PLI’s Aimee Arrambide in Newsweek

Posted on February 19, 2017

Texas Legislators Double Down, Break Glass Table, in Next Big Abortion Fight
By Lucy Wescott

Eight months after the Supreme Court struck down abortion restrictions in Texas, state legislators appear to be doubling down in a renewed effort to make the procedure difficult, and ultimately impossible, to obtain.

On Wednesday, the Texas Senate Committee on Health and Human Services held a public hearing in Austin on three bills—SB 8, SB 258 and SB 415—all of which were filed by male representatives. Taken together, the three Texas bills hold up a mirror to battles over abortion rights happening in states around the country and are part of a broader trend of politicians favoring fetal dignity and the “life of the unborn” over the rights of a pregnant human woman, says Amanda Allen, senior state legislative counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Similar to anti-abortion legislation that has been introduced in states around the country, the bills aim to enact a number of restrictions, including banning the donation of fetal tissue from an elective abortion and prohibiting D&E, or dilation and extraction, the safest and most common procedure for second trimester abortions. (D&E has been banned in West Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana and, most recently, Arkansas.) SB 258 would require that fetal tissue from an abortion be buried or cremated. SB 8 intends to ban so-called “partial-birth abortions,” a non-medical term for dilation and evacuation (or D&X), an abortion procedure that is already banned at the federal level, except when the woman’s life is at risk.

One day after the hearing, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to reverse a rule introduced by President Barack Obama during his final days in office that blocks states from withholding federal dollars from Planned Parenthood affiliates and other clinics that provide preventative women’s healthcare, but also that perform abortions.

Attempt to ‘Shame and Stigma’

One of the approximately 150 people who testified in Texas on Wednesday was Aimee Arrambide, reproductive rights manager and policy specialist at the Public Leadership Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit. The three proposed bills, she says, will do nothing to improve the already-dire state of women’s health care in Texas. Even though the Supreme Court overturned parts of House Bill 2, the 2013 decision that made Texas health centers that provided abortions meet stringent hospital-like requirements—including minimum sizes for doorways and rooms—, clinics still closed. There are currently 19 clinics for the state’s population of 28 million people.

“I think that people are sometimes under the mistaken impression that after the ruling last summer clinics automatically reopened, but a lot of the smaller clinics closed and staff moved on to other jobs,” says Arrambide.

Arrambide serves on the board for Fund Texas Choice, an organization that pays for Texan womens’ travel to abortion clinics in and out of the state. She says abortion waiting times for some women have increased tenfold, and some women have waited for so long that they find themselves past the statutory limit of abortions in Texas, forcing them to travel outside the state. Last year Fund Texas Choice, which was formed in response to House Bill 2 in 2013, raised $150,000 for 334 women to travel to their abortion appointments.

“We have seen the numbers of clients that need our services rise dramatically over the past three years, and they keep rising,” says Arrambide.

Wednesday’s Senate committee hearing was tense, with passions flaring on both sides of the debate. Legislators pointedly asked an abortion provider if she would describe the practice of D&E as “gruesome,” while Senator Charles Schwertner, chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, slammed his gavel down so hard when trying to silence a supporter of abortion rights that he broke a glass table.

Texas state lawmakers, says Allen, are “tripling down at this point” after the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt ruling in June. The Supreme Court found that the restrictions placed an “impermissible obstacle” on women’s’ constitutional right to access abortion.

“This trio of bills in particular is really designed to shame and stigma women seeking abortion care,” says Allen. “The Supreme Court has ruled unequivocally that a fetus is not a person and not subject to constitutional protection. What we’re seeing is states trying to get around the Whole Woman’s Health decision.”

Politics in the Exam Room

Texas is just one state where a raft of anti-abortion bills has been filed this year. Indiana’s “Protection of Life” bill would effectively abolish abortion in the state by repealing all existing statutes that regulate the procedure. Several states want to redefine fetuses as human beings, thus turning abortion providers and pregnant women into murderers under the law. Many state-level bills use non-medical terms, including “partial-birth” and “dismemberment” abortion in their legislative texts.

“We are seeing similarities in the ways the anti-abortion movement is pushing” such terminology, says Allen. “Both terms are not based in any credible medical evidence. These are not medical terms. Both are instances of strategies to use inflammatory and non-medical language to push an extreme anti-abortion agenda.

“It’s very indicative of what happens when politicians who are not doctors legislate in this area,” she goes on to say. “We need to get this political interference outside of the exam room.”

Abortion rights and anti-abortion supporters are now waiting for the three bills to move out of committee. An additional number of bills were introduced in Texas last month, including HB 1049, a near-outright ban on abortion in the state, and HB 948, which would equate abortion with homicide and make a physician and nurses who perform the abortion, as well as the woman who undergoes the procedure, culpable for murder. Advocates say the aim of the deluge of legislation in Texas is clear.

“The state wants to make [abortion] as difficult as possible,” says Allen.

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Gloria Totten Op-Ed in Rewire

Posted on February 8, 2017

Abortion Rights Advocates Working to Turn the Tide in States and Localities Rewire, Feb 8, 2017, 6:35pm Gloria Totten A good offense really is the best defense. Many of us have been fixed to...

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News in Teen Vogue

Posted on January 25, 2017

Bills to Be Introduced in 18 States Protecting Reproductive Rights “We’re not going to stay on the defense and we’re not going to let the federal government drive abortion strategy in our state.” Jennifer...

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News story in The Atlantic

Posted on

How Activists Are Protecting Reproductive Rights Under Trump Taking a page from the anti-abortion lobby, pro-choice groups are pushing proactive legislation at the state level. The Atlantic, January 25, 2017 In deep-red Kentucky, a...

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Op-Ed on Ohio Heartbeat Bill

Posted on December 13, 2016

Ohio’s heartbeat bill is unconscionable and unconstitutional by Gloria Totten, published in The Hill Unfortunately for women, Trump’s vision for America is already alive and well in the Buckeye State. Emboldened by the election,...

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News Story in The Hill

Posted on November 30, 2016

Abortion foes plot wave of legislation in the states Opponents of abortion rights are planning to push a raft of new rules and restrictions after their allies scored big wins in state legislative chambers...

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Reuters News Story

Posted on October 31, 2016

Abortion by prescription now rivals surgery for U.S. women American women are ending pregnancies with medication almost as often as with surgery, marking a turning point for abortion in the United States, data reviewed...

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Column in The Hill

Posted on October 13, 2016

Americans overwhelmingly support abortion rights by Gloria Totten, President, Public Leadership Institute Political candidates, consultants and the media generally misunderstand the politics of abortion rights. They tend to believe either that most voters oppose...

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Op-Ed in the Austin American-Stateman

Posted on July 11, 2016

Texas can’t get enough of harassing women over abortion by PLI President Gloria Totten and Program Manager Aimee Arrambide After last month’s milestone decision by the Supreme Court to strike down anti-abortion laws in...

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Op-Ed in The Hill

Posted on July 2, 2016

Our Courts Should Enforce the Constitution by Aimee Z. Arrambide, JD, PLI Program Manager & Reproductive Rights Policy Specialist My father was an obstetrician-gynecologist in Texas. Shortly after Roe v. Wade, until he passed away...

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