By: Suhaana Sidhu Are the United States Moving Backwards in Time?
An analysis of the sudden regression in abortion rights in the United States
In the past few decades, there has been huge progress in the battle for equality and human rights thanks to increased female empowerment and societal development. Emerging movements, organizations, and female leaders have made tremendous impacts on the movement for equality. We have come so far as a society in terms of equality and the reclamation of the female body only to begin regressing suddenly. In a country that has remained equally divided on opinions regarding abortion, it’s surprising that certain US states have been able to enact laws that take away their freedom.
Roe v. Wade
On January 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade was decided by the US Supreme Court; a monumental push towards women’s rights to their bodies. It was ruled according to the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution that under most circumstances women have the liberty to choose whether or not to have an abortion. A balance between protecting women’s health and prenatal life was maintained by varying regulations during the three trimesters of pregnancy. After the Planned Parenthood v. Casey case, the right to abort was changed from the trimester system to a standard based on fetal viability –fetal viability being defined as the potential ability to survive outside of the womb.
Roe v. Wade allowed women to safely and legally access abortion with the support of medical professionals, preventing many deaths from unsafe abortions. Bans against abortion affected low-income individuals in particular, as 80% of abortions obtained by this demographic were dangerous and self-induced (Horsely, 2019). Roe v. Wade has made abortion one of the safest medical procedures in the US and has given countless women the right to decide. This movement towards female empowerment happened over four decades ago, but with new amendments threatening to erode Roe v. Wade, we seem to be moving backwards in time.
Heartbeat bills are new legislation being passed in multiple US states that restrict abortion, making it illegal once the fetus’ heartbeat is detectable. Not only is the bill highly restrictive, but it’s also inconsistent. Depending on the equipment used the heartbeat can be detected anywhere from 22 days to 9 weeks. Early detection methods mean this bill makes it nearly impossible for women to access abortions, as, at this point, they may not even know they’re pregnant.
As of right now, Alabama has passed a complete ban on abortions, including for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. Furthermore, doctors performing abortions could be criminally prosecuted with a maximum sentence of 99 years in prison (DaSilva, 2019). Ohio, Georgia, Mississippi, and Kentucky have enacted heartbeat bills, banning abortion except in the case of a medical emergency. Although Alabama and Georgia’s bans will take effect in January 2020, those of Kentucky, Ohio, and Mississippi are still up in the air. There are many other states looking to pass heartbeat bills including Florida, Illinois, and South Carolina. Anti-abortion advocates are looking to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Who it Hurts
Although abortion seems uncommon, by age 45, 24% of American women will have had an abortion and 1-in-4 pregnancies end in abortion (“US Abortion Statistics”, 2019). 3-in-4 women looking to have an abortion are of low-income status and the majority of these women state potential inability to provide for a child to be their reason for abortion (Horsely, 2019). If these women are denied access to abortions not only will they be unable to care for their babies, they will also struggle to continue with their education and maintain employment.
Many women are criticizing the fact that men feel they have a right to voice their own opinions on the issue, considering they aren’t the ones carrying a child. While unsolicited opinions supporting abortion bans are unwanted, men should be a part of the conversation. Men should not only feel morally obligated to support pro-choice women, doing so would also be in their benefit. Rising birth-related costs will burden all taxpayers, and higher childcare costs will increase child support payments by men.
Implementing these bans and criminalizing abortion won’t prevent women from undergoing the procedure, it will just make it more dangerous to do so. Banning abortion will only force women to turn to illegal methods like at home abortions that put their lives at risk.
Thousands of women across the US are marching as part of the #StopTheBans protest to fight against the new bills being proposed. Over 500 protests and demonstrations took place across the US, with women sharing their personal experiences with abortion and fighting for their rights. Countless women have spoken out about why they had an abortion and the positive impact it had in their lives, with the underlying message of the protests being that the government has no right to govern women’s bodies. Abortion is healthcare and the banning of the procedure is a violation of human rights.
Although the battle seems large there are many small things we can do to support abortion access in the US. In the US, women can act more directly by supporting and voting for leaders that support abortion or by becoming clinic escorts. In Canada, we can educate ourselves and others, keep the conversation alive by speaking out, and donate to abortion clinics or organizations fighting to keep abortion rights in the hands of women.
As things stand, the possibility of the US banning abortions altogether is very real. As Roe v. Wade continues to be eroded and more states pass heartbeat bills, women’s rights to their bodies will be further threatened. This step backwards in the fight for female rights may mark the beginning of a dangerous journey back in time.