Three things about the abortion debate that many people get wrong

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the federal right to abortion, things are more than a little confusing.

As lower courts grapple with rapidly changing state laws, patients wonder day by day whether abortion is still legal and, even if legal, whether it’s still available in their state. Health professionals in states with abortions fear prosecution by state authorities for performing abortions or by federal authorities for not performing them in life- or health-threatening situations.

Even employers are caught between conflicting state and federal rules about what can, cannot and must be covered by insurance.

But in all the confusion, some things just aren’t true. Here are three myths about the abortion debate:

Myth 1: Only people seeking abortions are affected by Supreme Court actions.

The Supreme Court’s overturning of 49 years of widely settled federal policy creates huge changes and uncertainties that most directly affect pregnant women. But they are far from the only people whose medical care is being disrupted.

As abortion providers pack up and leave states with bans, they can take with them expertise in managing high-risk pregnancies as well as routine deliveries, especially in sparsely populated areas, and long-acting birth control and screening and cancer treatment. and sexually transmitted diseases.

Similarly, medical students and medical residents may not want to train in a state where they cannot learn abortion techniques, which is often the case with abortion care. This could lead to a shortage of people trained to help patients deliver safely just as more people are being forced to conceive.

Also affected, at this point as much by accident of intent, is birth control. In Missouri, a hospital system temporarily stopped dispensing the “morning after” birth control pill, a contraceptive that does not cause abortion, before reversing the decision.

This is its own sub-myth – that the Plan B morning-after pill is the same as the abortion pill mifepristone. Plan B is a high dose of regular birth control that prevents ovulation but does not prevent an existing pregnancy. Mifepristone terminates a pregnancy when used around the first 10 weeks.

And it’s not just pregnant women who are affected by uncertainty. People with severe psoriasis, lupus and other autoimmune disorders are already reporting difficulty getting methotrexate, a first-line drug for these diseases that can also be used as an abortion drug.

Myth 2: A Democratic Congress could have codified abortion protections long ago but didn’t.

On July 15 the House voted – for the second time this Congress – on a bill that would effectively codify the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling on federal abortion protections. Roe v. Wade Since the court overturned that decision last month, Democrats on social media and elsewhere have complained that it’s a bill Congress should have passed years ago, when Democrats had firm control of the House, Senate and White House.

But even though Democrats had a large majority in Congress under Democratic presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the large majorities of anti-abortion Democrats in both chambers effectively meant there was no majority for such legislation, much less a 60-vote supermajority. required in the Senate.

This was not, contrary to the view of some revisionist historians, for lack of trying. In 1992, Democratic leaders vowed to bring the “Freedom of Choice” Act to the floor, a bill that would have written abortion rights into federal law, if only to embarrass then-President George HW Bush just before the GOP convention. (Here’s a very old clip of me explaining the C-SPAN situation.) In the end, the bill never reached the floor of the House or Senate, because Democratic leaders couldn’t muster the votes.

Actually, since Ro In the ruling, the House was more anti-abortion than the Senate, because many Democrats from southern and/or conservative districts opposed abortion (most now replaced by Republicans), and because the Senate has long had at least a handful of Republicans who support abortion rights. Today it is limited to Sense. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). The House got its first abortion-rights majority only in 2019, when Donald Trump was president.

Myth 3: Congress can now remove statutory abortion restrictions.

With Democrats in charge of both Congress and the White House, they can simply change existing laws restricting abortion, advocates claim. In fact, President Joe Biden’s 2021 and 2022 budgets proposed eliminating the so-called Hyde Amendment, named after its sponsor, anti-abortion crusading Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), which has since blocked most federal abortion funding. 1970s. But after the House voted in 2021 for a funding bill for the Health and Human Services Department without an abortion rider for the first time in decades, Senate Republicans forced the restrictions back into the final measure. The same is expected later this year. Democrats hold just 50 seats in the Senate, and any bill threatened with a filibuster needs at least 10 Republicans.

The Hyde Amendment would also keep the federal government from allowing abortion clinics to operate on federal land, as many progressives have been calling for. But other, more complex federal-state issues will likely destroy that scenario.

Complicating matters further, the HHS spending bill’s Hyde language is far from the only abortion restriction embedded in federal law. Although abortion-rights advocates have successfully fought most efforts to make such bans permanent, other spending bills include annual limits on abortion by the military, federal prisons, by the Indian Health Service, and as insurance benefits for federal employees. Congress also limited the District of Columbia’s ability to spend local tax dollars on abortions.

The opposite is possible Ro Some of these restrictions may apply. But with Democrats’ paper-thin majority in the Senate, that’s probably not in 2022.

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