“I’m just trying to protect you.” These paternalistic words are repeatedly spoken to girls and women to engender trust in some vague idea of safety. Instead of protecting women, what follows often insidiously undermines women’s ability to reach their full potential, participate fully in their communities, or receive proper medical treatment. These words are used to defend telling women how they should dress, how to be polite, and how to safely make their own choices for their bodies, lives, and families.
Texas recently tried to “protect” women with HB 2, a bill that contained multiple restrictions that made getting an abortion more difficult. Two of these restrictions were recently challenged in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. HB 2 required that abortion doctors have admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of the abortion clinic and that every abortion clinic meet the requirements of an ambulatory surgical center. These unreasonable restrictions forced some clinics to close and decreased women’s access to abortion in Texas.
Lawmakers defended this bill with the message: “We’re just trying to protect you.” In reality, these restrictions are an attempt to control and police women’s choices and bodies and force women into risky or unsafe alternatives to a medically safe clinic abortion. The restrictive policies of bills like HB 2 are not based on science, reason, humanism, or feminism; they are based in fear, imposed Christian morality, and blatant misogyny.
But on June 27, the Supreme Court recognized the “undue burden” imposed on women by HB 2. SCOTUS overturned HB 2, 5-3, ruling in favor of the abortion clinics, in favor of the women who need access to medical care, and in favor of protecting the rights and choices of women. They recognized that Texas lawmakers did not present convincing evidence that their restrictions would make this already safe medical procedure any safer—it would only make getting an abortion more difficult.
I was breathless when the ruling passed. This ruling is not only a glimmer of hope—it’s a historic moment and a turning point. The court set a precedent that restrictions on abortion without medically valid reasons are no longer acceptable. Though we have many more fights in the battle for reproductive freedom, June 27 was a big victory.
The logical next step for reproductive rights is the Women’s Health Protection Act, referred to more simply as the Act for Women. Supported by more than 150 members of Congress, this bill defines and bans unreasonable restrictions on abortion. More than 300 restrictions on abortion have passed since 2010. There is no evidence that women’s health is improved by adding unnecessary ultrasounds, waiting periods, or appointments. Such restrictions limit abortion access but do little to advance women’s health.
If this bill is adopted, these restrictions (current and future) will be illegal. Access to appropriate medical care, held to the same standards as similar medical procedures, will increase. This bill is actually “just trying to protect” women and women’s rights, but in quite a different way than the Texas lawmakers of HB 2. The Act for Women is rooted in equality, not misogyny, and it will improve our system so that women are empowered to make their own choices with minimal interference.
The American Humanist Association’s Feminist Humanist Alliance proudly supports the Act for Women, as it strongly resonates with our values. It is “guided by reason, inspired by compassion, and informed by experience” (Humanist Manifesto III). I am thrilled to support this legislation and hope you will join us at the FHA, post on social media about the #ActforWomen, and communicate with your legislators about what, with your help, could be a major win for reproductive freedom.