Repro Rights Roundup: December 18, 2017

Welcome back to the Repro Rights Roundup! Once again, it has been a pretty bleak week for women’s rights in our country. Let’s dive in.

1. Where do we even begin with this? On Saturday, it became public that the Trump administration had given all Health and Human Services agencies a list of words that they are barred from using in documents regarding next year’s budget. We can’t imagine that you haven’t heard them by now, but just to make sure that we’re all on the same page, the seven dirty words you can’t use in a government document are: diversity, vulnerable, entitlement, transgender, evidence-based, science-based, and fetus.

We don’t know why these words are double plus ungood for the health-related arms of our government to use now, but we can speculate. For the purposes of this post, let’s have a look at the word “fetus.” It’s likely that the administration’s preferred replacement for “fetus” will be “unborn child”. While “unborn child” lacks the medical accuracy of “fetus”, it’s way better at sneaking anti-choice rules and regulations where they don’t belong. We can safely assume that this is yet another case of this administration’s death-by-a-thousand-cuts attitude toward abortion rights. It is not surprising that they would take advantage of any opportunity available to make the United States government hostile to women’s rights, but the nature of this particular offense is especially unsettling. Policing language in a democracy is a bridge too far. In the most fundamental way possible, they are attempting to silence speech about abortion rights, and attempting to silence those who seek to protect abortion rights.

Of course, even if you take away the CDC’s right to use the word “fetus”, fetuses will still exist. Abortions will still exist. But the risk to the quality of medical care available to women will be significant. The use of the word “unborn child” creates an implicit anti-choice bias in the treatment pregnant women receive; not only for women who seek abortions, but for those who choose to continue their pregnancies. When you elevate a fetus (sorry, feds) and consider its needs over a woman’s, the woman will always lose. Women in diverse, vulnerable (whoops! there’s two more no-no words) communities are already being underserved in this way. Black women are dying in or from complications related to childbirth at three times the rate of white women, in no small part because black women’s pain is not taken seriously. Texas, a state where attaining even the most basic women’s healthcare is an uphill battle, has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world. This proposed change, not to mention all the other awful things these people have up their sleeves, could very well cause those trends to hurt women of all races, socioeconomic groups, and regions. And while “fetus” may be one word, banning its use is just the tip of the nightmare iceberg that is this administration’s continued attack on women’s reproductive rights.

This story does have a bit of a crack where the light gets in: the CDC is outraged, and everyday Americans have let their horror at this Orwellian garbage be known. It could be that the government agencies impacted choose to follow their collective conscience, or that the uproar gets the administration to back down. But even if that does happen, remember to keep one eye open. For every door you think you’ve closed, they will sneak in a window.

2. An update on the Ohio bill we mentioned in a previous Roundup that would ban abortion after a Down syndrome diagnosis: the state legislature has approved the bill, and it is now on its way to John Kasich’s desk. Kasich is infamously anti-choice, but he did veto last year’s egregious “heartbeat bill”, so it could still fail. Stay tuned.

3. Speaking of Roundup throwbacks, here’s a great read about an organization we told you about in our very first post, the Kentucky Health Justice Network. Also happening in the Bluegrass State: women in Appalachian Kentucky are fighting for access to reproductive health basics like birth control and sex ed.

4. This deep dive into the Global Gag Rule shows us the dangerous, fatal impact of this administration’s sexist policies on women and girls worldwide.

5. And since it can’t all be bad news: Alabama now has a pro-choice senator! While you’re thanking black women for their role in making this happen, take a look at the ways you can turn that gratitude into action.  

Thanks for joining us at the Roundup. We’ll see you again next week.

Natalie Tyson is a contributor to A Is For. Natalie lives in Virginia, where she writes stuff, bakes stuff, and drinks a truly remarkable amount of seltzer water. You can't find her on any social media - it terrifies her - but she's glad you asked. She accepts tips.

Natalie Tyson