A Deceptive Win on Plan B for Women


Our reproductive rights are still in danger.

By 
Kathleen_JoyceGood news for advocates of sensible birth control policy: The Obama administration announced that it’s dropping the fight to impose an age restriction on sales of Plan B One-Step, the emergency contraception pill.

Reproductive rights advocates are celebrating this move toward empowering all women to make their own decisions regarding their own bodies.

gruntzooki/Flickr

It’s about damn time. Considering the glaring need for safe and available contraception for all women, I’m glad the government finally has our backs on this one.

But don’t let your guard down just yet.

Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) said recently that the percentage of pregnancies resulting from rape is “very low,” so victims of rape shouldn’t be exempt from his proposed ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.

Thanks to the uproar his remarks made, the bill did wind up with exceptions for survivors of incest and women who are raped and report the crime within 48 hours. The House passed his legislation 228-196. Representative Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican, made yet more weird comments in the course of the debate: He implied that male fetuses masturbate at 15 weeks.

There’s no chance the bill would clear the Senate and President Barack Obama is threatening to veto the measure if it somehow did. But, seriously? This is happening again?

Franks’ ban involves radically shifting the deadline for legal abortions, making it weeks earlier than the standard set by Roe v. Wade.

Summary of provisions of H.R. 1797: Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

  • Amends the federal criminal code to prohibit any person from performing or attempting to perform an abortion within the District of Columbia except in conformity with this Act’s requirements.
  • Requires the physician to first make a determination of the probable post-fertilization age of the unborn child, or reasonably rely upon such a determination made by another physician, by making inquiries of the pregnant woman and performing such medical examinations and tests as a reasonably prudent physician would consider necessary.
  • Prohibits the abortion from being performed if the probable post-fertilization age of the unborn child is 20 weeks or greater.
  • Makes an exception where necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman whose life is endangered by a physical disorder, illness, or injury, excluding psychological or emotional conditions.
  • Makes an exception where the pregnancy is the result of rape, or the result of incest against a minor, if the rape has been reported at any time prior to the abortion to an appropriate law enforcement agency, or if the incest against a minor has been reported at any time prior to the abortion to an appropriate law enforcement agency or to a government agency legally authorized to act on reports of child abuse or neglect.
  • Permits a physician to terminate a pregnancy under such exception only in the manner which provides the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive, unless termination of the pregnancy in that manner would pose a greater risk of the death or substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function, not including psychological or emotional conditions, of the pregnant woman than would other available methods.
  • Prescribes penalties for violations.
  • Bars prosecution of a woman upon whom an abortion is performed in violation of this Act, but authorizes such a woman or the father or maternal grandparent of the unborn child to obtain appropriate relief through a civil action.
  • Provides for injunctive relief to prevent violations.
  • Sets forth specified privacy protections in court proceedings for the woman upon whom an abortion has been performed.
  • Whoever violates the act shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both.

It’s safe to say that not all Republicans learned from the fiasco caused by Representative Akin (R-MO) and his incredibly offensive theory of “legitimate rape.” Or the electoral disaster that befell Richard Mourdock, an Indiana Republican who lost his Senate bid last year after implying that post-rape pregnancy was some kind of gift from God.

Though Franks quickly attempted to walk back his outrageous, not to mention false, comment, his statement reveals his total ignorance and insensitivity. It’s a bad sign for women who value their reproductive health. Once again, it looks like medical evidence, especially the kind that involves lady parts, isn’t welcome in the GOP.

Individual states are also advancing anti-choice, anti-women legislation. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says he’ll sign into law a bill requiring women seeking abortions to look at images of their fetus through an ultrasound — an invasive medical procedure that, in this case, is a cruel and unusual punishment for women already making a difficult decision.

Though there’s no evidence that ultrasounds deter women from having abortions, 21 states already have some form of pre-procedure ultrasound law. Walker told reporters “I don’t have any problem with ultrasound.” That’s nice, Governor. Why don’t you get one?

The state’s legislative drive to strip women in Wisconsin of their reproductive rights also includes a measure that would allow employers to refuse to cover contraception in their health insurance plans.

As a young woman about to enter the workforce, this is a particularly scary one. I don’t want to have to turn down my dream job because of gaping holes in my potential employer’s insurance plan. Forget dream job — in today’s hyper-competitive conditions, I can’t afford to turn down any job.

And I feel like my rights are under siege. My right to choose what happens to my own body should be inviolable, plain and simple. I shouldn’t be forced to undergo an unnecessary medical procedure before I can choose what’s right for me and for my family. It insults me that these lawmakers want to make such an important decision for me, a decision that should belong to me and to my doctor.

So the federal government’s decision to stop standing between women and effective emergency contraception is a great start, but it’s just that: a start. Women may have just gotten a new tool with which to fend off the anti-choice lobby, but the threat to our control over our own bodies is still looming as large as ever.


Kathleen Robin Joyce is a student at Georgetown University and an OtherWords intern at the Institute for Policy Studies.  Photo Credit to: gruntzooki/Flickr Distributed by OtherWords.org

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