by Max Brantley
It's a bright and sunny 80 degrees in Sydney, Australia, a gorgeous and progressive city that I'll depart in a few hours for a long and roundabout journey home, with arrival mid-afternoon Sunday, Little Rock time, after a leg to Tokyo, a leg to Dallas and one last jump north toward home.
I've been following the Arkansas legislature's rapid descent into the depths of radical conservative governance. No voter who kept informed can claim surprise. Perhaps a majority would proclaim happiness with the results, though public opinion polling consistently shows Arkansas voters more moderate — whether the subject is women's rights, guns, taxes or government services — than the record this legislature is building. Certainly they want more ethics than the Republicans have demonstrated, with obedience to special interest money and protection of tricks to defeat the popularly approved state ethics law on use of campaign money for personal purposes.
But, a note of good news of a sort. It could be worse. Yes, worse.
North Dakota has now passed the anti-abortion bill that Sen. Jason Rapert wanted to pass in the first place. It offered no exceptions for rape victims or women carrying gravely deformed fetuses. It required ultrasound for all women, even before a heartbeat is readily detectable, and thus would have meant the invasive vaginal probe that North Dakota has now approved. The faintest sign of life, as early as five weeks, before many women know they are pregnant, means an abortion is illegal. The bills in North Dakota and Rapert's original were produced by the same legal factory. It is a frontal challenge to the prevailing law that gives women the right to end a pregnancy before a fetus is viable. Rapert himself has said he hopes to eventually emulate North Dakota with laws to put the value of a zygote, literally hours after creation — even by rape — above that of a woman. He's been quoted as saying women can use contraception if they don't want to be pregnant, but he's also moved to eliminate state support for an important source of birth control help in Arkansas. Men? Well, they can just keep doing what comes naturally and electing people like Jason Rapert.
For now, we are a few weeks better than North Dakota. The courts willing, we'll return before long to a state where it remains quite difficult to obtain an abortion, but still legal.
Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone has written a good piece on the broad GOP national agenda, reflected in Arkansas. Some Republicans sing a moderate tune (think House Speaker Davy Carter). Don't be fooled, Dickinson writes:
Don't be fooled. On the ground, a very different reality is unfolding: In the Republican-led Congress, GOP-dominated statehouses and even before the nation's highest court, the reactionary impulses of the Republican Party appear unbowed. Across the nation, the GOP's severely conservative agenda — which seeks to impose job-killing austerity, to roll back voting and reproductive rights, to deprive the working poor of health care, and to destroy agencies that protect the environment from industry and consumers from predatory banks — is moving forward under full steam.
BUT BACK TO WOMEN. DON'T FORGET: Tell your friends and like-minded others to join the march on the State Capitol at 3 p.m. March 23 to Stop the War on Women.
Meanwhile, what some others are saying on abortion after the latest from North Dakota:
FROM NARAL PRO-CHOICE:
Washington, D.C. — Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, expressed profound disappointment in the North Dakota legislature for passing a bill that could effectively ban abortion in the state.
This bill would outlaw abortion as early as six weeks—before many women even know they are pregnant. It would be the earliest abortion ban in the country, and includes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. The bill will now go to anti-choice Gov. Jack Dalrymple for consideration.
“In a race to the bottom, these anti-choice politicians won’t be happy until they send the women of North Dakota back to the days of back-alley abortions,” said Hogue. “This cruel bill takes away a woman’s options, in many cases even before she knows she is pregnant—with no exceptions.”
Last week, the Arkansas legislature overrode their governor’s veto to enact a 12-week abortion ban, currently the harshest anti-abortion bill signed into law in the country. It will be surpassed, however, if the North Dakota governor signs this bill into law.
Hogue continued, “American leaders should protect our rights, not strip them away. I am calling on Gov. Dalrymple to veto this egregious anti-abortion law that will endanger the lives of women.”
FROM A NEW ACTION GROUP
The following call to action was issued by WORD (Women Organized to Resist and Defend):
House Bill 1456, a so-called “fetal-heartbeat” bill that passed in North Dakota’s legislature on March 15, is the latest and by far the most extreme in a series of attacks on our right to abortion. This law seeks to ban abortion for women in North Dakota as early as six weeks — effectively stripping the right to abortion from millions of women in that state.
This legislation is part of a wave of attacks against women’s rights. It is no coincidence that it is coming on the heels of similar legislation that passed in Arkansas just a week prior. Insane, unscientific legislation like this is nothing short of an attempt to deny women our human rights.
The right wing feels emboldened in their march to remove our right to control our own bodies. They are determined to send women back to the dark ages of back-alley abortions and legally sanctioned inequality. We must maintain the right to control our own bodies and our own lives. We must fight this legislation, for women in North Dakota and all over the United States!
In response to this outrageous legislation, WORD issued a Call to Action to women all over the United States, asking them to send letters to North Dakota Gov. Jack Darymple urging him not to sign the bill into law. Within the first hour, hundreds of women took action in support of the demonstrations and lobbying efforts already underway in the state. The letter-writing mechanism can be viewed by clicking here.
WORD is a new grassroots, feminist organization that is dedicated to building the struggle for women’s rights and equality for all. Find out more at DefendWomensRights.org.