Conservatives' real "reproductive health" plot: "These incremental laws are part of a greater strategy to end abortion"

Louisiana passes a new admitting privileges requirement, while abortion access in the South hangs in the balance

By Katie McDonough
Published May 22, 2014 2:56PM (EDT)
  (Reuters/Stephen Lam)
(Reuters/Stephen Lam)

The Louisiana state Legislature this week passed a measure requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals; the measure will likely shutter three of the state's five remaining abortion clinics. Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal celebrated the vote and the "common-sense bill that gives women the health and safety protections they deserve.” He intends to sign it, of course.

These requirements have been routinely denounced by major medical organizations and public health officials as having no bearing whatsoever on the safety of abortion, since complications during the procedure are incredibly rare and -- in cases where emergency care is needed -- hospitals will accept patients with or without these privileges in place. And yet Louisiana is just the latest in a number of states -- including Texas, Alabama and Mississippi -- to pass this unnecessary restriction, further jeopardizing access to basic reproductive healthcare in the South.

Which was the plan from the very start. “These incremental laws are part of a greater strategy to end abortion in our country,” Tanya Britton, a board member for Pro-Life Mississippi, told the New York Times. “It’s part of it, and one day, our country will be abortion free.”

As the Times notes, similar restrictions in Texas have forced more than a dozen abortion clinics to close, and shuttered the only remaining reproductive health clinic in the Rio Grande Valley, one of the most impoverished regions in the state. People in the region requiring abortion services or other basic reproductive healthcare must now drive 150 miles to the nearest clinic, which the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals did not consider an undue burden in a case challenging HB2, the state's sweeping omnibus antiabortion law. When lawyers from the Center for Reproductive Rights argued that the law would force multiple 300-mile round trips (Texas has a mandatory waiting period in place, requiring at least two clinic visits) for people in the Rio Grande Valley, Judge Edith Jones replied that the solution was to drive fast. “Do you know how long that takes in Texas at 75 miles an hour?" she said during the January hearing. "This is a peculiarly flat and not congested highway.”

Mississippi's admitting privileges law -- which threatens to close its last remaining clinic -- is currently before the same court. But the outcome may be different this time around. Dr. Willie Parker, a plaintiff in the Mississippi case and a provider at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, said in a recent interview with Salon that the undue burden this requirement places on people seeking abortion care -- the constitutional litmus test by which these restrictions are judged -- may be considered differently in the Mississippi case:

I think everything hinges on that — the undue burden. [...] I guess the undue burden standard can be looked at cynically — as it was in the Texas case — when the presiding judge said Texas is flat and that people can drive 75 miles an hour. So rather than being an undue burden [to have the nearest clinic be hundreds of miles away], it’s more of an “inconvenience.” I think what makes this difference is that Texas is a big state. And you can drive 200 miles and be in the same state. But Mississippi is not that large of a state. If you drive 170 miles you’ll be in another state, which is around where the closest clinic from Jackson would be.

I think that would be in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. So in this case, I think it really comes down to: Can you impose your duty to take care of your own citizens on another state just because there are services that were formerly available in yours that are no longer available because you changed the rules? Can you do that to your citizens? Can you abdicate your responsibility?

The stakes in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and throughout the South (and other parts of the country, since around 90 percent of American counties lack an abortion provider) couldn't be higher, Parker explained:

But — more globally and more importantly for women — if this [Mississippi] injunction [blocking the admitting privileges requirement] is lifted and the state can proceed to close the clinic, women will be placed in a situation of desperate times that would call for desperate measures. I can’t predict what women would do but I know what is already happening, and the logical conclusion would be that — as in every place on the planet, both in this country and others before Roe and after Roe — when women are desperate to not be pregnant they do whatever they need to make that happen.

Before Roe, that meant women taking risks with their health and their lives. And after Roe it will be more of the same. Maybe it won’t be the literal coat hanger, but I have seen do-it-yourself instructions on the Internet about how to terminate a pregnancy. I do know that there are people marketing medicines and drugs to accomplish the same goals. And desperation leads to exploitation. People are recognizing an opportunity to  capitalize on the desperation of women. [Drug sellers] will put drugs in concoctions available on the Internet and there will be no way for women to receive instructions around how to use those medications or even a quality assurance around whether or not those medicines actually have the medical ingredients necessary to accomplish the intent. So women will, out of desperation, take desperate measures and they will be victims of people who are looking for a market opportunity to capitalize on their desperation. So it would represent, ironically, the jeopardizing of women’s health even though the [admitting privileges] bill purports to improve women’s safety by hyper-regulating abortion clinics, and by requiring hospital admitting privileges.

Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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