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Vol. 80/No. 47      December 19, 2016

(front page)

In new attack on abortion, Texas tells women: Bury or cremate fetuses

Just days after the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down a Texas law restricting access to abortion, Texas officials quietly initiated a new obstacle to women exercising their right to decide whether to continue a pregnancy. The new rule, requiring women to bury or cremate fetal tissue from an abortion or miscarriage, will take effect Dec. 19.

This and continuing attacks against access to abortion by other state governments underscore the importance for the working class to organize public actions in defense of women’s right to choose.

The proposed Texas rule was published in the Texas Register July 1 with no announcement. Gov. Greg Abbott said it was “to protect the unborn.”

The rule is designed as a “source of stigma for anyone seeking an abortion,” Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, told the Militant Dec. 3. “They haven’t shown any evidence it benefits public health or improves safe medical practices.”

Supporters of women’s rights delivered more than 5,600 petition signatures protesting the rule to the Department of State Health Services Oct. 26. The Texas Medical Association and the Texas Hospital Association oppose it, as does the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Texas, which pointed to the costs that will fall on abortion providers and ultimately on patients.

In its June 27 decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the Supreme Court rejected the Texas government’s claim — based on zero facts — that it was protecting women’s health by requiring that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at local hospitals and that abortion clinics meet hospital-like standards.

The ruling lays the basis to challenge other onerous restrictions. Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed lawsuits Nov. 30 against abortion restrictions in Alaska, Missouri and North Carolina.

The Missouri law is very similar to the one the court threw out in Texas. The Alaska regulations effectively ban outpatient abortions later than 12 weeks of pregnancy. And the North Carolina law, prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks except in medical emergencies, had been amended earlier this year to require doctors to wait until a woman’s health deteriorated to a particular point of severity before performing the procedure.

Since the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that decriminalized abortion, states have passed more than 700 laws restricting access, often using spurious claims of “protecting women’s health.” The attacks have been made easier by the fact that the Supreme Court based Roe v. Wade on medical criteria, such as pregnancy “trimesters” and “viability” of the fetus, instead of women’s right to equal protection under the law.

The Hellerstedt ruling was a victory, but without a fight by defenders of women’s right to choose abortion it won’t stop the attacks.

A campaign is underway in Arkansas to ban the most common second-trimester abortion procedure, called dilation and evacuation. Similar laws are in effect in Mississippi and West Virginia, while bans in several other states are on hold due to legal challenges.

The Ohio Department of Health revoked the operating license for the Women’s Med Center of Dayton Nov. 30, claiming it failed to obtain a transfer agreement with nearby hospitals for emergencies. The clinic had been allowed instead to operate with two backup doctors for many years. In 2015 officials said three doctors were needed, and the clinic complied. Within weeks the health department demanded four. Abortion opponents in Dayton subject doctors involved in abortions to harassment and intimidation.  
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