Reason Roundup

Fetuses in HOV Lanes, Abortions at Sea, and More Post-Dobbs Weirdness

Plus: Banned books, a bookstore revival, and more...


Floating abortion clinics. Fetuses as carpool-lane passengers. Abortion restrictions as a public health emergency. The weird new world of post-Roe reproductive rights continues to deliver murky new battles and quandaries.

A pregnant Plano, Texas, woman argues that she has a right to drive in a highway lane reserved for vehicles with two or more passengers. At 34 weeks pregnant, Brandy Bottone was pulled over by police while driving in a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane on Interstate 75 South. When asked if there was anyone else in the car, Bottone pointed to her stomach and said "my baby girl," she told The Dallas Morning News:

"One officer kind of brushed me off when I mentioned this is a living child, according to everything that's going on with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. 'So I don't know why you're not seeing that,' I said.

"He was like, 'I don't want to deal with this.' He said, 'Ma'am, it means two persons outside of the body.'

"He waved me on to the next cop who gave me a citation and said, 'If you fight it, it will most likely get dropped.'

"But they still gave me a ticket. So my $215 ticket was written to cause inconvenience?

"This has my blood boiling. How could this be fair? According to the new law, this is a life.

Bottone said she will be fighting the citation in court.

Her situation hints at how all sorts of existing rules could change—or at least be challenged—when the legal definition of personhood changes.

Meanwhile, plans for a new business off the coast of Alabama challenges traditional notions of what an abortion clinic looks like—and offers an ingenious solution for people trying to keep reproductive freedom alive in the South.

The doctor behind Protecting Reproductive Rights of Women Endangered by State Statutes (PRROWESS) wants to offer surgical abortions from a boat. Meg Autry told a San Francisco NBC affiliate that with many southern states severely restricting or banning abortion, residents of these states are closer to the coast than to a state with legal abortion. Traveling to floating abortion clinics could be cheaper than traveling across several states.

Autry and her team are likely to face legal challenges from states with abortion bans, who may target transportation to the ship or advertising of its services, among other things. But operating in federal waters would allow them to skirt state abortion bans. More:

She explained that this ship will operate on federal waters—nine miles from the coast of Texas and three from the coast of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi—where it can evade those states' abortion restrictions. PRROWESS will arrange for patients to be transported to the ship, which will vary depending on where they are coming from, once they pass a pre-screening process.

Autry and a team of licensed medical professionals will offer surgical abortions for up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. The PRROWESS team would also offer other point-of-care gynecological services such as testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.

"The project is being funded with philanthropy and the patients care is on a needs basis, so most individuals will pay little to nothing for services," Autry said.

In contrast to this free market solution to protecting abortion access, President Joe Biden is mulling plans to declare a public health emergency over abortion restrictions. "Such a move has been pushed by advocates, but White House officials have questioned both its legality and effectiveness, and noted it would almost certainly face legal challenges," notes Politico.

The idea showcases how the term "public health" can be stretched to cover all sorts of political problems and give cover to politicians who want to impose their agenda without engaging in messy things like democracy. This has definitely been the case during the coronavirus pandemic, as public health has been cited for any number of restrictive measures not directly related to public health (such as immigration restrictions). But it also predates COVID-19, when politicians tried to declare such things as pornography and gun violence to be public health crises.

As with the porn and gun measures, declaring a public health emergency over abortion restrictions probably wouldn't amount to much. "When we looked at the public health emergency, we learned a couple things: One is that it doesn't free very many resources," Jen Klein, director of the White House Gender Policy Council, told reporters on Friday. "It's what's in the public health emergency fund, and there's very little money—tens of thousands of dollars in it. So that didn't seem like a great option. And it also doesn't release a significant amount of legal authority. And so that's why we haven't taken that action yet."


Start reading Reason's banned books theme issue. Reason's recent print issue on book censorship is fully online for subscribers, with select pieces now available for anyone to read. Among the all-access pieces:

• David French looks at "the dangerous lesson of book bans in public school libraries."

• Brian Doherty looks at what happened when Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer Prize–winning memoir Maus was removed from the school curriculum in McMinn County, Tennessee.

• Kat Rosenfield reports on how "overzealous gatekeeping on race and gender is killing books before they're published—or even written."

• The children's book I Am Jazz "symbolizes America's trans moral panic," writes Scott Shackford.

Reason Editor-in-Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward asks, "Who controls what books you can read?


A bookstore revival? In recent years, more than 300 new independent bookstores have opened in the U.S., reports The New York Times:

Two years ago, the future of independent book selling looked bleak. As the coronavirus forced retailers to shut down, hundreds of small booksellers around the United States seemed doomed. Bookstore sales fell nearly 30 percent in 2020, U.S. Census Bureau data showed. The publishing industry was braced for a blow to its retail ecosystem, one that could permanently reshape the way readers discover and buy books.

Instead, something unexpected happened: Small booksellers not only survived the pandemic, but many are thriving.

"It's kind of shocking when you think about what dire straits the stores were in in 2020," said Allison Hill, the chief executive of the American Booksellers Association, a trade organization for independent bookstores. "We saw a rally like we've never seen before."

The association now has 2,023 member stores in 2,561 locations, up from 1,689 in early July of 2020.

The bookstore megachain Barnes & Noble is also thriving, the Times reported in April:

After years on the decline, Barnes & Noble's sales are up, its costs are down—and the same people who for decades saw the superchain as a supervillain are celebrating its success.

A recent op-ed from author and pastor looks more at how Barnes & Noble went from being a villain to being a hero of the bookstore world. "The Barnes & Noble resurgence is a victory, not only for us nostalgic '90s kids but for readers in general," she suggests. As a nostalgic '90s kid, I totally agree—but I think Harrison Warren is wrong to suggest that browsing Amazon can't also lead to unexpected book discoveries and perspectives one might not seek out. I'm happy to live in a world where we can leisurely browse bookstores in person and get tailored algorithmic recommendations browsing from our phones.


• A new COVID-19 subvariant—Omicron BA.5.2.1—has been discovered in Shanghai.

• The man who assassination Japan's former prime minister, Shinzo Abe, may have been motivated by a grudge against the Unification Church.

• Elon Musk no longer wants to buy Twitter, and Twitter is suing. Musk's response:

• "Chinese authorities on Sunday violently dispersed a peaceful protest by hundreds of depositors, who sought in vain to demand their life savings back from banks that have run into a deepening cash crisis," reports CNN.

• California has repealed its law against loitering for sex work purposes.

• U.S. crypto companies are hiring people to oversee "vibes."