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South Carolina’s ‘personhood’ bill attacks reproductive health and women’s rights

Francis Rivera

As a reproductive rights advocate working in a state where anti-abortion politicians hold all the power, I’ve grown accustomed over the last 10 years to disappointment.

I’ve watched politicians in committees at the South Carolina State House ignore long lines of women demanding their representatives protect their access to health care, including safe and legal abortion. I’ve watched the legislature pass bills that put unnecessary burdens on those women, forcing them to delay getting the care they need or putting it out of reach altogether.

{mosads}Now the South Carolina legislature is considering two bills that would essentially ban abortion.  

 

One is a so-called “personhood” bill, which threatens to ban safe, legal abortion and many common forms of birth control. This is similar to ballot measures in states like Mississippi and North Dakota that have been rejected by voters and by courts because they infringe on people’s rights and freedoms.

The other is a ban on a very safe and common method of abortion used by many physicians because of its proven record through years of research and medical practice.

The bills are an attempt to make abortion illegal, setting the ideology of a loud minority over the rights of all people to make their own personal decisions about their bodies, health and future.

I’ve seen this kind of disregard for women from South Carolina politicians before.

But never before have I seen resistance and persistence like the last year.

In January 2017, the millions marching across the country — for women’s rights, immigrant rights, voting rights and racial justice — started a movement. Pundits and politicians wondered whether the movement had staying power, whether women could stay mad.

It turns out we have plenty to be mad about: The Global Gag Rule; three separate bills in Congress to block Medicaid patients from coming to Planned Parenthood for care; a government official’s dogged attempts to use the power of the federal government to stop young immigrant women from accessing safe and legal abortion; no accountability for the sexual predator holding the highest office in our country; attacks on the communities we serve, especially immigrants and people of color.

And that’s just from Washington, D.C. Across the country, anti-women’s health politicians in states have passed 400 bills to restrict abortion access and make it harder for women to get the care they need in just the last few years.

The anti-abortion bills being considered in South Carolina are among the worst we’ve seen. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) issued an executive order demanding that Planned Parenthood not be reimbursed for medical care provided to Medicaid patients. The same legislators who push abortion bans in the South Carolina House of Representatives voted against expanding birth control access.

In the face of these attacks on reproductive health and rights, women have led the resistance.

Women have flooded town halls across the country. They’ve been the majority of those calling their legislators to demand their rights.

Women are gearing up to run for office in record numbers. They  are organizing, rallying and volunteering — in South Carolina alone since the 2016 election, Planned Parenthood has grown by more than 12,000 supporters, and we have more than 1,000 new volunteers — women, men and young people.

For every committee hearing on the South Carolina bills to ban abortion, there have been more people lined up to share their opposition than the committee had time to hear.

One of those women, a longtime Planned Parenthood patient named Marta, had never been involved in any kind of activism before the 2016 election.

Since then, not only has she testified against these unconstitutional abortion bans, but she is a volunteer greeter at her local health center, and a frequent phone banker.

On March 6, Marta will be speaking again, at a rally on the steps of the South Carolina State House. She and I hope that this time, the politicians will hear her.

They ignore us at their peril, and the peril of women across the country.

Vicki Ringer is the South Carolina director of public affairs at Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. 

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