Note: This roundtable discussion is between three Feminist Majority Foundation interns who live and attend college throughout the country. They came together to discuss how the Supreme Court precedent set by the Whole Woman’s Health case will impact future policy changes and current access to reproductive healthcare.
Grace Duginski, Senior at University of Minnesota
When people mention states with just one abortion clinic left, they are often referring to Southern states, like Mississippi or Missouri. Clinic operators in those states fight every day to provide health services in a hostile climate; however, the same is true in North Dakota, where the attacks on clinics are just as insidious, but often quieter. Just last summer, a judge finally knocked down what could have been the nation’s most extreme abortion ban. Though flagrantly unconstitutional, this policy would have banned abortion at 6 weeks — ‘as soon as a fetal heartbeat could be detected,’ beating out Arkansas’ 12-week ban by half the time. Thankfully, it has since been struck it down as the ‘extremist’ banner isn’t one most North Dakotans want to carry.
Here’s a scenario: you’re living in Williston, ND and you want to terminate a pregnancy. You’ll have to drive – because good luck finding comparable, flexible, affordable long-distance public transit in North Dakota – about 400 miles to the clinic in Fargo. That’s six hours and quite a bit of gas money, assuming no detours or construction (which, as Midwesterners know, is probably wishful thinking) to obtain a routine medical procedure.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s say you were able to receive care in Fargo. North Dakota Medical Assistance refuses to cover abortion, so you’ll need to figure out how to pay anywhere from $300 to $1000 out of pocket. (If you’re able to plan ahead, you can contact some abortion funds for help, but it takes significant time and energy.) If you’re underage and don’t feel you can tell your parents about your decision, you’ll have to obtain a judicial bypass, which can mean either spending ten minutes in court down the street, or getting drilled with invasive questions by an unsympathetic judge just to get your autonomy back.
But wait, the invasiveness isn’t over! The North Dakota legislature forces the state’s Department of Human Services to offer a list of “abortion alternatives,” among them known crisis pregnancy centers – fake clinics that give out false information, like the idea that abortion causes breast cancer or infertility. (It doesn’t.) Before your procedure, you’ll be required to listen to a script prepared by a group of predominately white men who have no medical degrees. The script includes the statement “the State of North Dakota believes abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.” I don’t know about you, but getting unsolicited opinions from medically-unqualified strangers is my favorite pastime.
By now, it should be pretty clear that the state doesn’t care what you want – it has an agenda to push. Over the last two years, the state of North Dakota has spent almost $500,000 trying to defend an unconstitutional abortion ban. When there was an oil-money budget surplus, it was thought of as a drop in the bucket, but now that that surplus is gone, people are questioning whether litigating an unconstitutional abortion bill was worth it.
Frankly, the whole system is a mess.
With the Whole Woman’s Health decision, the Fargo clinic hopes to challenge a TRAP law SCOTUS has deemed unnecessary: the admitting privileges requirement. One of our hospital systems is Catholic, and though the other is not, there was real danger that neither one would have been given the admitting privileges due to the politicizing of abortion. Ultimately, I think to avoid the crisis that would have occurred had the clinic been forced to close, Sanford Hospital stepped forward and granted the doctors admitting privileges.
Thankfully, Fargo never dealt with the ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirement. I’m excited to see if we can get rid of the admitting privilege law now that precedent has been created. Forcing providers to jump through this hoop is a really petty, anti-science thing to do. Abortion is literally too safe and too necessary to restrict access.
Killian McDonald, Sophomore at Clemson University
Southern states are notorious for their harsh anti-abortion regulations imposed on women and clinics. Mississippi and Alabama both only have one clinic that can perform abortions. My home state of South Carolina is much smaller than both of them, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there are three abortion clinics. I was almost proud to learn that South Carolinians only have to drive a maximum of an hour and a half to reach the nearest clinic.
As a student at Clemson University abortion is pretty accessible. The Greenville Women’s Clinic is 36 minutes away from campus and students can use a free, public bus to get to the clinic. On top of that, students receive a discount!
However, don’t get used to that warm, fuzzy feeling you might have right now. A South Carolina anti-choice group stated, “Our strategy is to pass every kind of legislation that will be upheld by the current Supreme Court until we have a Supreme Court that will reverse Roe v. Wade.” It’s clear that the three clinics in the state are open despite South Carolina’s legislature’s best attempts to shut them down.
In addition to being few in number, clinics are heavily regulated, from the landscaping outside of the building to the counseling that women receive before receiving an abortion. These regulations are not to “protect” women but instead are part of the TRAP laws created with the intention of shutting down abortion clinics. Since South Carolina cannot make abortion illegal, legislators are using every method possible to shut down all clinics that provide abortions.
South Carolina previously passed a bill that requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals. The Senator who introduced the bill noted it’s similarity to the one in Texas that has forced many abortion clinics to close. Which law in Texas would this be? The notorious H.B. 2, which the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional in the landmark Whole Woman’s Health v Hellerstedt case. While there is still plenty of legal red tape to untangle, it’s clear that South Carolina’s regulations on clinic hallway width and admitting privileges are unconstitutional and inhibit a woman’s right to an abortion.
Currently, the regulations concerning the landscape outside of clinics, the twenty-week abortion ban, the twenty-four hour waiting period, and the state regulated anti-abortion counseling are in a grey area in terms of their Constitutionality. Since South Carolina’s abortion clinics are still open, they may not have legal standing to challenge these unnecessary regulations. So while the South Carolina government works tirelessly to shut down clinics like the one in Greenville, we must make sure to let our representatives know the importance of reproductive healthcare. For students, remember to register to vote and ensure our elected officials in South Carolina protect—rather than prevent—abortion access!
Anna Greer, Junior at the University of Tennessee
Like everyone here, I’m ecstatic about the decision for Whole Women’s Health and what it will mean for my state of Tennessee.
The responses to Whole Women’s Health reminded me of one of the best bumper stickers I’ve ever laid eyes on. While I was in Austin, Texas, I learned that during the Texas Revolution, authorities wanted to take away the settler’s cannon. In response, the Texans raised a white banner over it featuring a drawing of a cannon and the words “Come and take it.” I saw a bumper sticker with the words: “Come and take it” emblazoned over a drawing of a uterus. Feminists across the nation will be saying “Remember Whole Women’s Health” in the same way Texans say “Remember the Alamo.”
Tennessee recently passed two laws resembling Texas’s H.B.2. Doctors are required to have hospital admitting privileges within the same county as the clinic. Clinics that provide 50 or more surgical abortions a year must meet the requirements for ambulatory surgical centers. These laws forced two clinics to close, leaving seven clinics in Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, and Bristol. This is in addition to a 48 hour waiting period and required in-person counselling prior to the 48 hour waiting period. Doctors performing abortions can’t utilize telemedicine, state insurance doesn’t cover abortion, and young folks must battle parental consent laws, too. There’s also Amendment 1, an anti-abortion amendment to our state constitution. It passed in 2014 with 53% of the vote, but a recount has been ordered by a federal judge.
Three clinics challenged the first two laws, and the federal court in Nashville decided to delay any action until after the Supreme Court had ruled on Whole Women’s Health. Well, it did. It ruled that erroneous building requirements and admitting privileges were an undue burden. Huzzah! Now what does that mean for Tennessee, home sweet home to me? The federal courts have to strike down the admitting privileges and ASC requirements. There are a few differences between Texas’s law and Tennessee’s, so the outcome might be a bit different.
Tennessee abortion law is up in the air right now, with the recount of Amendment 1 and the delay on clinics’ lawsuit, leaving Tennesseans in a legal limbo. We are being denied our constitutional right to health care—to control our lives and our bodies. Whole Women’s Health has changed part of that, but it remains to be seen when Tennesseans will begin to experience the benefit of the Supreme Court’s ruling.
I’m still thrilled by the decision, don’t get me wrong. It’s already uplifting people across the country. It has sent a message to state legislatures: Don’t you dare. I just have to temper my enthusiasm with the sort of caution that comes from growing up in a conservative state. For now, the future is bright. We have the momentum, we have the power, and we have the law all on our side.