Robin Abcarian: Republicans think guns are essential during the coronavirus lockdown. Women’s health? Not so much

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I will give abortion foes this: When it comes to finding new and creative ways of forcing women to give birth to unwanted babies, they are devilishly clever.

In the past few weeks, these relentless crusaders have unleashed a new war on a procedure that is safe, legal and time sensitive.

Their casus belli? Coronavirus, of course.

Never let a good crisis go to waste, right?

Governors in Texas, Ohio, Alabama, Oklahoma, Iowa and Mississippi, where the right to abortion has been under assault for years, have now proclaimed that it is not an essential medical procedure, and that no abortions can be performed until the state government says so.

Guns, you may have noticed, are essential.

Women’s health care? Not so much.

In Texas, a group of health care providers immediately asked a federal judge to overrule the sneaky new ban. United States District Court Judge Lee Yeakel granted their request, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled there can be no outright ban on abortions.

“The court,” wrote Yeakel, “will not speculate on whether the Supreme Court included a silent ‘except-in-a-national-emergency clause’ in its previous writings on the issue. Only the Supreme Court may restrict the breadth of its rulings.” (Judges in Ohio and Alabama have made similar rulings in recent days.)

Unfortunately, in Texas, the legal skirmishing has not ended.

The state appealed, and a few days later the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the ban to stand, pending an April 13 hearing.

The bans, by the way, apply not just to surgical abortions, one of the safest procedures in the world, but also to medication abortions, which are even safer.

Medication abortions, though accomplished with a combination of pills, needlessly require in-person visits.

On March 30, a multistate coalition of 21 attorneys general, led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, called on the federal government to loosen those rules. Rather than requiring women to appear in person at their doctors’ offices, they should be able to receive prescriptions over the phone or computer.

“Forcing women to unnecessarily seek in-person reproductive healthcare during this public health crisis is foolish and irresponsible,” the AGs argued. The feds have not yet responded.

This is a moment of utmost peril for reproductive rights in America.

In recent years, states have come up with all sorts of legally questionable ways of discouraging abortion or making access impossible.

We’ve seen them impose unnecessary conditions on abortion clinics.

We’ve seen them try to force abortion doctors to obtain unobtainable admitting privileges at local hospitals.

We’ve seen them force women to undergo ultrasounds, listen to a fetal heartbeat and to wait 24 hours before they can end a pregnancy.

As the foes of abortion have become increasingly desperate, we’ve seen them gin up fake scandals in the past few years.

One anti-abortion group, for example, used fake IDs to infiltrate business gatherings of abortion doctors and used spy techniques like hidden cameras to make the preposterous case that Planned Parenthood is engaged in callous profiteering of aborted fetal remains.

Meanwhile, this spring the Trump/Pence administration imposed a new federal gag rule on health providers who receive Title X funds.

Title X is a family planning program, created in 1970, to provide services to mostly low-income patients — things like contraception, testing for sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy tests and counseling.

The new rule prohibits any health provider receiving Title X funds from making referrals to abortion providers, or counseling patients about abortion.

Huge providers like Planned Parenthood, and small operations like the Venice Family Clinic, were then put in the position of either refusing these federal funds, or allowing the government to dictate what kind of health care they could provide.

Both made the principled decision to turn down the money rather than sacrifice the well-being of their patients.

“Morally speaking, we could not accept Title X money under the current restrictions,” said Dr. Karen Lamp, director of the Venice Family Clinic’s Briskin Women’s Health program. “We are turning away several hundred thousand dollars, and we are going to be under some severe financial challenges moving forward.”

On March 4, the new, vigorously conservative U.S. Supreme Court heard its first abortion case, June Medical Services v. Russo. At issue is whether a Louisiana law that requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at local hospitals is constitutional, or whether it conflicts with a 2016 Supreme Court ruling, which struck down a similar Texas law.

This case should tell us for once and for all whether the newest justices, Neil M .Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, will respect the court’s previous rulings upholding abortion rights, or find a way to nullify them.

Despite incessant attacks, abortion remains legal in every state.

Based on what I know of these justices, however, I doubt it will be much longer.



Robin Abcarian is an opinion columnist at the Los Angeles Times.


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