Gay rights in America have galloped ahead, but the reproductive rights of women are under attack

Nearly a million Texan women of reproductive age would have to drive 150 miles or more if they want an abortion

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The Independent Online

It would be nice to think that tolerance is on a roll in America. Look at gay rights.

The other day the US Supreme Court declined to intervene in cases that seek to overturn numerous state bans on same-sex marriage and, almost overnight, the number of states allowing gays and lesbians to tie the knot has jumped from 19 to 30.

So it is that 10 days ago I was in Colorado, wondering how it could be that it was okay to buy, sell and smoke pot, but not okay for gay people in the state to wed. But today they can. Same suddenly for Alaska, Oklahoma and Nevada. How about that?

But another place I’ve been to lately is Texas and it has yet to receive the tolerance memo.

The Lone Star State and its Attorney General, Greg Abbott, are furiously defending its same-sex marriage ban in the courts. It’s a battle they will probably lose. But Mr Abbott, who is running on the Republican ticket to replace Rick Perry as Governor, meanwhile has another momentous fight on his hands: abortion.

Just as gay rights have galloped ahead, the reproductive rights of women, not just in Texas, are under attack. Since 2010, scores of laws have been passed in Republican-controlled states imposing stringent new limits on the right of women to seek an abortion. More may be on the way. Constitutional amendments on curbing access to abortions will be on the ballot in three states in next month’s midterm elections; Tennessee, North Dakota and, yes, Colorado.

Right now, Mr Abbott is smarting and again, it is the US Supreme Court that is responsible. On Tuesday evening, the justices issued a surprise order, very brief and with no explanation, blocking key parts of a law passed by the state legislature last year which imposed new requirements on the 41 practices that were providing abortions in the state so draconian that all but eight of them went out of business. Tuesday night’s order means that more than a dozen of them will re-open. It is, however, only temporary while the fate of the law remains under consideration in the lower courts. Should it eventually prevail, we will be back where we were at the start of the week with all eight remaining clinics clustered around Dallas and Houston and women in the west and south, in places like El Paso, clean out of luck again. Nearly a million Texas women of reproductive age would again have to drive 150 miles or more if they want an abortion.

Mr Abbott says the law aims only to raise safety standards in clinics, but its real purpose is to make Texas as abortion unfriendly as possible. The law imposes a “manageable inconvenience” on Texas women, he opined, and if they must get an abortion they can always get one in New Mexico. But that assumes they have a car, can get off work and have someone to look after other kids they already have. So it’s the poor who are harmed the most.

The political tides are not helping here. Mr Abbott is cruising to victory in the governor’s race and the Democrats face a drubbing nationally in the midterms.

In the end, the Texas case is likely to return to the Supreme Court for a final ruling. At stake will be the constitutional right of all women to choose, as set down in the Roe v Wade decision of 1973. We can dare to hope the court will do the right thing, if its record on gay marriage is anything to go by.

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