Conceiving Regression: Undoing 46 Years of a Woman’s Right to Choose
Over the past six months, eight states have passed the most elaborate anti-abortion laws that America has seen in decades. On May 15, Alabama passed a bill that prohibits abortion in the most restrictive fashion of any current law in the country. The measure includes a threatening penalty of up to 99 years in prison for any doctor who performs abortions. Additionally, the Alabama law does not provide exceptions for victims of rape and incest. Of the twenty-five members of the Alabama State Senate who voted to pass the bill, all were white men. The bill was then officially signed into law by female governor Kay Ivey.
Just one week later, on May 25, the Alabama House officially approved the “born alive” bill, which threatens doctors with up to 20 years in prison if they fail to provide reasonable care to save a "child born alive after an abortion or attempted abortion," as reported by CBS News.
Since the establishment of a five-justice conservative majority on the Supreme Court, anti-abortion states are now pushing laws that clearly violate Roe v. Wade, with the hope of ultimately overturning Roe. Alabama state Representative and bill sponsor Terri Collins spoke to the state’s intentions, claiming that while the state’s government is empathetic for rape and incest survivors, their main goal is to strengthen the law enough to force federal court intervention with the hope of gaining a national restriction on abortion (Washington Post).
There are some things that need to be understood by all about the bigger picture surrounding abortions in order to truly grasp the gravity of the situation in Alabama.
First, let’s discuss the often-seriously misconstrued details of the abortion process. As it is, abortions almost never take place when a fetus is past the first trimester (12 weeks) of development. This only ever happens when it has been determined that the fetus either has an unsurvivable abnormality, or that the mother would not be able to safely carry a baby through birth. Of course, this might be hard to understand when the President of the United States himself has consistently spread the opposite message. At an April 27th event in Wisconsin, Donald Trump said, “the baby is born, the mother meets with the doctor. They take care of the baby, they wrap the baby beautifully. And then the doctor and the mother determine whether or not they will execute the baby." This is, put quite simply, untrue.
Furthermore, the term fetus refers to the developing cluster of cells beginning at 10 weeks of development, meaning that many abortions take place before the term “fetus” can even be used, as there is not an organized and functioning life in existence prior to this point. At most, a fetus aborted in the first trimester is two and a half inches long, and is not yet able to move or hear (mayoclinic.org). Additionally, according to the New York Times, a fetus’s nervous system is not matured enough to feel pain until 27 weeks of development, debunking the popularized myth that serious pain is involved in the process of abortion, at least as it concerns the fetus.
Many women that choose abortion do so either because they know that they could not offer a child a good life or because they know that a pregnancy would have a seriously negative impact on their own lives. Abortion is a very intense, painful choice, both physically and mentally, and women that choose this are not marching into the doctor’s office with big grins on their faces. Now, imagine that these women will also be legitimately breaking the law by choosing an abortion. Imagine the combination of pain, fear, depression, and anger that they must feel, and the impact that the lack of support and safety from their own country during this difficult time must have.
While anti-abortion activists argue that the mother can choose to put the child up for adoption or into the foster care system if she does not feel fit to raise the newborn herself, people fail to acknowledge how dysfunctional these programs currently are. The National Foster Youth Institute claims that there is less than a three percent chance for any child who ages out of foster care to earn a college degree, and that upon leaving foster care 20 percent of children will instantly become homeless. Needless to say, increased public funding of these systems is necessary.
A woman’s body should be her own, under all circumstances. Each and every woman is entitled to have her own values, but no matter one’s personal or religious beliefs, what a woman does with her own body should always be her own choice, and she should be allowed to follow her own belief system in order to make her own decision.
Second, the idea that banning abortion will actually eliminate abortion is factually inaccurate. This point is supported by a March 2018 report by the Guttmacher Institute, which found that, the more legally restrictive the setting, the riskier abortions tend to be. A quick look at the history of America pre-Roe v. Wade proves that the banning of abortion has only caused poor and middle-class women to use extremely dangerous and unsafe methods to terminate a pregnancy, resulting in a much higher number of pregnancy-related deaths, both fetal and maternal, than exists now. Without getting into the gory details, these methods often involved using sharp objects or simply blunt force to pierce or injure the uterus.
In the three years following Roe v. Wade, the amount of women that died during fetal termination decreased by 50 percent (politifact.com).
Finally, the topic that is oh-so-conveniently left out of the conversation all too often: why do women choose abortion in the first place? While women may find themselves turning to abortion for a multitude of reasons, the Guttmacher Institute polled roughly 1,200 American abortion patients in 2004 and asked the specific reasons that they attributed to their decision. The results included financial inability to raise a child, being a victim of rape or incest, and personal physical health problems. Addressing financial responsibilities alone, the average cost of the act of giving birth is $11,000 (Business Insider). Thinking more in the long-term, according to Huffington Post, the average cost of raising a child in America is between $13,000 and $15,000 per year up until age 18 (and then comes college).
Under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, women in America are allowed a 12-week UNPAID maternity leave (Department of Labor). Comparatively, in Finland--where abortion is legal and free of charge--the government offers 23 weeks of paid maternity leave, with seven of those weeks being before the baby is even born, according to Business Insider. Being a mother in general comes with massive responsibility, and this task only grows more daunting when the government shows no sign of understanding or support.
The fact that women have to fight for the right to choose, yet again, is infuriating to say the least. However, this could be an excellent opportunity to overthrow the beyond-outdated procedures in which the most important decisions a woman can make are made for her by the law. Take the power of choice into your own hands. Call your local state legislators. Stay informed. Whatever you do, do not go silent. If you want a choice, use your voice.