On June 27, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court once again affirmed its Roe v. Wade ruling that women have a constitutional right to an abortion with its decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, where it struck down medically unnecessary regulations of abortion providers as unconstitutional, undue burdens on access to abortion.
And yet even with multiple court cases protecting the right to abortion, we have seen attacks on access to abortion and reproductive health care ramp up over these past two years.
In 2016, 18 states enacted 50 new restrictions on abortion; in 2017, 19 states passed 63 restrictions; and so far in the first quarter of 2018, “five states had adopted 10 new abortion restrictions, and 347 measures to restrict access to either abortion or contraception had been introduced in 37 states,” according to the Guttmacher Institute.
However, what we know, and what we have always known, is that politically motivated and medically unnecessary restrictions on access to abortion do nothing for positive health outcomes.
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Historian Leslie J. Reagan, in her book "When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973," says, "Making abortion hard to obtain will not return the United States to an imagined time of virginal brides and stable families; it will return us to the time of crowded septic abortion wards, avoidable deaths, and the routinization of punitive treatment of women by state authorities and their surrogates."
Abortion is an extremely safe medical procedure, and there is overwhelming scientific research proving it is safe. Last week, the Los Angeles Times published an article on a new study that found “[a]bortions send women to hospital emergency rooms at lower rates than such routine procedures as colonoscopies and surgeries to have wisdom teeth removed.”
What is not safe are restrictive laws that interfere with the ability of providers to offer abortion care, propagate lies about the safety of abortion, and place arbitrary waiting periods that delay access to care — such as the medically unnecessary 72-hour waiting period that was enacted in North Carolina in 2015.
We also see attacks on abortion access manifest in ways other than just restrictions on the procedure itself.
Attacks on Title X family planning funding on the federal level have dramatically increased over the last two years. In North Carolina, legislators banned any abortion provider from receiving state funding in 2015, and for the past five years, the N.C. General Assembly has given our taxpayer dollars and money from federal maternal and child health grants to fake clinics. These fake clinics (also known as “Crisis Pregnancy Centers”) often claim to be medical clinics, but their sole purpose is to trick and deceive people out of obtaining an abortion.
It is no coincidence that last year the anti-abortion group Human Coalition sent lobbyists to North Carolina, and in the budget just passed by the General Assembly, these fake clinics received $1.55 million of our taxpayer dollars, $300,000 of which was specifically designated for Human Coalition.
However, there are glimmers of hope for reproductive rights, as various organization are using the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision to challenge arbitrary and medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion. In the last two weeks, three separate legal challenges (in Texas, Indiana, and Virginia) have been brought against harmful state laws that target reproductive health care and the right to an abortion.
As we commemorate the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt anniversary, remember that we are never done fighting for our rights, and we will continue to take action to defend abortion access and bodily autonomy for all.
Lynne Walter, MSW, is the Advocacy and Organizing manager for NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina.