Last week’s near-complete ban on abortions in Alabama sent the nation’s progressives into a panic. While many states across the United States have been slowly chipping away at Roe v. Wade — which allows abortion up to 24 weeks — the reduction of that time period to six weeks in Alabama was shocking. Across the country women have rallied and shared links to the Yellowhammer Fund, a nonprofit that helps finance travel out of the state for women in need of later-term abortions. But a small donation is next to nothing compared to the impending rollback of our reproductive rights.
Now, however, a new battle has begun. On Tuesday, San Francisco Supervisor Vallie Brown announced a plan to ban city-funded travel to, purchases from, and contracts with any state with a law that restricts women from accessing abortion. And while Alabama’s is by far the most severe, it’s got company: All told, 20 states across the nation have limitations on how long a pregnancy can last before abortion is deemed illegal.
“As we’re seeing this moving forward, I’ve felt like we should be pushing something that makes a difference,” Brown tells SF Weekly. “We feel protected, but when the health of women across the country are in jeopardy, us women in San Francisco need to stand up and say, ‘No.’ ”
The legislation is still being drafted, but it’s similar in style to a 2016 San Francisco travel ban authored by then-Supervisor Scott Wiener, which applies to any state with laws that discriminate against LGBTQ people. It’s a wide range of qualifications, too. Banning gay parents from fostering or adopting kids is one; refusing to create gender-neutral restrooms in schools another. The State of California enacted a similar ban the same year.
The LGBTQ discrimination travel ban is updated twice a year, and currently has 10 states on it: Alabama, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas. Nine of these states overlap with Brown’s pending legislation, under which 10 more would be added: Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
“States that are having these horrific bans, I’d like to see them hurt financially,” Brown says. “That is a universal language of economic health. If they’re going to put women in a situation that could hurt their economic health — like having children when they’re not ready — then we should hurt their economic health as a state.”
It’s a bold move, and it could affect everything from contracts with engineers in other states to athletic games to the purchasing of infrastructure equipment. Exceptions include things like vital medical equipment for our hospitals, and careful consideration will be given to companies in conservative states who have taken a strong stand against their local government. Dell Computers, for example, is headquartered in Texas, but has been a strong advocate for its LGBTQ employees and the queer community at large. They’re given an exception under Wiener’s bill.
But it does send a strong message, and could help get companies on board in opposing their local legislator’s hateful bills.
“You don’t want to punish companies or people that are really fighting the fight for anti-discrimination,” Brown points out.
Thus far, Alabama’s leaders seem ignorant to the impact their new six-week law could have economically. Governor Kay Ivey told the Associated Press last week that she doesn’t anticipate a hit to the state’s tourism.
“Alabama has a lot of different variety of things to visit and enjoy and our visitors will continue to come,” Ivey said.
But San Francisco is a major economy. Withholding any part of its $11 billion annual budget can have a big impact on another state’s wealth — something the City Administrator’s office is currently examining.
For Brown, this legislation is personal. When she was only 14, her mother died from diabetes at the age of 40 — in large part because they didn’t have health insurance, and the disease went undiagnosed for years. The importance of reproductive-rights clinics go beyond just reproductive health. They’re often the only place low-income women go for healthcare, offering a valuable opportunity to intervene with other health issues before they become serious.
“If my mother had had a place where she could have gone in she might not have passed away,” Brown says. “We have to have health clinics for women to go into, not just for reproductive rights, but to feel comfortable with their overall general health.”
The legislation will be drafted in the coming weeks, with the support of the Commission on the Status of Women, the Department of Women, and Planned Parenthood Northern California. It will then go in front of the Board of Supervisors for a vote.
“It’s a really tough battle, and until the next election in 2020, it’ll continue to be,” Brown says. “It’s terrifying and I’m worried we’re going to keep going back. Are we going to have our right to vote taken away next? I see them just tearing apart our rights in the next year. We need to stop them now, before they completely shred them.”