Restrictions on Abortion in the United States

Since 1973, abortion has been legal in the United States under all circumstances, ranging from cases of rape and incest to situations when a woman does not feel ready to start a family.  Although this right is granted by federal law, states have the ability to restrict access and regulate the medical procedure.  In this post, I want to discuss safe, legal, affordable, and accessible abortion as a basic human right.  I will explain why each of these factors is so important and include an example of how each right is being challenged and violated.  It is crucial to understand the relationship between church and state in regards to abortion.  Many people that advocate against abortion base their argument off of morals and religion, but morals and religion are not universal, especially in a society that calls itself a melting pot.

Legality. On January 22nd, 1973, abortion became legal in the United States according to the supreme court case, Roe v. Wade.  Ultimately, the court decided that a woman’s right to an abortion was supported by the fourteen amendment which guarantees the right to privacy.  This concluded that a woman has the right to decide what happens to her body and when she will start a family.  About three weeks ago in Nebraska, a law was passed which would ban abortions at and after twenty weeks.  This law targets Dr. Carhart, one of the country’s only late-term abortion providers.  Late term abortions account for approximately one percent of all abortions and are usually performed when a mother finds out that her child will be born with a serious disability or to save the mother’s life.  Those that support this law claim that a fetus feels pain at that stage in the pregnancy, but there is no evidence to support this claim.  Something else that supporters mention is the issue of viability, the point when a fetus would be able to survive outside of the womb; medical experts say this comes around the 24th week of pregnancy, which is the cutoff for obtaining a legal abortion in the United States.

However, each state has the ability to restrict abortion as it chooses.  Thirty-seven “states prohibit some abortions after a certain point in pregnancy.”  (To learn more about this law, click here.)States also restrict abortion in other ways.  For example, a law was recently proposed (and rejected) in Oklahoma which would have required women to receive an vaginal ultrasound probe before obtaining an abortion.  The woman would also be required to watch the ultrasound screen while hearing the heartbeat and an in-depth description of how the fetus has/is forming.  There is no exemption for rape and incest survivors.  However, this law does pose a serious problem; it violates the state’s law on rape.  One blogger writes:

“If, in order to obtain a perfectly legal abortion, a woman must permit herself to be penetrated by an ultrasound probe — in whatever way, or for however long, the technician and doctor wish to do so, that seems to me to be what statute 21-114 of the Oklahoma Criminal Code defines as rape by instrumentation. This act (putting an object in a vagina, anus or mouth against that person’s will) is explicitly defined as rape in the first or second degree.”

Although some are uneasy with this blogger’s use of the word rape, he makes a very good point.  This law would have made it even more difficult for women to access an abortion, which was ultimately the goal of this bill.  Fortunately, this law has been vetoed and is not being implemented currently, but this is all subject to change.

Protesters from the Genocide Awareness Project in Portland, Oregon.


Safety. Once abortion became legal, it made it much easier for women to obtain an abortion safely.  Although the days of back-alley abortion are not over, doctors in the United States are now able to perform abortions legally.  However, abortion providers, pro-choice activists, women who obtain abortions, etc. are now targeted by anti-choice harassers and protesters.  For example, I walked into Choices Medical Center in Queens, New York to attend a meeting about reproductive rights.  I was greeted at the door by a woman who handed me some papers and told me that I had many options (not including abortion).  She offered to help me and gave me contact information for different treatment centers in the area.  This interaction seemed harmless until later that night when the papers she had given me fell onto my lap.  I looked down to see images of mutilated babies and comments that were supposed to invoke feelings of guilt and shame.  This is a common way that anti-choice advocates target vulnerable women.  Unfortunately, in the grand scheme of anti-choice harassment, this is a very passive example.  Some protesters go farther and use violence.  For example, Dr. George Tiller was shot to death at his church by an anti-choice activist, Scott Roeder.  Although we are guaranteed freedom of speech by law, there is never a time when violence can be justified.  Abortion clinics have been targeted for decades and something needs to be done about this.  Both sides of the abortion debate feel very strongly about their beliefs, but is is important that there be some sort of mutual understanding.  Disagreement is perfectly understandable but there is no reason to escalate the situation.

A chart from the National Abortion Federation documents violence against abortion clinics between 1989 and 2004.  For more specific information and to view the chart, click here.

An advertisement for a crisis pregnancy center in California.


Honest, unbiased information. When a woman is faced with an unwanted pregnancy, she has various options.  This depends on her age, financial status, where she lives, and her personal beliefs.  If and when a woman decides to have an abortion, she has the right to be given accurate, unbiased information about the medical procedure.  Recently, crisis pregnancy centers have been springing up all over the country.  These centers act as abortion clinics but do not actually provide abortions.  Their advertising is very misleading; some of these centers even describe themselves as pro-choice.  Their goal is to persuade women into raising the child or giving it up for adoption.  Often times, these centers will provide women with false information.  A common myth is that women will have a fifty-percent increased chance of getting breast cancer if she has an abortion.  These centers use scare tactics and lies in order to promote their personal political agenda.  They usually provide free pregnancy tests and counseling as “means to lure you in” but they do not provide abortions or referrals to abortion clinics.  These facilities are usually run by religious and/or pro-life organizations.  Some women who have gone to these centers report being forced to pray, watch anti-abortion videos, and stay in the facility until they are given permission to leave.  This is one woman’s account:

“Then they asked us what we wanted to do and my daughter and I said we decided the best thing for her to do was have an abortion and how much would that cost? The two ladies said ‘please wait a minute’ and left us … They came back with a doll and … scissors … and said: ‘this is what your baby looks like now and we want you to start cutting her up because that’s what will happen if you get an abortion – so start cutting!’ I grabbed her and threw the doll at those ladies and got out of there fast! I later found out it wasn’t a real clinic…”

Accessibility and Affordability. Currently, eighty-eight percent of counties do not have abortion providers; there are no providers in all of Mississippi and Wyoming.  This poses many serious problems.  First of all, if someone does not live close enough to a facility, they need to arrange some sort of transpiration.  This can become very expensive, especially if the person does not have a car.  Abortions range in cost from 500 dollars up to 10,000 dollars depending on how far along the pregnancy is, the abortion provider, and the circumstances.  The cost of transpiration adds to these already-high costs and presents a serious obstacle for these women.  This is especially problematic if the woman is in the second-trimester because there are less than five late-term abortion providers left in the country.  As we know, most late-term abortions are medically necessary.  If you are interested in seeing where abortion providers are located, click here to view an interactive map.

Another recent problem that has emerged in regards to access and affordability comes as a result of health-care reform.  Under this new system, women would need to purchase a separate insurance plan to cover abortion.  No insurance provider would be required to cover abortion and there will be no federal funding for abortion (abortion was not federally funded in the first place but it is now explicitly stated).  Bart Stupak, an anti-choice, Democratic representative from Michigan refused to sign health care reform that did not make this explicit.  To learn more about his stance and why he ultimately signed the bill, read this article.

Privacy. According to the 1973 Supreme Court decision, women have the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion, but this did not specify how old one needed to be to make this decision on their own.  “3 states and the District of Columbia explicitly allow all minors to consent to abortion services. 22 states require that at least one parent consent to a minor’s abortion, while 11 states require prior notification of at least one parent. 4 states require both notification of and consent from a parent prior to a minor’s abortion. 7 additional states have parental involvement laws that are temporarily or permanently enjoined. 6 states have no relevant policy or case law.”  This issue brings up many important questions.  Should a minor have to consult with their parents before obtaining an abortion or is this a violation of their privacy?  These conversations could be very beneficial but are also potentially detrimental.  Parents can be very supportive and offer great advice, counseling, and support.  However, many parents would not respond positively in this situation.  They may be anti-choice because of religious reasons or they may punish their child for having sex and/or getting pregnant.  This is especially dangerous if the parents have a history of being abusive.  Because there are so many potential negative consequences, I feel that these laws should be invalidated.  Women who seek abortions are often required to go through counseling services at the abortion clinic.  Here, they can receive unbiased advice and support in a safe setting.  I think this is much better for all participants and can help prevent a situation from escalating.  For more information about parental consent and notification laws, click here.

CHOICE. Above all, it is crucial that a woman’s right to choose be guaranteed by law.  The reproductive justice movement works hard each day to ensure that these rights are being upheld, but challenges are constantly emerging.  The influence of the right-wing and the Church continues to challenge Roe v. Wade in hopes of another Supreme Court case.  No one has the right to decide how another person should lead their life or what should happen to their body.  A coined catchphrase of the feminist movement is “the personal is political” but how is this justifiable?  I feel that abortion must remain legal and lawmakers need to recognize how these restrictions are affecting women across the country.  Restrictions are necessary to ensure health and safety, not to restrict opportunity and further inequality.

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