New abortion law is unacceptable
Abortion is a constitutional right in the United States, thanks to 1973 Roe v. Wade. The new Texas abortion law, S.B.8, is unacceptable.
In short: A new law passed by the Texas legislature will make it very difficult for women* to get abortions after the first six weeks of pregnancy. I argue that this takes the state back about 50 years, to the period before Roe v. Wade, and threatens the reproductive rights of women. It is consequential, because it is likely that other states may follow.
Texas’s S.B.8 is the strictest anti-abortion law in the U.S. After the first six weeks of pregnancy, when many women may not even know they are pregnant, it takes away from women’s agency over their own bodies, puts physicians in Texas who perform abortions in an untenable situation, and likely creates further inequities between women who have resources and can afford to travel out of state and those who cannot. The legislation also adds a bizarre element in which people can sue abortion providers, and anyone who helps a woman get an abortion, offering $10,000 per successful lawsuit. Legislators essentially have created a bounty system, potentially pitting Texans against one another.
Statement from APHA Executive Director Georges C. Benjamin, MD
Sept. 1, 2021 — The American Public Health Association today expresses alarm over the Supreme Court’s failure to block a Texas law that bans abortion at six weeks, effectively undermining the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. The court’s inaction allows one of the nation’s strictest anti-abortion laws to go into effect. The Texas law is contrary to longstanding APHA policy supporting women’s fundamental right to a full range of reproductive health services, including abortion.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 620,000 abortions were performed in the U.S. in 2018, the last year for which complete data were available. The highest percentages were for women in their 20s. By race/ethnicity, the highest percentages were for non-Hispanic White and non-Hispanic Black women. CDC reporting further indicated that more than 52% of abortions were surgical abortions by 13 weeks’ gestation, and nearly 39% were early medical abortions (a nonsurgical abortion by 9 weeks’ gestation). Their data show use of early medical abortion increased 9% from 2017 to 2018 and 120% from 2009 to 2018.
It has been well-documented over many years that most women getting abortions would prefer not to be in that situation. The most common reasons that women seek abortions are financial (40%), timing (36%), partner-related (31%) and the need to focus on other children (29%) (Biggs, Gould and Foster, 2013). Reasons vary across countries.
Roe v. Wade still relevant
Young people today may find it shocking, but when I was in my freshman year of college, gynecologists required women under 21 who wanted prescriptions for the pill to get letters from their parents. Given restrictive access to effective birth control, many college students found themselves pregnant and unprepared to carry their pregnancies to term or to parent. Abortion was illegal in 30 states (including Michigan, where I attended college) and legal under some circumstances in 20 states. I felt strongly that women should have the right to make reproductive decisions about their own bodies. In my junior year of college, I counseled women about abortion and where to get the procedure. The women who came to us were not frivolous. They were distraught and made agonized decisions. Each week, we got lists of doctors in Ohio who performed abortions. We gave women information, including about cost. Patients were directed to bring cash to their appointments. Everything about the process had an underground, under-the-table and potentially unsafe feeling about it, but that’s the way it was before Roe v. Wade. Reproductive rights were not protected by the Constitution.
While abortion was illegal, many women were committed to ending their pregnancies. But because abortion was illegal, no agency was responsible to ensure its safety; that is, to check the credentials of the physicians who performed surgical abortions or the cleanliness of the facilities; and medical abortion (use of medications to end pregnancy) was not possible in those days. It was a risky business. As the Guttmacher Institute reported, women got abortions prior to the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973, but many of them were performed under unsafe conditions. Women will continue to get abortions, and they should not be forced to risk their lives in the process. Women should be given the pros and cons and make informed decisions about their own reproductive lives in the context of their own relationships and situations. The Texas legislature took a huge leap backwards.
I am incredibly sad and distressed that a battle women of my generation fought hard to win is now at risk in the U.S. More states likely will follow the Texas lead, and the Supreme Court may not support Roe v. Wade. We should not return to the days when women took their lives in their hands to get abortions, and abortions often were denied to poor women because they could not afford to travel to get them. Abortion should be a private matter, and not one that legislatures should manage. I encourage all our students to learn the facts, because your own reproductive futures are on the line.
*Although the vast majority of abortions globally are provided to individuals who identify as women, we acknowledge [as International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) acknowledges] that other people who do not identify as women (such as trans men/trans masculine and non-binary people) can also experience pregnancy and abortion.
Banner photo by jordanuhl7 via Wikimedia Commons, license cc-by-2.0.