In the state of California—at roughly the same time lawmakers are voting on a bill that could make abortion accessible on college campuses—anti-abortion activists are working to put a sweeping measure on the November 2018 ballot classifying all abortions, without exception, as first-degree murder. The far-reaching law would also ban certain types of birth control, medical research and in-vitro fertilization—and criminalize not only women, but medical professionals and researchers.
It’s highly unlikely the measure will make it to the ballot—and even if it did, and managed to win a majority of voter support, such a ban would undeniably violate the Constitution and the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade. The dystopic policy, however, shows that anti-abortion groups and individuals have long been laying a framework for total and complete abortion bans in the U.S.
At a time when the Vice-President has said Roe belongs “on the ash heaps” of history and the President once advocated for “punishing” women who have abortions, seemingly less dramatic anti-abortion measures are already being put into place across the country at record levels. 25 percent of all restrictions on abortion since Roe were enacted between 2011 and 2016. Some states have tried to decimate abortion access not by making the procedure illegal, but by building so many barriers around it that it’s inaccessible; TRAP laws regulating clinics into extinction have popped up across the country, inspired by the now-struck-down HB2, an omnibus anti-abortion bill that shuttered over half of Texas’ clinics. In other states, most recently Ohio and Arkansas, lawmakers have attempted implement bans on abortion at different stages and under varying circumstances, justifying them with convoluted and inaccurate claims that they are trying to “protect women.” At the national level, such bans are also bandied about in Congress.
It’s well-noted by researchers that restrictions on abortion don’t stop it from happening—and only burden, shame and endanger women who will likely go on to have the procedure anyway. (That the United States has the highest maternal mortality rate in the industrialized world, with higher rates in states with more restrictions on abortion, speaks for itself about the consequences of limited abortion access on women’s health.) There’s little reason to believe that an outright abortion ban would have different implications—which is why, however slated for failure California’s potential ballot measure ultimately is, it serves as a stark reminder of how tenuous abortion rights remain.
An all-out abortion ban is the ultimate intent and end-game of the anti-abortion movement. Half-attempts and deceitful regulations are just fluff and showmanship meant to disguise and hide it.
But while anti-abortion forces in the U.S. remain determined to attack women’s rights, activists are just as determined to fight back—and they stand on the side of most Americans. “The majority of Americans stand on the side of abortion access, and seven in 10 Americans believe abortion should remain legal and accessible,” NARAL Pro-Choice America Senior Vice President Sasha Bruce reminded Congressional lawmakers just last year. “That’s not just a majority, that’s consensus, and we will keep mobilizing and organizing to ensure that all women can make decisions about their lives, bodies, and futures.”