Last week, the House of Representatives passed the latest in a series of extreme, but effectively symbolic, anti-choice measures. Last week's contribution, HR 3, nicknamed "Stupak on Steroids," a bill that if signed into law would eliminate abortion coverage for millions of women paying for insurance out of their own pockets, passed with the support of all House Republicans and sixteen Democrats. HR 3 piggy-backed on another symbolic vote to defund Planned Parenthood and eliminate all Title X family planning funding.
What happened to the Republicans' laser focus on the economy? Why is the House's GOP majority putting in this big effort to show how much they dislike women having reproductive choice - rather than say, spending their time creating jobs or finding meaningful solutions to the budget deficit? The first reason is clearly to pander to a far-right base at the expense of American women. But the second reason is that sometimes failed efforts to implement extremism on the federal level spawn often successful copycat legislation in the states. And that is exactly what is happening with these bills to strip away women's rights.
The House's attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, for instance, was dead on arrival in the Senate. But now, at least six states have taken matters into their own hands and are attempting to deprive their own residents of Planned Parenthood's services - often jeopardizing unrelated health services in the process. Yesterday, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed a bill that cuts off the $3 million in federal funding that the state directs to Planned Parenthood. Gov. Daniels signed the bill despite the risk that it will cause the state to lose the rest of its federal funding for family planning services. To this potential presidential candidate, making an anti-choice statement is worth the risk of jeopardizing millions of dollars in medical services to low-income residents.
New Hampshire, Kansas, North Carolina, Texas and Minnesota are also considering bills that would cut off state funds to Planned Parenthood. Texas's proposal has an extra twist to it: if Planned Parenthood sues to reverse the law and wins, the state's entire women's health and family planning operation will automatically be shut down.
This new flourishing of anti-Planned Parenthood bills in the states is not a coincidence. As the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins pointed out recently on Twitter, these efforts echo the success of the failed federal "marriage amendment" in the mid-2000s, which - with a lot of help from President Bush's reelection campaign - helped spawn 30 successful state-level constitutional amendments to prevent marriage equality. Extreme social measures that have no chance of making it through the checks and balances of a divided national government can instead serve as valuable rallying cries in states where extreme legislation can actually pass - and in the 2010 elections, when Republicans gained control of 21 additional state legislative chambers, the appetite of state legislatures for extreme social measures grew dramatically.
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These Planned Parenthood measures are just the beginning of the harsh anti-choice laws women are now facing in the states. The Los Angeles Times reports that 15 anti-choice bills have been enacted by states this year, and 120 more have been approved by a legislative chamber. Many of these bills are designed to severely restrict the options that women have for obtaining legal abortions. Earlier this year, Virginia enacted a law so severely restricting abortion clinics that seventeen of the state's 21 abortion providers may be forced to close. South Dakota passed a law requiring women seeking abortions to undergo anti-choice "counseling" and wait 72 hours before having the procedure. Ohio is considering a bill that would outlaw abortions performed after the "heartbeat" of a fetus is detected - sometimes as early as eighteen days after conception.
Other state-level laws are designed to pressure women into refusing abortion services. Texas Gov. Rick Perry is on track to sign a law requiring women to view ultrasounds before obtaining an abortion, and Florida's governor is planning to sign a similar law. And in one of the most startling state-level attacks on the right to choose, Arizona's governor recently signed a bill making it illegal to seek an abortion because of the "race or sex" of the fetus - allowing the biological father or the woman's parents to sue an abortion provider based on suspicion of the pregnant woman's motivations for choosing the procedure.
The House GOP's attempts to restrict women's rights and compromise women's privacy are for show, yes. But they are a show with very real consequences for millions of American women. While Congress rattles its saber, pro-choice advocates should not be distracted from the real fights it has inspired in the states.