Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Louisiana Loonies, a Weakened Roe, and the Case for Reproductive Justice

A while back, I had asked readers how much time (in prison) a woman should do if she decides to end her pregnancy. Four years later, reproductive justice advocates are asking the same question – only, today’s societal climate feels much more threatening, ominous and just plain evil.

“[Louisiana] State Rep. John LaBruzzo, a Republican from Metairie, has introduced a bill that would ban all abortions in his state—with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the life of the mother—and charge women who seek abortions and the doctors who perform those abortions with ‘feticide.’" (Please refer to #7 of The Unsexy 17 in my previous post, “States Gone Wild”).

The Louisiana Code for feticide reads, “The killing of an unborn child when the offender has a specific intent to kill or to inflict great bodily harm” and carries a prison sentence of 15 years plus hard labor. LaBruzzo claims the verbiage of prosecuting women on "feticide" charges for having abortions was a "mis-draft," and would make the bill too hard to pass. He says that provision will be removed from the bill before it goes to a committee vote.

Call me a skeptic, but I wouldn’t bank on the removal of the language – or that language making the bill “too difficult” to pass the state legislature. After all, this is Louisiana we’re talking about; the state is already fertile ground for the most extreme anti-abortion laws in the country. Yes, LA is also one of those states with “trigger laws,” criminalizing abortion immediately should Roe ever be overturned. Removing the provision would only shift the onus from the woman to the providers.

So, we shouldn’t at all be surprised that LaBruzzo is apparently working in cahoots with an “unnamed conservative religious group,” whose main goal is to invalidate Roe v. Wade.

Roe has overcome some serious opposition in the past – but times they are a-changin’. The last Supreme Court case to challenge Roe was Carhart v. Gonzalez in 2007, and ultimately restricted abortion access by upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.

With Justice Anthony Kennedy as a swing vote in the abortion debate, increasing numbers of anti-choice governors, and the influx of socially conservative Tea Party nutjobs in Congress – the fight for Roe seems to be a train we’re not so quick to board this time around.

I am a woman who is fortunate to not know a world before Roe, and I sure as hell don’t want it any different. But look around today, and it’s almost as if the landmark Supreme Court case never existed. Take the recent story of J.M.S., the young woman in Utah who became pregnant at 17 by a convicted felon. J.M.S. paid a stranger $150 to beat her in order to induce a miscarriage. Not only does this show us what lengths women will go to end an unwanted pregnancy, but it shows why we don’t only need reproductive rights, but reproductive justice. You’ll see what I mean:

The convicted felon is “facing charges of using J.M.S. and another underage girl to make pornography. J.M.S. lived in a house without electricity or running water in a remote part of Utah. Even if she could have obtained the required parental consent and scraped together money for an abortion and a couple of nights in a hotel to comply with Utah’s twenty-four-hour waiting period, simply getting to the nearest clinic posed an enormous challenge. Salt Lake City is more than a three-hour drive from her town, twice that in bad weather, when snow makes the mountain passes treacherous. There is no public transportation, and she didn’t have a driver’s license.”

Reproductive justice is about access. We can have all the laws in our favor and more rights than we can shake a stick at – it doesn’t mean shit if there is no access. And by “access,” I mean access for ALL, not just those who are privileged enough to afford it. Waiting periods leave women in the dark who cannot afford travel/room and board. What about women who do not have their own source of transportation? And what if there is no public transportation? Childcare? Parental consent laws forget about young women who might not have living/present parents – or those who are pregnant because of a parent or relative. Repro justice shows how repro health intersects with many other issues such as poverty, education and the environment.

That being said, I wish this turned out to be a more positive post. Sadly, the majority of what we’re seeing on a daily basis is state legislators introducing bills that capitalize off our lack of justice – regardless of the contended law of the land.

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