Whacky and Dangerous Red State Abortion Politics


Little Rock         When deep south politics makes the national news, it usually means bad news for any of us living the good life among our fellow folk in these states.  Recently, both Louisiana and Arkansas found themselves in the national conversational polarization around abortion and choice.  In one case, I’m talking about Louisiana, where the action is past the pale.  In the other case, listen up Arkansas, we’re all by ourselves as well, but it’s much more complicated.

By a two-to-one margin, the super majority in the Louisiana House of Representatives decided to grab this abortion issue by the horns and buck themselves into the middle of the argument.  In a first-in-the-nation play, these Republicans voted to make the two most popular medical abortion pills Schedule IV drugs in the category with addictive and abusive drugs.  Needless to say, both have been approved as safe for many medical purposes by the FDA.  As the Times reports, the bill these boys passed would make

…possession of mifepristone or misoprostol without a prescription in Louisiana could be punishable with thousands of dollars in fines and up to five years in jail. Pregnant women would be exempt from those penalties; most abortion bans and restrictions do not punish pregnant women because most voters oppose doing so.

Most of this is just for show, of course, a bit of payback for some of their more radical supporters on the anti-side of this issue.  Much of it speaks to the deep frustration that many of the anti’s have after having gotten rid of Roe v. Wade, and finding that the number of abortions has continued to rise and most are now affected by medical prescriptions not clinical procedures.  These guys seem to mainly be pretending to go after networks of women who are acquiring the drugs and giving them without prescriptions.  It doesn’t touch telemedicine or out of state docs and nurses shielded and prescribing and mailing them forward.  It still has to pass the Senate, and if it does, newbie Governor Landry would sign a blank sheet without caring about its impact, if he has the chance, so we’ll see.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas to the north of Louisiana there’s an effort that has also attracted attention.  Supporters of choice there are trying to put a measure on the ballot for the voters to decide on abortion.  National pro-choice groups backing other such initiatives were giving the effort in Arkansas the cold shoulder and distancing themselves from the drive.  Either I was missing something in the story or just didn’t get why, so talking to a comrade on the coast active in funding other initiatives on abortion, I wanted to get the skinny. It turned out to be all in the fine print of the policy.  In Arkansas, taking a measure of local sentiment, the initiative would legalize abortions before 18 weeks, he explained, but the national groups wanted 24 weeks or no limits.  They backed away from the Arkansas abortion pragmatists because they don’t want to dilute their larger efforts to restore Roe standards nationally or enforce the old standard state by state.

I get their point, but don’t completely agree with it.  I remember the same problem with ACORN’s many state and local initiatives on living wages.  When we tried to win in Houston and Denver with grocery basket numbers, business opponents were able to label them as job killers and out of line, so we lost citywide even when winning in our neighborhoods.  When we started polling first, and putting the figure in Arizona, Ohio and elsewhere at the hourly wage where we had over 60% support or a moving buck over the minimum wage, we won all of these elections.  Now that it has been fifteen years since the last federal minimum wage increase in 2009, we can proudly take credit for people in the states and cities we won before 2008 who are still making higher minimum wages, adding up to many billions of dollars of income in their pockets.

Given the division over this issue, I’m not sure winning Roe standards back nationally is going to be any quicker.  Giving Arkansas women and families a better deal until there is national reform would seem like a good thing.  Furthermore, without national support having Arkansas folks potentially lose at the ballot box would seem to be a case of cutting your nose off to spite your face.  Saying this to my friend, I could only make it add up, if the nationals hoped the Natural State folks would fail to get on the ballot, which has gotten harder and harder every election cycle.  He confirmed that was exactly their hope.

Pretty soon, it’s not going to be just the geezers who are talking about the “good ol’ days,” but a lot of American women, who by bad luck or design just happen to be living in the states where women and their bodies are political footballs.