US News & World Report

By Nicole Hemmer

Last week, a federal court issued a ruling that immediately closed 13 of the 21 abortion providers remaining in Texas. Patients arriving at the clinics on Friday morning were turned away, told to go to one of the eight clinics still operating in the country’s second-largest state. For nearly 1 million Texas women, these clinics are more than 150 miles away. In addition to medical costs, women in the Rio Grande Valley, many of whom are poor, will now have to spend hundreds of additional dollars on travel and child care in order to access their right to reproductive services.

Texas Republicans had a different spin on the ruling. As a spokesperson for the Texas attorney general put it, the decision was “a vindication of the careful deliberation by the Texas Legislature to craft a law to protect the health and safety of Texas women.”

Welcome to the War on Women 2.0, the “we’re doing it for your own good” edition.

Republican messaging on abortion (as well as contraception, a closely-related women’s health issue) relies on two tactics: pretending threats to these rights aren’t a pressing issue, and pretending women’s health and safety are. I use the word “pretending” advisedly, though “outright lying” works just as well. Since the 2010 election, when Republicans won majorities in state houses around the country, GOP legislators have been hard at work passing TRAP laws, the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. Hundreds of such laws have been passed in the last few years. The cost — and, in the case of admitting privileges at local hospitals, impossibility — of meeting the new regulations have shut down clinics across the country, which is why the laws are being passed. Unable to make abortion illegal, Republicans want to make it inaccessible — a right, but not a reality.

When asked about these hidden-in-plain-sight attempts to regulate abortion providers out of business, many Republicans treat it as a non-issue. Reince Preibus, chair of the Republican National Committee, fielded questions on abortion rights on "Meet the Press" last weekend. Rather than answer host Chuck Todd’s question about conservatives’ newfound fondness for business regulations, a fondness that begins and ends with abortion providers, Preibus punted. He first feinted with an offhand comment about federal funding of abortions — a non sequitur in the debates surrounding state-level abortion law — then changed the subject. “Obamacare, jobs, the economy, Keystone pipeline … You can try to steer to talking about abortion again,” he said, but that’s not what people care about. (Presumably women attempting to access abortion services care about it, but they’re not part of Priebus’ calculus.)

Indeed, while abortion restrictions pile up — more than 200 have been passed in the last three years — the GOP is mum on the issue. “The Growth and Opportunity Project,” the Republican Party’s 2012 postmortem, is 97 pages long. Abortion is never mentioned. The party is happy to legislate on the issue, so long as it doesn't have to talk too much about it.

The other tactic, framing abortion restrictions as a matter of health and safety, is both laughably transparent and deeply cynical. Based on a model bill drawn up by Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group that wields the language of “women’s health” in innovative ways, Alabama legislators named their new set of laws the “Women’s Health and Safety Act.” Wisconsin framed its admitting-privileges requirement as a public health issue, rather than an anti-abortion one. The sophistry of this position prompted Circuit Court Judge Richard Posner to ask why abortion clinics were the ones being regulated, instead of facilities that performed more dangerous procedures like colonoscopies or laparoscopies. “Why did they start with abortion clinics?” Posner asked the assistant attorney general arguing the case. “Because it begins with the letter ‘A’?”

Posner’s question revealed the lie upon which these laws are built. Legislators aren’t interested in regulating facilities that provide other services, because they aren’t trying to stop people from accessing colonoscopies and laparoscopies. Turning abortion clinics into mini-hospitals doesn’t safeguard the health of women, because abortion is already a safe procedure. Only .1 percent of women receiving abortion services need emergency care. Requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals — hospitals which, by the way, refuse to extend those privileges — has no impact on the care women receive. Both the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians have come out against such requirements for that reason.

These laws not only do nothing to advance women’s health, they actively damage it by delaying or denying access to abortion services. Women unable to take the trip to distant cities will still seek out ways to terminate their pregnancies, but those ways are likely to be far more dangerous. In the Rio Grande Valley, women are now considering risky alternatives: traveling to Mexico for an abortion, seeking illegal services in the U.S. or taking off-label medications, like ulcer drugs, in order to induce an abortion. A number of states are now considering a law that would require doctors to follow the Food and Drug Administration's 14-year-old regimen for medication abortions, rather than the best-practices that doctors have developed over time. In doing so, doctors would be required to give more dangerous dosages for medication abortions. For a group that spent the past three years caterwauling about government interference in the doctor-patient relationship, this is quite the reversal.

Like voting restrictions passed to combat nonexistent voter fraud, these “women’s health and safety” laws do nothing to advance women’s health. Both kinds of laws are means to another end: “voter fraud” laws are meant to limit access to the polls, just as “women’s health” laws are meant to limit access to abortion clinics. Rights that cannot be accessed are rights that do not exist. The Republicans know this, which is why they’ll happily wield bold-faced lies to close down clinics across the nation. That they claim to do it for women’s own good just adds insult to a very real injury.

This article was originally published in the US News & World Report