What year is it again? Judging by some of the major hits women's rights have taken in 2016 so far, it's difficult to remember women actually have made major strides in their quest for equality and the protection of their rights — because those rights constantly come under threat.
While we can point to several examples of victories in women's rights that have been achieved in recent months — among them, prescription-free birth control in California — issues like abortion and the controversial bathroom law continue to divide politicians and their constituents. Women's basic human rights concerning their bodies and ability to protect and care for themselves continue to be used as fodder for elected officials intent on rallying their troops ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Here is a list of the worst hits women's rights have experienced since the start of the year.
In June 2016, the Supreme Court will decide whether the state of Texas had a right to pass a dubious law that would shut down more than 75 percent of women's health clinics that provide abortions in Texas. The HB2 legislation was passed in 2013 and put a ridiculous number of restrictions on women's health clinics (including one that requires them to meet the same standards as hospitals). As a result, 9 out of 10 abortion clinics in the state would have to be closed down, leaving 5.4 million women without a choice. Before the law, Texas had 40 clinics that could perform abortions — that number has shrunk down to just 19. Instead of actually preventing abortions, which we assume is the point of the legislation, up to 240,000 women in Texas have reportedly tried to give themselves abortions.
Just because a state can't outright overturn Roe v. Wade doesn't mean its legislators won't find the most creative way possible to, more or less, overturn Roe v. Wade. Lawmakers in Oklahoma approved a bill that would make abortions a felony and strip the medical licenses of most doctors who perform abortions in the state. Any physician who went against SB1552 would face a penalty of between one and three years in the state penitentiary. Thankfully, Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed the bill, calling it "so ambiguous and so vague that doctors cannot be certain what medical circumstances would be considered 'necessary to preserve the life of the mother.'"
In May, South Carolina became the 17th state to pass a bill that prohibits abortions after 19 weeks. South Carolina Rep. Wendy Nanney made no bones about her ultimate intention, saying she hoped this bill was a step to "get rid of abortion altogether." The South Carolina House approved the bill 79-29 and its Senate approved it 36-9. Next step: approval by Gov. Nikki Haley, who has already said she will almost certainly sign it.
In April, the majority of Missouri's state house voted in favor of Resolution No. 98, which defines "unborn human children at every stage of biological development" as persons with rights. What this would effectively do if passed by lawmakers and voters, according to the bill's opponents, is make abortion illegal, though its proponents swear that isn't true. Here's what's really scary about the resolution: It was amended to remove exemptions for rape, incest or to save the life of a mother. Rather than protect a woman's right to choose abortion even after suffering as a victim of rape, Missouri state representative Tila Hubrecht went as far as saying: "Sometimes bad things happen, and they're horrible things. But sometimes God can give us a silver lining through the birth of a child." Allow me to translate: You were raped. Tough luck. Here's a baby you didn't plan for and whose father is a monster that raped you — enjoy your silver lining. The only visible silver lining here is that similar bills were proposed in states like Oklahoma, where the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that granting "personhood" to human embryos is an improper ban on abortion.
Indiana's abortion rules were already more restrictive than most. But, in March, Gov. Mike Pence signed a bill that would make it even more difficult for a woman to choose. If a woman has an abortion because of the fetus's disability, race or sex, the doctor who performs it will be subject to legal consequences. The same law restricts fetal tissue donations and requires that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital or have an agreement with a doctor who does. Some abortion rights advocates say they believe portions of the law can still be challenged in court, but judging by the fact that states like Arizona (which banned abortions on the basis of race) and North Dakota (where a woman cannot have an abortion if her fetus has a disability) were able to pass their bills, that isn't a guarantee.
A woman isn't prohibited from getting an abortion in Utah — but the state's Protecting Unborn Children Amendment now requires a strange and potentially dangerous practice to take place in her doctor's office. If a woman seeks an abortion at 20 weeks or later, Utah lawmakers have deemed it fit for her doctor to administer an anesthetic to "eliminate or alleviate organic pain to the unborn child." Utah physicians themselves are horrified by this law, with many protesting that it has no basis in science and that they are being asked to experiment on female patients. The administering of an anesthetic isn't unusual after 20 weeks, but the new law doesn't require doctors to warn patients about the side effects and health risks involved — instead, they will have to tell women that their fetus feels pain at this stage in the pregnancy and the anesthetic is a requirement.
If actions speak louder than words, the Alabama House of Representatives just shouted its disapproval of a woman's right to choose from the highest mountaintop. The House passed a bill in early May that bans abortion clinics from existing within 2,000 feet of a K-8 school. The House voted 73-18 in favor of it after the Senate approved the bill in March on a 27-6 vote (it awaits the governor's signature). Believe it or not, the reason for the bill has more to do with pro-life protesters congregating outside of clinics than any moral issue lawmakers have with abortion clinics so close to schools (or so they say).
There are few things more infuriating as a person and woman than a government that assumes it knows best and must think for you because, you silly little emotional woman, you clearly aren't capable of logical thought. In Louisiana in May, Gov. John Bel Edwards signed the Women's Enhanced Reflection Act into law, requiring that women now wait 72 hours (instead of 24 hours) to get an abortion. Never mind the fact that there are only four abortion clinics in the entire state and that it's already difficult enough for women to make choices about their reproductive health and lives. Now, women are being told they have to pause, reflect and receive mandated counseling before an abortion. And studies are showing it isn't working — more women are traveling out of state to get abortions, having abortions later than their first trimester or even opting to use dangerous abortion pills that can be purchased at Mexican flea markets.
The word "bathroom" has never sparked such fury and debate as it has in 2016. Transgender bathroom laws prevent transgender people from using the bathroom of the gender with which they identify. Some elected officials, including Republican lawmakers in Oklahoma, are so fearful of giving transgender people this right that they called for President Obama to be impeached after his administration ordered public schools to let students use their bathroom of choice. Women and men's rights and protection are at stake here, but, for many opposed to it, the issue violates their religious rights — ensuring this is one battle that will likely be waged for a long time. In March, North Carolina became the first state to pass House Bill 2, which banned people from using restrooms or changing rooms consistent with their gender identity. Since then, seven more states, including South Dakota and Texas, are considering legislation that restricts bathroom access.
An intoxicated 16-year-old girl in Oklahoma claimed she was forced to perform oral sex on a 17-year-old boy who took advantage of her inebriated state. Coming forward, alone, was an act of bravery for this girl — and one she probably now regrets since she was put through the ringer in court. Oklahoma's Court of Criminal Appeals upheld a trial court's ruling that forced vaginal and anal sex is considered rape, but that forcible sodomy isn't possible if the victim is intoxicated during oral sex. It may seem like I'm picking on Oklahoma, so let's be clear: Many states still have archaic sexual assault laws that have not been updated and are continuing to fail women and leave them open to sexual abuse and mistreatment.
In an act that inspired lawmakers to chant, "Shame! Shame! Shame!" New York Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney's attempt to secure votes for an anti-LGBT amendment to a military spending bill was shot down in the most brutal manner possible in May. The lawmaker, who is openly gay, pushed for an amendment that would nullify a provision to the bill that protects government contractors who fire or harass LGBT employees and then use "religious liberty" as their excuse for doing so. Maloney secured an impressive 217-206 tally. And then all hell broke loose when the Republican legislator in the speaker's chair kept the vote open for just enough time to allow several Republicans to change their vote. In the end, a 212-213 vote meant a major loss for Maloney, members of the LGBT community and democracy.
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