Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A small victory but no reason to celebrate just yet…

Yesterday a federal judge agreed to temporarily block the horrendous new law that was aimed at further restricting abortions through the regulation of clinics where the procedure is performed.

U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith granted the request from Planned Parenthood of Kansas & Mid-Missouri and stayed the law from taking effect, and he will hold a hearing on September 10 to determine whether to make the injunction permanent or allow the law to take effect.

The new law, which Matty B. signed into law in the sanctuary of a Baptist Church, is an end run around access, pure and simple. When the courts had given the anti-choice zealots all the legal restrictions they were going to get, they set their sights on restricting access via facilities regulations. To this end, they drafted a smarmy little law that set the bar for facilities higher than most of the clinics can meet. As a result, they either have to suspend providing the service, or they have to spend a shitload of money they don’t have on a bunch of pointless facilities upgrades that aren’t needed and serve no purpose.

Facilities that provide abortions in Missouri are already licensed and regulated, but here is where it gets dicey…not all facilities that perform abortions have been defined as abortion clinics. State law has defined an abortion clinic as a facility that derives at least one-half of it’s revenue from abortion services. Under that definition, only one facility, a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis meets that definition.

The new law would alter the definition of an abortion clinic in the state code and pull other facilities under the definition, even the KC clinic that only dispenses abortifacients, and does not perform surgical abortions.

In his order, Smith warned both sides from reading too much into his ruling, saying "the state has a legitimate interest in regulating facilities that perform surgery, even if the facility in question performs surgical abortions."

"The court also believes the state may differentiate between facilities that do not primarily perform surgery based on the types of surgery they provide," he wrote.

But he said it was confusing how the state would apply the law to the Kansas City clinic, which performs only medication-induced abortions, not surgical ones.

Defense attorneys said the facility should be outfitted for surgery in case something goes wrong with the medication. Smith was not convinced.

"Of all the establishments that dispense medication (e.g. doctor’s offices, pharmacies), why is it only those that dispense medication for the purpose of inducing an abortion that must be prepared to perform surgery?" Smith asked.

He said the law should probably apply to the Columbia clinic and noted that Planned Parenthood and the department were willing to cooperate. But he said there was still disagreement over what level of regulations the clinic would have to follow.

In the mean time, we need to get organized and get loud. The rights of women to control our own bodies has been beaten, battered, and thrown under the bus under the Blunt administration.

In Missouri, reproductive freedom is under full frontal assault. Over a year ago legislation was passed that prohibited not just the distribution of contraceptives, but the dissemination of information. The legislation tied state funding to a gag order. County health departments were not only prohibited from providing birth control, they were prohibited from referring to programs that could provide those services.

Over a year ago the non-profit Guttmacher Institute released a study that showed poor women, those living below the poverty line, have a four-fold rate of unintended pregnancy over more affluent women. The study also showed that the trend coincides chronologically with actions taken at both the state and federal levels that have severely limited or entirely eliminated contraceptive programs that serve low-income women. Pregnancy prevention programs have consistently shifted the focus of their efforts from contraception to abstinence, even in marriage.

Social conservatives, meantime, continue to dismissively argue in the face of fact that all contraceptive methods have limitations to their effectiveness, so the only way to be sure an unintended pregnancy is avoided is through abstinence, so really, denying contraception doesn’t matter – God’s will is God’s will. Yes, no contraception is foolproof – but if I were a woman living below the poverty line, I would sure rather have access to the pill and it’s 98% effectiveness rate than nothing at all. Their argument is specious at best, and actually smacks of blatant intellectual dishonesty.

But let’s tote the board, shall we? The social conservatives have managed to curtail availability of contraception for poor women. They have managed to get laws passed at the state level that restrict access to abortion – actions that unfairly deny access to poor women while more affluent women are able to exercise their constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy by taking a trip across state lines. And the final cruel twist of fate: once those unintended pregnancies come to fruition, and a baby is born, that child is on his or her own because Medicaid has been cut to the bone.

Reagan was wrong – people are not “poor by choice.” They are poor by circumstance, and not everyone has the skills; social, cognitive, or otherwise, to escape those circumstances. A smaller percentage still has the ability to acquire the skills necessary to escape the circumstances of their life. The Dickensian social measures being enacted at a phenomenal clip will most surely turn on us in the near future, and we will face a snarling monster with very large teeth.

I am not willing to sit on my hands and wait for the social fallout. I have a head full of knowledge and an ability to organize. And Sisters, I am doing just that. Family planning is power in the hands of women, and I can see no reason that the power of self-determination should be limited only to women of means. I have friends who are effective hellraisers and I have enough bitchitude to foist myself on social service agencies and public health clinics and make them listen to me for 20 minutes. I have enough moxie to take information sessions to the coffee shops and the student unions…and to the shelters, too.

See, HB 1055, that apostasy of a bill – again, signed in the sanctuary of a Baptist church – did not just use the building codes to restrict a woman’s right to choose. Oh, no, Darling. It is a really nasty little piece of misogynistic work. The bill encourages abstinence-only sex education in public schools, and it bans trained sex educators from Missouri classrooms.

Ladies, we need to wake the hell up, and we need to band together. These assaults against half the population can not be allowed to stand. In the meantime, we need to raise our collective voice as one and make our displeasure known.

Sisters, get registered to vote, get informed, get organized and get loud. If you are in the St. Louis side of the state, contact Angry Black Bitch, and in KC and the northwest section of the state, contact me. We sure could use an interlocutor in the Ozarks, if anyone down that way wants to be a Feminist Warrior wielding a Sword of Knowledge.

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