths of unarmed black teens Travyon Martin and Jordan Davis. But a State Senate committee in South Carolina has apparently decided that not only do they support the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law, but that it doesn’t go far enough.
Last month, the committee voted to expand South Carolina’s “Stand Your Ground” law to specifically include fetuses. Proponents of the bill claim that the state’s current “Stand Your Ground” law isn’t broad enough to protect pregnant women who use deadly force to protect themselves and their fetuses – even though the law already authorizes the use of deadly force to protect oneself or another from “imminent peril of death or great bodily injury.”
What this expansion of “Stand Your Ground” would really do is apply personhood to fetuses by defining an embryo as an “unborn child,” a deliberate tactic to challenge Roe v. Wade and the right to a safe and legal abortion. No state has ever successfully passed a personhood amendment, and the American public continues to outright reject them, even in conservative states like Mississippi. Instead of openly championing the incredibly unpopular fetal personhood legislation, a South Carolina Senate committee has chosen “Stand Your Ground” as the in-road to this dangerous legal precedent that threatens women’s rights and access to reproductive healthcare.
2. Kansas lawmaker proposes a ban on surrogate pregnancy
Though abortion restrictions tend to get the most attention, the attack on women’s reproductive rights doesn’t stop there. A recent Kansas bill, championed by staunchly pro-life state Senator Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee), would outlaw surrogate pregnancy. Kansas Senate Bill 302 would render all surrogacy agreements, whether verbal or written, null and void and would make it a misdemeanor to hire or work as a surrogate – an offense punishable with up to a $10,000 and a year in the county jail. Shockingly, Pilcher-Cook’s proposed bill isn’t the first in the nation, but is based on Washington D.C.’s highly restrictive laws regarding surrogate pregnancy. Even so, this bill appears unlikely to pass due to opposition from the Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita).
For those who struggle with infertility or have other health issues that preclude a safe and healthy pregnancy, surrogacy is one of the few options afforded to them in order to conceive and bear biological children. Attempts to ban surrogate pregnancy, whether legitimate or to “start a conversation,” reveal the paternalism that underwrites opposition to women’s reproductive rights. Women are perfectly capable of making their own reproductive decisions, whether to bear their own children, adopt, live child-free, have an abortion, or enter into a consensual agreement with a surrogate.
3. Tennessee votes to criminalize drug use by pregnant women
In response to a burgeoning drug abuse problem, the Tennessee legislature has passed a bill that would criminalize the use of narcotics by pregnant women and allow them to be prosecuted for assaultive offenses if their baby is found to be born “addicted to or harmed by the narcotic drug.” If signed by Republican Governor Bill Haslam, it would be the first law of its kind in the nation.
While the use of narcotics by pregnant women is obviously a health concern, prosecuting pregnant women for drug abuse is roundly opposed by major medical associations and reproductive rights advocates alike. Medical associations state that punitive measures like Tennessee’s bill do not improve pregnancy outcomes and advocates caution that criminalization will only deter drug-addicted pregnant women from seeking treatment or prenatal care, for fear of being arrested and incarcerated.
What’s more, this bill only criminalizes the use of illegal narcotics by pregnant women, which doesn’t account for the majority of babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), a group of problems associated with drug use during pregnancy. According to the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Health Dr. John Dreyzehner, 60 percent of babies born with NAS in Tennessee had mothers who had a prescription for the medication they were taking. This bill only criminalizes a certain type of drug use – and critics warn that it will hit black women the hardest.
Criminalization sets a dangerous precedent and hinders drug-addicted pregnant women’s access to vital healthcare and potentially life-saving treatment.
4. Louisiana bill would keep brain-dead pregnant women on life support against family’s wishes
On the heels of the tragic case of Marlise Muñoz, a brain-dead pregnant woman in Texas who was kept on life support for eight weeks against her family’s wishes, Louisiana lawmakers have advanced a bill that would force physicians in the state to keep a brain-dead pregnant woman on life support against her family’s wishes and regardless of how far along her pregnancy is. This bill essentially turns brain-dead pregnant women into incubators against their will, compounding the trauma that their families are likely experiencing.
Unfortunately, Louisiana isn’t alone. Twelve states currently have similarly strict laws that automatically invalidate a woman’s advanced directive about her end-of-life care if she is pregnant. While a provision that would have superseded pregnant women’s “do not resuscitate” orders was dropped from the legislation, Louisiana’s bill would still override the family’s wishes. It’s a dangerous law that destroys brain-dead pregnant women’s personhood and renders her family utterly helpless.
5. Alabama House votes to ban abortions at six weeks
In the last few years, unconstitutional fetal pain bills, which ban abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization, have become increasingly popular in state legislatures. Nine states now have a 20-week abortion ban on their legislative books – and they’re all based on junk science. Even more egregious and outright unconstitutional are so-called fetal heartbeat bills, which outlaw abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected. This can be as early as six weeks post-fertilization, or a point at which many don’t even know that they’re pregnant.
Alabama is the latest state to jump onto this outrageous bandwagon, as the Republican-controlled House passed the Fetal Heartbeat Act and three other abortion restrictions. Similar to North Dakota’s six-week ban that was recently struck down by a federal judge, Alabama’s bill would make it a crime to perform an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Banning abortions at six weeks essentially criminalizes abortion itself, a move that is incredibly unpopular with the American public. Perhaps that’s why this bill ultimately stalled in the Alabama Senate.
Despite their unpopularity and blatant unconstitutionality, it’s unlikely given this political climate that we’ve seen the last of fetal heartbeat bans or other outrageous legislative attacks on women’s healthcare in 2014. After all, May has just begun.