War on Women Report: Mike Pence Calls for Nationwide Ban on Abortion Pills; Minnesota Is First State to Protect Abortion Rights in 2023

U.S. patriarchal authoritarianism is on the rise, and democracy is on the decline. But day after day, we stay vigilant in our goals to dismantle patriarchy at every turn. The fight is far from over. We are watching, and we refuse to go back. This is the War on Women Report.

Since Our Last Report ….

So far this year has been a real whiplash:

  • Fifty percent of women are unsure if medication abortion is legal in their state and one-third of adults are unsure if emergency contraception is legal in their state. 

  • Minnesota became the first state to enshrine the right to abortion into law this year. Last year, California, Michigan and Vermont enshrined the right to abortion in their state constitutions. 

  • GOP lawmakers across the U.S. are mimicking Florida Gov. Ron DeSantiscontroversial “Don’t Say Gay law limiting LGBTQ discussions. Wyoming lawmakers introduced a proposal to ban references to sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through third grade. A Missouri proposal would prohibit any school employee from talking about the same subjects with any student younger than 18 unless the employee is a licensed mental health counselor.

  • Utah banned gender-affirming care for transgender kids—the fifth state to enact legislation restricting healthcare for trans children after Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas and Arizona passed similar laws.

  • The richest Black mothers and their babies are twice as likely to die compared to the richest white mothers and their babies. 

Let’s not forget what else was thrown our way over the last month.

Wednesday, Feb. 1

+ Starting this month, as part of a ruling in a child custody dispute, new mother Arleta Ramirez was ordered to use a bottle instead of breastfeeding. Ramirez and the daughter’s father split shortly after the birth and he moved out of their home. On Nov. 28, 2022, a Prince William County judge ordered that the father could visit the baby four days per week ahead of overnight visits. The order had another condition: “Mother is to make every effort to place the child on a feeding schedule and use a bottle.” 

Ramirez didn’t know what to do. Authorities agreed that “breast is best,” but her baby fed as much as once per hour and the father complained that feeding times interfered with his visits. Breast milk is backed by the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics, citing “unequivocal evidence” that it protects newborns from disease.

“Why are they forcing me to stop breastfeeding?” asked Ramirez. “Isn’t that her right? Isn’t that in her best interest?”

Thursday, Feb. 2

+ Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) was removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee after a party-line vote in the House, for what House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) described as “repeated antisemitic and anti-American remarks.” “Omar’s language about Israel was careless and, inadvertently, drew on anti-Semitic tropes,” wrote Pema Levy in Mother Jones, but “the GOP has been gunning for Omar ever since she was elected.”

Some Democrats defended her. In a Thursday morning news conference, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said: “What’s going to take place on the floor today is not a public policy debate. It’s not about accountability. It’s about political revenge.” On the House floor, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), accused her Republican colleagues of racism. “This is about targeting women of color in the United States of America,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), joined by Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), speaks at a press conference on committee assignments on Jan. 25, 2023. (Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images)

+ The government can’t stop people who have domestic violence restraining orders against them from owning firearms, according to a federal appeals court ruling. The appeals court ruled the federal law banning people under domestic violence restraining orders from owning firearms was unconstitutional—something that “our ancestors would have never accepted.” The decision came from a three-judge panel consisting of Judges Cory Wilson, James Ho and Edith Jones. Wilson and Ho were nominated by Donald Trump while Jones was nominated by Ronald Reagan. Now, Americans have no power to disarm men who are most likely to murder their partners and children.

+ Good news! Indiana Attorney Todd Rokita is facing a disciplinary probe by the Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission over potential misconduct as a result of his harassment campaign against Dr. Caitlin Bernard. Dr. Bernard was the abortion provider who helped a 10-year-old rape survivor obtain an abortion last year and was at the center of the nation’s abortion debate.

Friday, Feb. 3

+ Derek Myers, who briefly worked with Rep. George Santos’ (R-N.Y.) office, accused Santos of sexual harassment, according to a letter sent to the House of Ethics Committee. In the letter, Myers said he was alone in Santos’ office on Jan. 25 and was discussing mail received by constituents when the Republican congressman asked him if he had a Grindr account, which is a popular gay dating app. 

Myers also said Santos asked him to sit next to Santos on a couch where he placed his hand on Myers’ knee. Santos said that his husband was out of town and that Myers should “come over,” according to the letter. Santos then moved his hand up Myers’ leg “into my inner thigh and proceeded to touch my groin.” On Twitter, Myers shared he filed a police report with the U.S. Capitol Police about the incident.

Tuesday, Feb. 7

+ A federal court ruling from a judge known for his anti-abortion views could soon ban access to medication abortion across the U.S., despite overwhelming evidence that medication abortion is safe and effective. This ruling becomes even more dangerous when considering women and others of reproductive age (15-49) in counties where medication abortion is the only available option.

One of the pills used in a self-managed abortion, mifepristone, may soon be forced off the U.S. market. (Phil Walter / Getty Images)

+ Idaho Republicans introduced new legislation that would label anyone who helps a teen travel out-of-state for an abortion as a “human trafficker.” This push marks the first of what will be many attempts to increasingly chip away at women and girls’ ability to leave the state for essential healthcare.

+ Texas filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration to block it from asking pharmacies to fill reproductive health prescriptions. This lawsuit targets guidance issued by the Biden administration last summer that pharmacies risk violating anti-discrimination laws if they refuse to fill prescriptions for essential medication. Some pharmacies are concerned that they could be prosecuted in anti-abortion states for filling prescriptions for drugs that can also be used to terminate a pregnancy. For example, methotrexate is used to treat chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis but it is also common for treating ectopic pregnancies. 

This track record is not new for Texas. Last year, the state sued the Biden administration over guidance requiring hospitals to provide abortion care to patients facing medical emergencies.

Monday, Feb. 13

+ “We need to” ban abortion pills nationwide, said Mike Pence in a recently leaked audio. This isn’t surprising. The former vice president has been in a war against abortion access his entire career. On the day Roe fell, he argued “we must not rest” until abortion is banned in every state and later supported Sen. Lindsey Graham’s propose nationwide ban.

+ Three students were killed and five others wounded—some with life-threatening injuries—in a shooting on Michigan State University’s campus. Police identified the suspect as Anthony Dwayne McRae, 43, who had no ties to the school. The gunman fled the scene but later died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. This attack is reportedly the second school shooting of the year and happened a day before the fifth anniversary of the Parkland school shooting

“This truly has been a nightmare we are living tonight,” said Chris Rozman of the MSU Police. President Biden called for an end to gun violence, and many are remembering the victims: juniors Arielle Anderson and Alexandria Verner, and sophomore Brian Fraser.

+ Nearly one-third of high school girls reported in 2021 that they seriously considered suicide, up nearly 60 percent from a decade ago, according to recent research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teen girls across the U.S. are “engulfed in a growing wave of violence and trauma,” said the federal researchers. Almost 15 percent of teen girls said they were forced to have sex—an increase of 27 percent over two years—and 13 percent attempted suicide, compared with 7 percent of boys.

Abortion rights supporters outside of the Austin Convention Center on May 14, 2022, in Austin, Texas, where the American Freedom Tour with former President Donald Trump was being held. Protests were a response to the Supreme Court’s then-leaked draft opinion indicating the Court’s plan to overturn Roe v. Wade. (Brandon Bell / Getty Images)

Thursday, Feb. 16 

+ The Kentucky Supreme Court rejected a request to block two abortion bans, leaving abortion unavailable in the state while the case plays out. The court was asked to reinstate an injunction blocking the state’s trigger ban and a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. The justices sent the challenge back to a lower court, clarifying that their decision doesn’t “in any way determine whether the Kentucky Constitution protects or does not protect the right to receive an abortion.” Three months ago, Kentucky voters rejected a ballot measure that would have specified that the state constitution does not protect the right to abortion. 

“Even after Kentuckians overwhelmingly voted against an anti-abortion ballot measure, abortion remains banned in the state,” said Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union in a statement. “We are extremely disappointed in today’s decision, but we will never give up the fight to restore bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom in Kentucky.”

+ GOP presidential contender Nikki Haley isn’t “in her prime” at age 51, said Don Lemon, CNN co-anchor. “A woman is considered to be in their prime in [their] 20s and 30s and maybe 40s,” said Lemon. Across the CNN newsroom, female journalists were shocked at Lemon’s comment. 

Later Thursday, Lemon apologized for his comments, saying he regretted his “inartful and irrelevant” references to a woman’s prime age. “A woman’s age doesn’t define her either personally or professionally,” he said. “I have countless women in my life who prove that every day.” Lemon returned to the network’s air on Feb. 22 and will participate in formal training following sexist comments.

Sunday, Feb. 19

+ All 49 awards at the 2023 BAFTA film awards were given to white people. But the nominations were much more diverse than the winners’ circle—about 40 percent of the acting nominees were people of color.

Tuesday, Feb. 21

+ Led by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.), 21 Democratic governors announced the launch of the Reproductive Freedom Alliance, a coalition committed to protecting and expanding reproductive care in their states. The Alliance will work together to strengthen abortion access in the face of the Republican’s persistent attack on all aspects of reproductive healthcare. 

Mini Timmaraju, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, released the following statement in response:

“Anti-choice Republicans are threatening the rights of Americans in every state—no matter where you live, your rights are in danger. This Alliance will counter extremist attacks on reproductive freedom by protecting access and restoring our rights. Right now, nearly 25 million people live in states with bans on abortion in effect; we look forward to working with these governors to ensure folks can get the care they need while expanding access everywhere.”

Wednesday, Feb. 22

+ Lawmakers in 23 states have introduced or pre-filed at least 80 bills that will make it harder to vote at home, according to recent research from the Brennan Center. One bill in Mississippi (SB 2358) would limit community return of mailed-out ballots, prohibiting knowingly collecting or transmitting a ballot that was mailed to another person other than a relative, household member or caregiver. Currently, there are no restrictions on the handling or mailing of ballots by individuals other than the voter. 

Another bill in Arizona (H.B. 2231) would remove no-excuse mail voting. Only people who are physically unable to go the polls, absent from their jurisdiction, or visually impaired could vote prior to Election Day. If any of these bills pass and be signed into law, they would go into effect before the 2024 presidential primaries and election.

Thursday, Feb. 23

+ Harvey Weinstein, former Hollywood producer, was sentenced in L.A. to an additional 16 years in prison for rape and sexual assault charges. Weinstein, 70, is already serving a 23-year prison sentence in New York.

A march against sexual harassment, violence and U.S. President Donald Trump in solidarity with American women during the Women’s March along with the #MeToo movement,on Jan. 20, 2018, in Rome (Photo by Andrea Ronchini/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

+ R&B singer R. Kelly was sentenced to 20 years in prison in a Chicago federal courtroom following his conviction last year on charges of child pornography and enticement of a minor. Kelly, 56, is already serving a 30-year prison term for his 2021 conviction on racketeering and sex trafficking charges in a New York federal court. “Robert Kelly is a serial sexual predator who, over the course of many years, specifically targeted young girls and went to great lengths to conceal his abuse of Jane and other minor victims,” said the prosecutors in a filing. “To this day, and even following the jury verdict against him, Kelly refuses to accept responsibility for his crimes.”

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.


Michelle Moulton (she/they) is a former editorial intern with Ms. and a graduate of Smith College, where she majored in the study of women & gender and sociology. Her beats include reproductive justice, LGBTQ rights, domestic violence intervention and pop culture.