The XX Factor

The Right to Divorce, “Personhood,” and Abortion “Reversals”: This Week in Women’s Rights

A pro-life activist holds a sign as he participates in the annual ‘March for Life’ event January 22, 2009 in Washington, D.C. 

Alex Wong/Getty Images

There’s plenty for women and women-supporters to worry about in federal politics these days—the return of the global gag rule, the promised end to free contraception, Donald Trump’s planned rollback of grants that support survivors of rape and domestic abuse. While these are eminently deserving targets for anxiety and rage, state legislatures are where a lot of the real fun stuff goes down. In case you’ve been too busy scrutinizing Kellyanne Conway’s knees to keep up with the wackadoodle state legislators elected by your fellow Americans, here’s a quick digest of the past week.

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First, a few updates on abortion laws making their way from statehouse men’s rooms to women’s reproductive organs: On Monday, the Indiana House of Representatives approved a bill that would compel doctors who provide medical abortions to tell their patients that they can “reverse” the abortion mid-way through by not taking the second of the two medications and getting a progesterone injection instead. The bill’s supporters say women might change their mind halfway through the process. Several states have considered or are currently working on similar bills, which are all based on actual lies, since 0 percent of available evidence supports the claim that a medical abortion can be “reversed.”

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While Indiana legislators were getting that done, a senate subcommittee in Iowa chose to advance a “personhood” bill that would endow fetuses with all the rights and protections the Constitution has to offer. This would outlaw abortion in the state, presenting a nifty challenge to Roe v. Wade if courts let it go that far. Lawmakers in the Texas senate also advanced a bill that would allow doctors to withhold information from a pregnant woman about her fetus’s health. If the bill passes, a doctor who learns a fetus has severe disabilities will be permitted to lie to the patient and hide that information from her, especially if the doctor fears the woman will want to terminate her pregnancy. According to San Antonio Current’s Alex Zielinski, most of the bill’s sponsors voted against Medicaid expansion in Texas, which would have made it easier for low-income women to raise a child with disabilities or chronic health care needs without falling into poverty.

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In the great state of Mississippi, a committee in the state legislature blocked a bill on Tuesday that would have made it possible for people to unilaterally divorce their spouses if the spouses physically abused them. There are currently 12 reasons in Mississippi why a person might be allowed to divorce her husband without his agreement, including habitual drunkenness and impotency; advocates for the bill say the only current way for a survivor of domestic abuse to end the marriage on her own is to prove “habitual cruel and inhuman treatment.” The Republican chairman of the committee that stopped the bill, Baptist minister Andy Gipson, worried that it would have opened the “floodgates” to way more divorces. Better to have fewer divorces, but more people trapped against their will in marriages that threaten their safety? “If there’s a case of abuse, that person needs to have change of behavior and a serious change of heart,” Gipson said. “Hopefully even in those cases restoration can happen.” Hopefully!

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