Special Report by Isabel DeMarco
In recent months, abortion has become a hot-button issue for many voters. Many states have reacted to abortion with legislation, although the degree and leanings of this legislation varies greatly depending on the states involved. Certain states have taken alarming steps to regulate abortion, with Ohio, Alabama, and Georgia taking steps to virtually ban abortion. While these drastic regulations have captivated the American and international public, many other states have, albeit quietly, taken steps towards preserving and protecting reproductive rights.
Alabama’s legislation, which emerged in May, is shocking for various reasons. Namely, it bans abortion regardless of trimester or whether the woman is a victim of rape or incest. Moreover, the legislation criminalizes abortion; those who preform them can face up to 99 years in prison. The legislation was notable in that the legislation was nearly wholly supported by guys before being signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey. It is important to note that this legislation was predominantly drafted and supported by white male politicians, and that while a woman signed it into law, that the legislation disproportionality harms Alabama’s poor, minority population. In numerous states across the United States, only one abortion clinic remains.
In Georgia, abortion laws are shockingly strict. The procedure is banned after six weeks of pregnancy, which is when doctors generally can detect a “fetal heartbeat” (Mervosh). However, this legislation bans abortion at a stage before most women even realize they are pregnant. In layman’s terms, six weeks pregnant is merely being 1-2 weeks late for your period. Similar legislation has been enacted and supported in Kentucky and Mississippi. Other states are expected to follow suit in the near future. These laws are considered a large step backwards in the United States, where abortion was first legalized in the 1970s after the memorable Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case.
The abortion laws in Georgia moves the time limit for abortion from 20 weeks to only six; this is a drastic change that essentially seeks to prevent women from all forms of abortion. Many of these laws are dangerous to women; earlier in 2019, lawmakers in Texas suggested laws that sought to “[criminalize] abortions and [open] up the possibility for women and physicians to receive the death penalty” (Jacobs). Moreover, the proposed legislation sough to have women and doctors involved in abortions “charged with assault or criminal homicide” (Jacobs). Although the bill was rejected, it signifies the terrifying ways in which women’s bodily autonomy and personal agency are being challenged and disregarded in massive ways. Even in Ohio, where abortion laws are some of the strictest in the nation, lawmakers are fighting to ban birth control pills, even though the medications are taken for a myriad of reasons apart from preventing pregnancies.
And yet, other states like Illinois have acted to protect women’s reproductive health. In June, Illinois announced that women’s reproductive healthcare, which encompasses access to birth control, abortion, and maternity care, are a fundamental right. This movement is in stark contrast to many Southern and Midwestern states, which are turning back the dials on women’s autonomy. The large discrepancies between reproductive and abortion laws in the United States reflects a shift in state legislature. In the United States, most states are staunchly under the control of one party. In Illinois, Democrats have taken control of state government, which is why there has been such a huge push for liberal legislation. The same is true in many states where heavily restrictive abortion laws are being passed. Many conservative states are taking advantage of recent polarization, and are using one party majority to pass laws that appeal to lawmakers, rather than their constituents, scientific fact, or reality.
Despite the many reasons for these laws being passed, there is one thing that people must agree on: limiting abortion only hurts and endangers women. And the women most likely to suffer from unfair reproductive laws are impoverished and non-white. The cost of eliminating non-profits like Planned Parenthood and criminalizing abortion are drastic. Research has shown repeatedly that restrictions on abortion and legislation that moves to criminalize it are unsuccessful at lessening rates of abortion. Notably, nations with harsh laws regarding abortion and women’s health have higher rates of abortion than those with safe, easy access to legal abortions and health care. Attempting to prevent women from accessing legal abortions fails to prevent them from happening, but rather encourages women to seek out illegal and risky procedures.
To understand how this might play out in the United States, where abortion laws have grown increasingly restricted, it is imperative to look at other nations whose abortion laws harm women. Notably, the World Health Organization (WHO) has discovered that “nearly 300 million dollars are spent each year on treating the complications from unsafe abortions” (Levintova). Further, they discovered that internationally, 45 percent of abortions are considered dangerous, leaving many millions of women at high risk (Wan). These numbers will only further increase if the United States chooses to criminalize and ban all forms of abortion. In certain countries in South America where abortion is criminalized, poor women suffer the most. Doctors are forced to determine whether the women coming into their care have suffered miscarriages or self-induced abortions, and impoverished women are accused of abortion and face prison time at much higher rates. In the United States, our current abortion laws are predominantly attacking poor women who lack the flexibility and agency to leave their state of residence to seek abortion and health services.
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