The past four years have been nothing short of devastating for abortion rights in the United States. From 2011 to 2015, 231 abortion restrictions were enacted across the country, leaving the majority of American women in states that are outright hostile to reproductive healthcare. Thirteen states have enacted bans on abortion at or before 20 weeks, some without exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the pregnant person. In fact, states like Alabama and North Dakota have passed bans at 12 and six weeks, respectively – a point at which many don’t even know they’re pregnant. Earlier this year, House Republicans proposed (then sheepishly shelved) a federal ban on abortion at 20 weeks. These laws are all designed for one purpose: to force today’s sharply divided Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
But these laws aren’t harmless judicial test cases. They have a real-world impact and do immediate, lasting damage while they wait out their day in court. These bans are wrong, dangerous, and should be roundly opposed. Here are five reasons why:
- They are unconstitutional
Simply put, women have a constitutional right to have an abortion. In its landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court established a right to personal privacy that includes a woman’s right to determine whether or not to bear a child. The Court ruled that states cannot restrict a woman’s access to abortion prior to the point of fetal viability – the point at which the fetus can survive outside of the womb.
Banning abortion at any point prior to fetal viability violates women’s constitutional right to an abortion. No wonder these state-level bans continue to be overturned in court. This is deliberate, however; anti-abortion advocates want to force the Supreme Court to take a case challenging the constitutional right to abortion and overturn Roe v. Wade. While laws from North Dakota’s six-week ban to Arkansas’ 12-week ban continue to be struck down in federal court, abortion bans continue to pass through Republican-dominated state legislatures like West Virginia.
- They affect poor women the most
These laws are often overturned in court, as has happened in North Dakota, Texas and Alabama. But while these laws wind their way through the judicial system, real women suffer the consequences. As noted by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, it is poor women who suffer the most.
As abortion restrictions pile up and safe clinics close, poor women are left with fewer and fewer options in order to safely terminate a pregnancy. When left with little or no safe options, women will turn to unsafe measures to terminate a pregnancy. We’re already seeing this in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, where abortion is banned at 20 weeks and safe clinics have been eradicated from the region. Instead of accessing a safe healthcare clinic in their community, poor women are now crossing the border into Mexico in order to have an abortion, with no guarantee that these procedures are safe.
Wealthy women will always be able to access safe abortion. In the unlikely event that Roe v. Wade is overturned one day, women of financial means in states where abortion is outlawed will still be able to travel to states where it remains legal. Unfortunately, that won’t be a reality for poor women. When abortion is outlawed, they are the people who suffer the most.
- They are based on junk science
These bans are deliberately named: 20-week abortion bans refer to “fetal pain,” and six-week bans are termed “heartbeat bills,” both of which are meant to give the appearance that the laws are based on proven science. They’re not.
These bans are based on junk science – unproven or untested scientific theories that are misrepresented as facts. Junk science underwrites much of our modern anti-abortion legislation, with some state “experts” lying in court about the scientific veracity of their statements.
In truth, the scientific community is roundly opposed to these bans because they have no scientific basis. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a national leader on gynecologic health and science, has denounced bans on abortion. Why? Because the actual experts at ACOG know that there is no scientific argument in defense of these bans. It’s no wonder that champions of these bans make truly embarrassing gaffes, like the Texas politician who believed that 20-week old fetuses could masturbate.
- Banning abortion is a human rights violation
Access to safe and legal abortion isn’t just a constitutional right; it is a human right. The United Nations has been overwhelmingly clear that women have a right to safe abortion, and that denying them access to safe abortion care is a violation of their human rights. The U.N. has warned countries with draconian abortion bans, like Chile and Ireland, that they may be in breach of international human rights treaties. In fact, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture has stated that banning safe abortion care is tantamount to torture. The United States has ratified the Convention Against Torture, but state and federal bans on abortion stand as a form of torture against Americans seeking safe abortion care.
- They ignore women’s actual realities
The sad truth is that as the legislative attacks on abortion continue, it becomes harder for women to access a safe, legal and affordable abortion early on in their pregnancies. So-called Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider (TRAP) laws have closed safe clinics and have left thousands of women hundreds of miles from a safe clinic, like in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. Mandatory waiting periods of 24, 48 or even 72 hours force women to shuttle back and forth to a clinic, sometimes for hundreds of miles, in order to have the procedure. Onerous restrictions on medical abortion, like those in Oklahoma, force women to have costlier and sometimes unnecessary surgical abortions, often later in their pregnancies. That is exactly what these laws are designed to do: keep women from having safe abortions.
Women often wait until 20 weeks for many reasons: they are trying to scrimp up enough money to afford the procedure; they have to travel hundreds of miles and need to raise funds for a hotel; they need to find transportation, sometimes on multiple days; they need to find daycare (the majority of women who have abortions are already mothers); or they may have just discovered a fetal anomaly and have to terminate a wanted pregnancy. The anti-choice argument that women who wait until 20 weeks to have an abortion because they are lazy or careless is nothing more than blaming the victims of the War on Women for their own casualties.
It’s not abortion, but bans on abortion, that continue to threaten the health and safety of American women.