Op-Ed

Women already are being punished by anti-choice laws

In this 2009 photo, women are concealed from view by volunteers as they enter the Planned Parenthood of Collier County in Naples.
In this 2009 photo, women are concealed from view by volunteers as they enter the Planned Parenthood of Collier County in Naples. AP

Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump horrified both conservatives and progressives recently when he expressed support for banning abortion and instituting “some form of punishment” for women who get the procedure.

With his comments, Trump — who backtracked on his position after an immediate uproar — used language that the anti-abortion movement has studiously avoided in their attempt to paint laws restricting women’s access to reproductive healthcare as “protecting” rather than harming women. But what has been largely overlooked in the media storm surrounding Trump’s comments is that women are already being punished by the anti-choice laws being passed in states across the country.

Last month, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a horrific bill into law that is nothing short of an assault on women’s health. Among other provisions, the new law eliminates state funding (in a manner that could be illegal) for preventive medical care at clinics like Planned Parenthood that also provide abortion care and says that doctors who provide abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital near the clinic — the type of unnecessary regulation aimed at shutting down clinics that is being challenged in the Supreme Court.

The right-wing Florida Family Policy Council praised the new law as a measure protecting women’s health. But in reality, cutting Planned Parenthood funding and making it harder to access reproductive healthcare has devastating effects, especially for low-income women. Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards called it a “cruel bill” that may result in thousands of people across the state unable to access basic health services like well-woman exams and cancer screenings.

For countless low-income women, Planned Parenthood is the lone option for such services. A Guttmacher Institute study last year found that in 103 of the 491 counties with Planned Parenthood clinics, Planned Parenthood is the only safety-net family planning center” serving low-income patients. With this volume of women relying on Planned Parenthood, the researchers warned, it’s unlikely that other health providers could step in and make up the difference if Planned Parenthood’s funding for those services were eliminated. After a Planned Parenthood clinic in rural Indiana was forced to shut down in 2013, for example, the area saw a massive HIV outbreak.

Likewise, the “admitting privileges” part of the new law aimed at shutting down clinics is likely to make it harder and more expensive for women to access needed care. A Texas law with a similar provision cut in half the number of clinics providing abortions in the state. Women’s health providers in Florida fear our state will see similar outcomes. Dr. Christopher Estes, who is the chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida, said that many patients already have to “drive hours to come see us.” Estes worries that Florida could become the next state with just a few abortion providers remaining to serve the entire population.

Despite the right’s effort to couch anti-choice measures in the language of “protecting” women, these types of policy changes bring real harm to real women. I know firsthand the danger women face when they don’t have ready access to safe abortion. When I was a teenager, my aunt came home one day in critical condition after an unsafe abortion. I made a promise to God that I would help women get safe abortion care if my aunt survived. For the past four decades, I’ve been working to keep that pledge and help women safely access their constitutionally protected right to make their own decisions about their own bodies.

Trump certainly grabbed headlines with his ugly comment about punishing women, but the real outrage is that women are already being harmed every day by regressive laws across the country that make it harder to access critical, and sometimes life-saving, reproductive healthcare.

Rev. Dorothy Chaney is a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action in Miami.

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