I start every piece on abortion the same way, by stating my view that it should be safe, legal and rare. The problem is that while the landmark Roe v. Wade decision made federal laws barring abortion unconstitutional, it remains rare but not necessarily safe or legal. Moreover, it is becoming more rare not because of better access to family planning but because of the scarcity of abortion providers. According to Think Progress, 87 percent of US counties don’t have any abortion providers at all.
What about the legality point? Despite Roe, in 2003 Congress passed the Federal Abortion Ban (also known as the “partial birth abortion ban”). This was found to pass constitutional muster in 2007 and contradicts a 2000 Supreme Court decision that found the opposite to be true — proving the key role our justices play. This decision also gave states a lot of wiggle room in making their own laws on the procedure. In fact, at least 20 states have laws on the books limiting abortion after 12 weeks, while they are technically unconstitutional and unenforceable, how many women actually know that? These states include: Alabama, Alaska, Floria, Indiana, Illinois, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississipi, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin. None have exceptions for the health of the mother. (source: Planned Parenthood).
Despite President Obama’s 2012 victory, the year went down as one of the highest on record for states passing restrictions on abortions. Check out this chart. While you are at it, you might want to read their full report “Laws Affecting Reproductive Health and Rights: 2012 State Policy Review.” According to the Guttmacher Institute:
“Reproductive health and rights was once again the subject of extensive debate in state capitols in 2012. Over the course of the year, 42 states and the District of Columbia enacted 122 provisions related to reproductive health and rights. One-third of these new provisions, 43 in 19 states, sought to restrict access to abortion services. Although this is a sharp decrease from the record-breaking 92 abortion restrictions enacted in 2011, it is the second highest annual number of new abortion restrictions.”
The bottom line is that access to reproductive health and abortion is declining and not for good reasons. And the story gets worse for low income women. Women of means will have always have access the health services they need. The same cannot be said for poor women.
“Yet, our policies on abortion in the United States don’t reflect this reality. Federal funding—and public funding in general—for abortion is nearly nonexistent. This became headline news again in 2011 when Congress imposed a ban prohibiting the District of Columbia from using its own locally raised revenues to provide abortion services to its residents, thereby obstructing a local government’s autonomy.” From “No Roe Anniversary for Low Income Women.”
As important as it is to keep Roe v. Wade in place, it is not enough. It will never be enough but the constant battle between those who favor it and those who oppose it is not the answer either. Polls from 2012 show up to 95 percent of women have used some form of birth control in their lives. We need to move beyond what are clearly arbitrary conversations about Supreme Court cases that clearly are not impacting how many women can access both reproductive health care and/or abortion to a real conversation about how we find common sense solutions to achieve what most of us want: to finally make abortion safe, legal and rare for all the right reasons. Until we do that, we are wasting everyone’s time and causing far too many women their lives and health.
I wrote this piece several years ago and every single week it gets hits. Every single week.