A Fundamental Right

by JC Dufresne
for the “Progressive Views” column, Boerne Star, June 7, 2019

Protestors dressed as women from Margaret Atwood's novel _The Handmaid's Tale_, in a nighttime scene with the White House in the background
“Resist” by Miki Jourdan is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

While the rate of abortions is the lowest since the early 1970’s before the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized it and about half the peak rate which occurred in 1984, Republicans aren’t satisfied. Several state legislatures have recently all but outlawed abortions. Alabama’s new law is the most restrictive, only allowing exceptions “to avoid a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother,” for ectopic pregnancy, and if the “unborn child has a lethal anomaly.”

You can tell a lot of the legislators passing such bills are truly ignorant of human reproduction. Republican state Sen. Clyde Chambliss, who pushed Alabama’s bill, stated on the Senate floor that there is a “window” of time between conception and when a woman knows for certain that she’s pregnant which he believes to be seven to ten days. The reality is that most women don’t know they’re pregnant for six to eight weeks and often longer.

Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Ohio all passed bills prohibiting abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected; that’s six weeks. In other words, by the time a woman even knows she’s pregnant, these lawmakers have eliminated abortion as an option. In Missouri the governor signed into law a bill banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, without exceptions in the cases of rape or incest.

Some state legislatures controlled by Democrats are expanding abortion rights and access. In Maine a new state law will allow nurse practitioners to perform abortions, expanding the possible number of care providers in the state. Nevada’s legislature voted to reverse some restrictions. Vermont’s legislature recognized “as a fundamental right the freedom of reproductive choice,” including “rights to choose or refuse contraception or sterilization or to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, to give birth to a child, or to obtain an abortion”—and its Republican governor won’t veto the bill.

The Illinois state House has passed a bill that, like Vermont’s, affirms reproductive freedoms and also repeals some restrictions on the books in the state. Massachusetts is considering the ROE Act, which would remove some restrictions, including a parental permission law for teens and a waiting period that isn’t currently being enforced anyway, as well as expand rights to abortion after 24 weeks in case of serious fetal abnormalities. It would also create a safety net to ensure that abortion is treated like other medical care for women who don’t have other health coverage.

Research from around the globe shows restrictive laws don’t actually seem to reduce abortion rates. Instead, they are linked to unsafe abortions, which put women at risk of serious health problems and even death.

States like Texas that emphasize abstinence-only programs have the highest rates of teen pregnancy and teen birth. In 2003, California lawmakers instead passed the California Comprehensive Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Prevention Education Act which forbade public schools from promoting religious doctrine or bias against people, and said that all sex education programs had to be medically accurate, age-appropriate and comprehensive. By 2005, California’s teen pregnancy rate was 75 per 1,000 teens, a more than 50 percent decline that dwarfed the corresponding national decline of 37 percent.

To this day, a large minority of teen pregnancies tend to end in abortion. But with California’s decline in teen pregnancy rates came declines in both teen births and teen abortions. Abortions, in particular, dropped from 76 per 1,000 teens in 1988 to 26 per 1,000 in 2005.

If Republicans really wanted to reduce abortions, they’d improve sex ed in our public schools; instead, they just pander to religious conservatives.

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