The conservative attacks on insurance coverage of contraception have been garnering a lot of attention, for understandable reasons, but it’s important to remember that this is just one small part of a larger push from the right to do as much damage as possible to women’s reproductive rights. A couple of stories out of Kansas demonstrate this quite well.
A federal appeals court just made it easier for lawmakers to deprive low-income women of access to contraception and other reproductive health services by allowing Kansas to immediately start defunding Planned Parenthood. The state is embroiled in a multiyear legal battle over a law, aimed at Planned Parenthood, that disallows Title X funding to go to family planning organizations that also provide abortion. Although the law is ostensibly about abortion, the actual effect of it is to make contraception services harder and more expensive for low-income women by ending subsidies that allow Planned Parenthood to offer contraception at lower prices. The law is still being fought over in court, but this ruling means the state can withdraw funding for Planned Parenthood in the meantime.
It’s not just women who are trying to avoid pregnancy who are under attack in Kansas. A bill winding its way through the state’s legislature would require doctors to report all miscarriages to the state health department, no matter how early they occur in a pregnancy. The requirement was tacked on to a bill that was supposed to be about reporting stillbirths, and it is so extreme that even some anti-choice Republicans have balked. It’s clear that this amendment is about conflating early pregnancy loss with post-20 week fetal demise and stillbirth. “The whole point is to further the idea of the fetus as a person. It’s a way of establishing the groundwork for making abortion harder to get, and eventually illegal,” Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute told ThinkProgress. Currently, no state requires doctors to report miscarriages early in pregnancy, because they are a common and usually minor medical issue.
What’s troubling about the bill is that it’s a needless invasion of a woman’s privacy, and it would reinforce the dangerous idea that the mere act of failing to complete a pregnancy is so serious that it requires state intervention. We’ve already seen states making moves to criminalize women for stillbirths, even when the evidence suggests that the woman’s behavior had no impact on the pregnancy’s outcome. We also know that if a woman terminates a pregnancy by taking misoprostol she bought on the Internet, that doesn’t actually look any different from a regular early term miscarriage. Cataloguing every woman who has an early term miscarriage opens the door to investigating women who officials suspect might have deliberately caused those miscarriages. There’s already been one woman prosecuted for inducing an early term miscarriage in just this way, so it’s certainly possible that such a law could result in women having to endure criminal investigations if they dare show up at a hospital miscarrying at eight weeks. Just from your life experience, you know that’s a lot of women.