Abortion Access Under Attack 42 Years After Roe
Yesterday marked the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion. But abortion is still not a reality for millions of women, especially those with limited economic means. There is a big difference between something being legal and it being accessible.
For the women living in one of the 87% of counties in the U.S. that have no abortion provider, access to abortion still remains elusive, and may even be altogether impossible. Without local service providers, these women must travel long distances to get the medical services they require—an expensive, time-consuming undertaking.
Take, for instance, a woman living in the city of Amarillo, Texas. Amarillo has a population of nearly 200,000 people, about 25% of whom are not insured, and it has no abortion providers. The nearest provider is in Dallas, Texas. By car, Amarillo is five and a half hours from Dallas, but for the many who have to travel by bus, the trip will cost nearly $200 and take an average of 8 hours. On top of that, a woman seeking services needs to comply with numerous Texas laws including undergoing mandatory counseling, hearing her ultrasound described in detail, waiting 24 hours for the service, and notifying her parents if under age 18. Once she meets all those requirements, and either pays for it out of pocket or with insurance, she can finally have her procedure—and prepare for return trip that could take up to 8 hours.
This very limited access to abortion for low-income women is becoming further restricted across the country. In the four years since the Affordable Care Act was passed, state legislatures have enacted 231 abortion restrictions—more than the total number of abortion restrictions enacted from 2000-2010. So, what kinds of bills are we talking about?
One of the most alarming bills came from Texas, passed in 2013. The law, SB5, made Texas one of only nine states to ban abortion after 20 weeks. It required “oversight” of over-the-counter abortion-inducing drugs, required all abortion clinics to meet the same standards as other surgical healthcare facilities and hospitals, and required doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The law imposed these strict regulations on abortion clinics, resulting in the closing of all but eight clinics, before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down portions of the law. Why?
The Court viewed portions of this law as a thinly veiled attempt to make abortions inaccessible in Texas. Given that abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures for women in the U.S.–with less than 0.5% of women experiencing complications, and with a risk of death one-tenth that of childbirth –the Court recognized that the legal requirement and its $1.5 million price tag for facility upgrades were not meant to improve the safety of women.
The next law that comes to mind is particularly hard to stomach. According to an Alabama law, minors seeking an abortion without parental consent can actually be put on trial by their fetus. Alabama law requires minors seeking to bypass the parental consent for an abortion to obtain it from the court system—this isn’t unique to Alabama; about 38 states require parental consent and may or may not have a bypass process. However, what is unique to Alabama is that as of last February, HB494 enables the court to appoint an attorney to “represent the unborn child,” by calling witnesses and arguing against the woman seeking an abortion. This is a violation of the basic premise of Roe v. Wade and ACLU has filed a suit to litigate this matter.
These are just a few examples of the laws states are passing. These laws are clogging up our legislative processes while trying to undermine a federally protected right.
Meanwhile, we still lack mandatory sex education in 28 states and mandatory contraception education in 32 states. Contraceptive coverage has expanded dramatically, but so too have exemptions—20 states have exemptions from the mandate.
At the federal level, we have an uphill battle. First, we must continue to push for repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits use of federal funds for abortion and disproportionally harms low income women. And unsurprisingly, less than one month into the new session, House leadership has already introduced two abortion bills. The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which further prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions passed 239-179 yesterday on January 22, 2015. The other bill was the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks, unless the life of the mother is physically endangered, or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest (which has been reported to police). However, the vote for this bill was canceled after women House Republican members withdrew support for the measure.
So here we are, 42 years later, and during his State of the Union address, President Obama said, “We still may not agree on a woman’s right to choose, but surely we can agree it’s a good thing that teen pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows, and that every woman should have access to the health care she needs.”
We’d like to believe we agree on this, but the numerous barriers that exist seem to indicate otherwise. There are at least 231 reasons from the past four years to believe the debate is still strong.
Public Policy and Government Affairs, National LGBTQ Task Force