The Fight Over Abortion in the US
Before the mid-1800s, pre-quickening abortions (conducted before the mother felt fetal movements), were a common procedure among women of all backgrounds. However, concerns over safety drove medical practitioners to advocate for anti-abortion laws in the mid-1800s. The 1873 passing of the Comstock Law prohibited the sale or distributing of materials that could be used for contraception or abortion. Without education or access to birth control, long lines of women formed at scarce abortion clinics, and those who couldn’t afford to, risked their lives to perform it themselves. The crackdown over reproductive rights continued for decades and by the start of the 1900s, abortion had been criminalized in every state. It wasn’t until the feminist movement in the 1960s that the issue became heavily debated. In 1964, Griswold v. Connecticut, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1879 law prohibiting using “any drug, medicinal article or instrument for the purposes of preventing conception” does not apply to married couples, and the Eisenstadt v. Baird case of 1972 gave unmarried couples the same right to contraceptives. Finally, the most well-known case over reproductive rights, Roe v. Wade, came in 1973 when the Court struck down a Texas law prohibiting abortion. The case set a precedent for the legalization of abortion that continues to this day. However, the myriad of state restrictions that impose hurdles to those seeking abortions effectively outlaws them for many disadvantaged women, which poses a question to their constitutionality. Despite unrealistic desires to save infant lives, abortion should be an available option for all women in the US as the enactment of unnecessary barriers, such as unnecessary regulations and federal funding cuts, is ultimately harmful to women’s health.
One way state legislatures seek to limit abortions is through restrictions imposed on abortion clinics. From 2011 to 2014, 9 states enacted legislation that required physicians performing an abortion to obtain admitting privileges at a hospital within a certain distance. The reasoning around this policy is to ensure that the women will be able to be transferred to hospital care in the case of an emergency. However, studies show that severe complications during an abortion are rare, and the vast majority of patients do not need immediate treatment. Those who do go in for care in the following weeks go to the hospital closest to where they live, which is often not the same facility near the abortion clinic. Thus, these types of restrictions, commonly referred to as “TRAP laws”, actually inhibit clinics from performing their duties, rather than address health concerns. On June 29, the Supreme Court struck down a Louisiana law mandating admitting privileges, a temporary win for pro-choice advocates. However, abortion clinics are still facing a myriad of burdensome restrictions that prevent them from effectively carrying out their duties. These regulations, meant to shut down clinics, prevent women from receiving the care guaranteed to them by Roe v. Wade.
Cuts to Federal Funding
Pro-life politicians have also advocated defunding organizations that provide abortion services. They argue that money these clinics receive indirectly support abortion. However, the repercussions of these measures harm far more people than just abortion seekers. The largest abortion provider in the country, Planned Parenthood, is not a clean-cut item on the federal budget that can be easily slashed. Funding for Planned Parenthood comes in two forms: Medicaid reimbursements and Title X. The majority of federal funding comes from Medicaid, a “federal-state health insurance program for low-income and needy people”. If a patient is covered under Medicaid, Planned Parenthood will submit a claim to Medicaid and be reimbursed for the care. Similarly, Title X is a federal program enacted in 1970 to provide low-income patients with preventative health care services, including cervical and breast cancer screenings, birth control, and contraception education free of charge. Politicians fighting to defund Planned Parenthood are really just seeking to block patients who rely on public health care from receiving any coverage for any services in a Planned Parenthood clinic, only 3% of which is performing abortions. In 2016, Title X service sites served over 4 million users by providing 720,215 Pap tests, roughly 1 million clinical breast exams (CBEs), and performed testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Cutting these programs will block millions of Americans from receiving care and do little to decrease the number of abortions performed.
Repercussions of Restricting Abortions
Lawmakers have long been campaigning to outlaw abortions on the basis that it would allow every unborn child a chance to live. They believe that it would be unfair to rob a fetus of its future, likening the action of abortion to that of murder. However, a global study conducted by WHO and the Guttmacher Institute in New York found that national abortion laws have little effect on abortion rates. For example, in Uganda, where abortion is illegal, 5.4% of women were estimated to have undergone the procedure in 2013. On the other hand, 1.2% of women in Western Europe had an abortion, even though the procedure was legal. The reason behind the low rates was attributed to the wide availability of contraceptives, not the policy regarding abortion. Although general abortions rates aren’t impacted, the number of unsafe abortions conducted does increase as women seek illegal methods to terminate their pregnancy. Evidently, abolishing the procedure merely forces women to seek dangerous methods to take back control of their bodies.
Blatant attempts to force abortion clinics to close have had disastrous consequences. Across the nation, women have been forced to give birth in harsh circumstances, while others carry out dangerous at-home abortions. In order to ensure the constitutional right to an abortion as dictated by Roe v. Wade, needless restrictions and proposals to defund service providers must be abolished. New laws protecting a women’s right to choose should be enacted through federal legislation, while measures that enforce pointless barriers should be struct down by the courts. Additionally, the Supreme Court must provide firm guidelines regarding state regulation of abortions through decisive rulings. With millions of lives at risk, protecting women’s rights and health should be America’s top priority in order to move towards a better future for all.