Search Results for: heartbeat bill

The latest bandwagon of anti-abortion bills in the US: Heartbeat or heartless?

The “heartbeat bill,” a euphemism for a fetus endowed with life, conjures in people’s minds the villains of mother and, in some cases, the State, murdering the person in the womb. Since Roe v Wade, the anti-abortion movement in the U.S has launched strategies to establish the personhood of the fetus. Numerous initiatives over the past 30 years in many states have tried to establish that full life as a person starts at the moment of conception.  The heartbeat bill in Mississippi signed by Gov. Phil Bryant on March 21st2019 was just the next step after the failure of initiative 26 Life Begins at the Moment of Fertilization Amendment (2011).  The move from Initiative 26 to the heartbeat bill is easy transition. The heartbeat bill effectively dramatizes the war between mother and womb-inhabitant to a new level—to the very tip of the iceberg: the banning of abortion. Period. Roe v Wade that has somehow survived for 40 years, often barely a whisper in many states lately, seems to be in the middle of its death rattle in others. In the first quarter of 2019, the heartbeat bill was introduced successively in Kentucky, Georgia, Arkansas, Utah, Mississippi, and Missouri. 

According to the Guttmacher Institute, “governors in four states (Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Utah) signed a total of eight measures that ban abortion in one way or another. Similar measures passed the legislature in Arkansas and Georgia and were adopted by one chamber of the legislature in six other states…. So far this year, these restrictions have been enacted in Kentucky and Mississippi; passed the legislature in Georgia; and passed one chamber of the legislature in Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee. The new law in Kentucky would have gone into effect immediately, but a federal district court issued an order blocking enforcement. The Mississippi legislation is scheduled to take effect in July. Only two other states, Iowa and North Dakota, have ever enacted six-week abortion bans, both of which have been struck down by the courts.” 

In addition to the heartbeat bill, Kentucky has already passed laws restricting private insurance coverage of abortions, mandating a 24-hour waiting period and parental consent for minors. Like Mississippi, Kentucky has only one abortion clinic. One can see clearly how women are severely restricted from obtaining abortions.

What is cruel about the heartbeat bill? According to this bill, women can terminate their pregnancy before 6 weeks. How can this be possible when women generally find out they are pregnant only after 6 weeks? “Some physicians won’t even perform abortions before around six weeks of pregnancy; an embryo at that stage is so small that it might not be visible on an ultrasound, which is used to ensure that a pregnancy is not ectopic, or growing outside the uterus.”

If the heartbeat bill is not a weapon against women’s bodies, their fundamental right to their bodies, the choice to give birth or not, I don’t know what is! As Brigitte Marti says, “One of the great mistakes is to look at the demise of women’s rights as an isolated event. Soaring inequality and legislative measures to control women’s health and rights work together to disempower women and civil society.”

What’s more, many of the states where the heartbeat bill has passed or is in the legislative process have a shortage of obstetricians and have high maternal death rates.

This heartless law targets minority and poor women. How can the United States boast about being the spokesperson for women’s rights when it is shackling women and keeping them imprisoned in age-old ideas about sexuality, contraception, reproduction, and health? It feels as if the major legislative triumphs of women’s equal participation in society and to themselves are being severely undercut by restrictive anti-abortion laws like the latest heartbeat bill.

We see these restrictions on women’s rights happening worldwide. Even in a country like India where abortion has been legal since 1971, the number of unsafe abortions are at a record 25 million, abortion is legal only until 20 weeks, exceptions do exist, but the stipulation is that the woman be married. “An amendment was proposed in the MTP Act by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in October 2014. The bill proposed certain very valid propositions, such as extension of the legal abortion limit to 24 weeks,” but it was dead in the water.

It is truly disheartening when women themselves are the strongest voices proclaiming the need to make abortion illegal. But we need to keep voicing the injustice in the bills and highlight the harm it does to the poor, people of color, and women in general and make the connection between reproductive rights and our equality as human beings. We don’t want to say “before the law,” because we need the law to recognize that we are indeed humans with full rights before we can legitimately stand before the law.

(Photo Credit: Rewire)

The United Nations refusal to address women’s safety is another casualty of war

The heartless who initiated the heartbeat bills being passed across the United State have also worked hard to dehumanize women victims of sexual crimes in wars.  UN Resolution 2467 introduced in the Security Council on ending sexual violence in war has been passed, stripped of its most important parts. The original rationale was to protect victims of sexual war crimes, but, thanks to a threatened US veto, the final passed resolution is a shadow if its original intent. The entire health section, which included reproductive and sexual services, was stripped out because it implied right to abortion.  Language, such as “the establishment of a formal mechanism to monitor and report atrocities…”, was also removed. These disastrous changes of language occurred after afew days of stalemate between the US, China and Russia. 

The most effective opponent of a resolution that would have added useful tools to protect women in war came from Trump’s ambassador, Jonathan Cohen. The Trump administration is attempting to wrest control from vulnerable women’s bodies in war and is instead waging war against women in the United Nations. The feeling of impunity of the most powerful state-members in the United Nations is notorious, and the United States is no exception. Although the United States has been involved in the building of international treaties against torture, violence, or discrimination, it has failed to fully ratify them. For instance, The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ICCPR, which asserts fundamental political and civil rights, was never fully ratified. The ICCPR treaty comprises the formation of a group of experts for monitoring governments’ implementation of the treaty. Under a treaty entitled The Optional Protocol of the ICCPR, the Human Rights Committee may receive complaints from individuals. Individuals from the United States cannot have access to this body. Similarly, the United States is not fully bound to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment. Furthermore, the United States never ratified the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW. 

The debates concerning Resolution 2467 involved about 90 delegates, numerous dignitaries, two 2018 recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Iraqi Yazidi Nadia Murad with her legal councilor, Amal Clooney, and the Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege. They were outraged and decried the international community’s failure to act. The Secretary-General of the United Nations António Guterres emphasized that despite two precedent resolutions and work on the ground, the situation has not improved: “Advocacy groups have demonstrated beyond a doubt that sexual violence is deliberately used as a tactic of war, to terrorize people, dehumanize communities and destabilize societies, so that they struggle to recover for years or even decades.” Pramila Patten, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict had these strong words: “Wars are still being fought on and over the bodies of women and girls.” Everyone hoped that the resolution would bring some momentum to actions to stop this cycle of violence and give victims a way to become again full human beings. 

Although the international community seemed to have realized the gravity of the situation, the lack of protection and help for the victims and the lack of implementation of accountability mechanisms have remained the main issue. It seemed that the issue was doomed from the get-go. This resolution will become yet another political tool in words and not deeds, and yet another frustratingly futile attempt at rectifying a clear injustice.

At this time of mounting far right intolerance, there is a discrepancy between the political reality of the lives of these women and the level of actions by the leaders of the most economically powerful and largest countries.

That the heartless were at war with justice was anticipated by many in the field. Celine Bardet, founder of “We are weapons of war”, didn’t make the trip to New York. She declared that what happened to the resolution reflects the overall US policy. Since assuming office, Trump has imposed the strongest version ever implemented of the Global Gag Rule, with its dreadful consequences for the most precarious women of the global South. Meanwhile, the ongoing battle against women’s health, reproductive and sexual health in the United States has reached new levels of cruelty. 

Some expressed outrage, for example the UN French Ambassador: “It is intolerable and incomprehensible that the Security Council is incapable of acknowledging that women and girls who suffered from sexual violence in conflict — and who obviously didn’t choose to become pregnant — should have the right to terminate their pregnancy.”

Noting that today victims have no access to medical services, Celine Bardet argued that nobody should have voted for this resolution since it was stripped of its most important content. Bardet believes money should be directed to victims on the ground; helping victims to reclaim their dignity is the only way to make a difference, as survivors, unlike the international political community, will not give up. 

The lack of will to protect women victims of sexual war crimes is a political issue ingrained in the heart of the patriarchal capitalist/neoliberal system.  Wars open up a cornucopia of markets, such as the security market, the rebuilding market, “the global smart weapons” market; the list goes on. Control over women’s reproductive bodies must be understood as the elimination of women’s political bodies. When the global gag rule makes women’s lives precarious, so does a UN resolution that has no ability to protect women from sexual war crimes. These political instruments render women’s racialized and gendered bodies invisible, and this is what mainstream feminism sometimes has difficulty understanding. 

While these heartless policies are currently being enacted against women, on the ground other voices are surfacing to uphold women’s rights and the right to live on a planet without fear of climate catastrophes and war. These voices are rising up in the younger generation in the U.S. Congress, in the current run up to the European Commission election, in the fringe parties in India, in the counter protests in Venezuela, and so on. As, worldwide, far right voices are trending, this is the time to keep our ears to the ground. 

(Image Credit: CICC Global Justice)

It is the responsibility of the State to defend reproductive rights and health

 


Twenty years ago the Cairo conference, also called the Cairo Consensus, stated that women’s reproductive health and rights, as well as women’s empowerment and gender equality, were the cornerstone of population and development programs. A few weeks ago, panelists at a conference in Paris agreed that the anticipated advances for women had not materialized. To the contrary.

The backlash against women’s advances isn’t a function of developing countries. For example, what is happening in the United States is remarkable. Women’s health and rights are now under the control, and at the mercy, of some powerful men, such as those on the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. One of the great mistakes is to look at the demise of women’s rights as an isolated event. Soaring inequality and legislative measures to control women’s health and rights work together to disempower women and civil society.

This past June two terrible bills were passed. The US House of Representatives passed a bill with the distorted name of “Pain-capable Infant Protection Act” (HR1797), banning all abortions for any reason including the health of the woman after 20 weeks. Then, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed a state budget that restricted reproductive rights and defunded many women’s services, with the potential to defund poor children’s programs as well. Three amendments strategically embedded in the budget bill severely restrict women’s rights. Two of those amendments are part of the TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) strategy to impose constraints on medical facilities and providers that deliver abortion services.  These included banning public hospitals from making transfer agreements with abortion clinics, or requiring clinics to perform sonograms and make women listen to the iconic sound of a heartbeat, with criminal charges applicable.  The third amendment said that a state program “Parenting and Pregnancy” would be created and funded by public money and run by private organizations with the requirement that the word abortion not be used. This last amendment carries the neoliberal mark of transferring public money to private interest groups that work against women’s interests.

The ACLU Ohio has challenged the three Ohio amendments on the basis, arguing that they were tacked onto a budget bill in violation of the “single subject” rule of the Ohio constitution, meant precisely to prevent such practices.

Working on all fronts, the federal bill has just been introduced in the US Senate. It will certainly not pass with a democratic Senate. Nonetheless this ban has passed in 13 States. These bills are there to threaten women’s civil rights as they are devalued in comparison with the fetus they carry.

Lynn Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin recently warned against the legal implications of these series of bills (feticide bills and ban on abortion after 20 weeks). National Advocates for Pregnant Women has documented an increase of forceful actions against pregnant women. They report the case of a doctor who threatened his “patient” that he would send the police to take her to the hospital for a cesarean, if she didn’t go by herself that very day. These are not isolated cases. Across the country pregnant women report a climate of constant and intimidating surveillance of their pregnancy.

Whether the fetus is viable or not is not the issue. These attacks on women’s rights, using the threat of criminal charges against women, are not accidental. This type of legislative action is designed to bring women and civil society to its knees. It is designed to make them obey absurd authoritarian laws that only serve the neoconservative, religious fundamentalist neoliberal consortium, with its forceful and violent surveillance system of racialized and gendered bodies.

The threat is global and it is real. This is not only a problem for women. We should hear “clear and distinct voices,” to use Christiane Taubira’s phrase, to denounce and thwart the dehumanization process that is plaguing the American society.

 

(Photo Credit: RhReality Check)