Could Mississippi ban abortion without actually banning abortion? In January—the same month that Roe v. Wade turns 40 years old—Mississippi may end up being the first state in the country to bully legal abortion providers out of the state completely. Unless a judge approves a request from the Center for Reproductive Rights to stop the law from being implemented, the doctors at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization will lose their ability to provide safe abortion care and women the right to access one. The law that will go into effect requires doctors providing abortions to have hospital admitting privileges, and, to no one’s surprise, the hospitals in the area won’t give the doctors said privileges.
To make all this even more disturbing, the legislators behind this are exploiting the threat of anti-choice terrorism to end legal abortion in Mississippi. There are many reasons that it’s hard for doctors to get admitting privileges at hospitals, but the fear of harassment and even terrorism at the hands of anti-choice militants is a major factor. As Laura Bassett at Huffington Post reports, these kinds of fears are euphemistically referenced by the hospitals in their explanation of why they denied the doctors admitting privileges:
According to letters quoted by the Center, the hospitals rejected the physicians because their medical practice “is inconsistent with this Hospital’s policies and practices as concerns abortion and, in particular, elective abortions” and that admitting them “would lead to both an internal and external disruption of the Hospital’s function and business within this community.”
The second quote reads like a clear-cut reference to the way that anti-choice militants will happily harass and terrorize not just abortion providers, but anyone they believe is making it possible for providers to do their job. I have no doubt that anti-choicers would swarm any hospital that extended these privileges, protesting them, and threatening them for interfering with the grand plan to end legal abortion in Mississippi. The legislators who concocted this scheme need these bullies in order to make it work. Never forget that this is what the anti-choice movement gives us: Legislators who are counting on the lurking threat of harassment and even violence to make their legal schemes work.
The entire situation should also make decent people recoil in disgust at the hypocritical NIMBY-ism of the anti-choice movement. The recent death of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland has drawn attention to the way that Ireland is largely able to get away with its absolutist abortion ban because women who need abortions travel to England to get them. It gives Irish politicians and conservatives a chance to preen about how they don’t have abortion, but they still get to have abortion for when they need it. The desire of anti-choicers to hurt women to satisfy their sadistic need to see sex punished ends up being exerted on poor women, or in Halappanavar’s case, women who are perceived as outsiders to the culture.
Mississippi anti-choicers are the same hypocritical NIMBYs. Running out legal providers allows them to preen about how they don’t have abortion in their state, but those who have the means will be able to go to neighboring states for abortion, or even fly out to states that don’t have a bunch of needless regulation that makes it a pain to get one. Meanwhile, women who don’t have the economic ability to do that—or women like Halappanavar, who have health problems that make travel impossible—are forced to give birth, to satisfy their need to make at least some women suffer for their weird loathing of human sexuality. It’s very much a form of scapegoating. Single out members of your community who aren’t yourself to pay for the community’s perceived “sins” with their suffering. If they’re poor or a member of an oppressed class, so much the better for conservatives.
The situation with Scott DesJarlais has laid bare how this all works. DesJarlais certainly felt that abortion was okay when it benefited him, which is why he pressured his mistress into getting one and supported his wife through two abortions. DesJarlais is now preening to the media about his belief that God has forgiven him. I don’t doubt he believes that! It’s a classic example of conservatives wanting there to be a heavy price paid for having sex, but they just prefer that it’s others who pay it. Indeed, that is really the point of scapegoating: By making someone else pay the heavy price, you get to pretend that you’ve upheld your arbitrary moral standards, and so you feel free to do whatever it is that you want.
This is all why it’s so important to have abortion access in every state. It’s mainly about making sure all women who need abortions can get them easily, but it’s also about taking a stand against this kind of hypocrisy. Despite all the abuse and the stigma around abortion, it’s an incredibly common procedure. Over a million are performed every year. At least half of American women will experience an unintended pregnancy by age 45, and, one in three American women have an abortion in their lifetimes, including anti-choicers. Regardless of what poses anti-choicers in Mississippi might take, running providers out of the state simply isn’t about stopping abortion. (After all, the way to do that would be to reduce unintended pregnancy, something Mississippi politicians show very little interest in doing.) It’s all about optics, putting abortion out of sight so that one can pretend that it isn’t happening. But it is. And Mississippi shouldn’t be allowed to exact real tolls on women who need abortion services nearby to prop up an image of their state as abortion-free.