The Well Actually

The War on Women Didn’t Stop With Overturning Roe

From bounty-hunters to “fetal personhood” bills, GOP state lawmakers are finding new ways to criminalize not only terminating pregnancies, but nearly all forms of bodily autonomy.

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Since the fall of Roe v. Wade,  I’ve gotten really obsessed with survival competition TV. The psychology driving this isn’t exactly subtle; watching low-stakes demonstrations of human resilience while the world is falling apart lends me some sense of reassurance that at least some of us can, well, survive.

My favorite moment comes about halfway through any given season of Survivor, when the contestants—by this time filthy and starving and literally fighting for scraps—are given the opportunity to compete for luxuries like soap, steaks, or blankets. Even from the comfort of my couch, I feel the winners’ relief in a visceral, almost palpable way. But these “luxuries,” which are really basic necessities, never last: Soap gets used up, steaks get eaten, and blankets get soaked or stolen. Soon, it’s back to standard-operating misery, and the players who remain adapt anew.

This is what humans do. Whether we’re vying for a million-dollar prize or just trying to see another sunrise, some of us can find ways to put up with almost anything. It’s both heartening and terrifying, considering some of us never stop finding ways to make each other miserable.

It wasn’t enough for the anti-abortion lobby and their political allies to end federal protections for (some) abortion rights. It was never going to be enough, as evidenced by the long slate of new and expanded abortion bans, criminalization efforts, and attempts to codify fetal personhood that are already in motion. A selection of some of the worst:

  • Restrictions on abortion-related travel and support began in earnest after the fall of Roe, and are only growing more popular among anti-abortion Republicans, who are pushing these Big Brother–style bans at the state, county, and local levels, with varying degrees of consequences for facilitating or funding out-of-state travel for abortion care—even for private employers who wish to support health-care access for their workers. 
  • Some politicians have branded these proposals as “anti-trafficking” efforts, especially when they target young people, who by virtue of their age and social positions are overwhelmingly reliant on the support of adults to access abortion care outside of their home geographies. Throwing the “trafficking” boogeyman into the messaging mix—most recently in Mississippi, but it won’t be the last time we see this—is a blatant scare tactic, a solution-in-search-of-a-problem wholly unsupported by evidence. Not that that matters. The specter of “trafficking” has also been invoked when it comes to supporting access to medication abortion, as in Oklahoma, where Republican Jim Olsen has proposed a bill to make a felony out of “trafficking or attempting to traffic abortion-inducing drugs.” The hope is, of course, that the public—and the law—begins to associate medication abortion, which is incredibly safe, with the “trafficking” of potentially deadly substances, such as fentanyl.
  • State- and neighbor-on-neighbor, “bounty-hunter” surveillance of people’s private medical decisions is at the heart of much of what we’ll see this year. There’s already Missouri Republican Mike Moon’s proposal to outlaw women who’ve had abortions from enrolling in Medicaid—forever—and an Oklahoma bill that would create a database of women who’ve had abortions. In California, some law enforcement agencies continue to provide license plate data to out-of-state entities looking to track abortion patients, in defiance of state law.
  • Republicans are doing all they can to block efforts, even sometimes GOP-backed efforts, to add already narrow exceptions for rape, incest, and the health of pregnant people to existing abortion bans, as in Tennessee and Missouri, or to remove existing exceptions, as in Idaho.
  • Republicans are also pushing the concept of “fetal personhood,” attempting to classify any pregnancy from the moment of conception onward as a wholly separate individual entitled to full legal rights—an explicit gateway to prosecuting people for pregnancy loss under practically any circumstances. Iowa Republicans are behind a new attempt to codify fetal personhood, as are Oklahoma Republicans, who are backing a constitutional amendment for fetal personhood. In Florida, Republicans have rejected changes to a proposed “wrongful death” bill that would exempt abortion providers and supporters from being implicated in pregnancy losses. Most recently, in Alabama, the state Supreme Court awarded personhood to frozen embryos, which could have a huge impact on in vitro fertilization as well.
  • In states where abortion rights could be reinstated or expanded through ballot measures or constitutional amendments, such as in Missouri, Republicans remain committed to subverting voters by changing the rules to prevent the public—who have overwhelmingly supported abortion rights and access when asked—from weighing in. In Montana, anti-abortion state officials are lobbying hard to quash an abortion rights ballot measure, and even where abortion rights have won at the polls, as in Ohio, Republicans are still fighting to find ways to keep the question of abortion rights out of the hands of voters, and under the exclusive purview of anti-abortion politicians.
  • There are plenty of attempts to pass bog-standard abortion bans, too: in Kansas and in Florida as well as New Hampshire, where a proposal to ban abortions after 15 days recently tanked largely because the Republican who proposed it acknowledged she didn’t really read her bill before filing it.
  • At the national level, we should assume that anti-abortion forces will mobilize whatever means necessary to implement the most stringent possible abortion bans they think they can get away with, as soon as they can pull them off—and then get stricter from there once the baseline has been set. That’ll be easier with a Republican in the White House, which could grease the skids for enforcing the Comstock Act or passing a federal abortion ban, support for which is a prerequisite for Republican electoral success at the national level. And there are still plenty of Democrats who remain so squeamish about abortion that they can hardly say the word unless it comes with stigmatizing caveats, negotiating a so-called “compromise” national ban, likely in the second trimester, possible even without a Republican president. Since the Supreme Court has already been bought and paid for on the anti-abortion front, even folks living in supposedly abortion-friendly geographies will be facing life under these new bans and restrictions. 


Not all—and perhaps not even most—of these proposals will make it into law this year. Maybe not even next year. Many of them sound so outlandish that it’s tempting for folks who don’t know better to write them off as the work of unhinged extremists with no hope of success.

But recall what they said about overturning Roe v. Wade—that the law of the land would never be overruled. For decades, the activists, medical professionals, and pro-abortion leaders who warned about Roe’s impending demise were told they were overreacting to a few fringe zealots. That it would somehow be possible to find common ground between those who believe the government has no right to force us to stay pregnant against their will, and those who would see people who have abortions, and their doctors and even supporters, prosecuted for murder.

The anti-abortion movement has never been and is not now driven by compassionate people looking to find consensus on a difficult issue. It is driven by misogynistic bigots who aim to mold the United States into a white supremacist, conservative Christian theocracy. These are not shady machinators whose identities and motivations are unknowable. We know their names: Leonard Leo, the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation, Jonathan Mitchell, and the Alliance Defending Freedom, among others. They are open about this; their plan even has a name—Project 2025—and its own website. For their friends, they dole out billions in campaign funds and dark money, buy cushy legal placements, and secure primo political positions.

These people will only be stopped by being stopped. There’s no hoping that one sunny day sometime soon, Republican politicians and the Americans who support them will simply wake up and decide that this time, just this once, they’ve gone too far.

They do not mind that abortion bans kill, maim, and traumatize pregnant people, because that’s what abortion bans are meant to do. Hell, they know that they don’t even need to pass abortion bans to dissuade pregnant people from trying to access care, to scare abortion supporters out of helping others access care, or to terrorize doctors out of saving their pregnant patients’ lives. Threats will work well enough for now; in time, they hope to do enough additional damage to the democratic project through gerrymandering and disenfranchisement that growing public support for abortion rights—and there’s plenty of it, even in supposedly “red” geographies—won’t matter in most places.

I say this not in despair, but rather in hope: There is so much we can do to stem the tide of abortion bans and restrictions, if only we will embrace pro-abortion politics with full hearts and loud voices. We must counter our own human instincts and refuse to adapt to the new anti-abortion normal. We can’t play politics on anti-abortion terms, scrambling for scraps, when doing so means putting pregnant people’s real lives at risk. 

We have to pull ourselves out of survival mode if we’re going to change the game entirely.


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