(MintPress) – In June 1969, Norma McCorvey discovered she was pregnant with her third child. A single mother, she felt that the burden of raising three kids was too much, so she sought an abortion. A resident of Texas, however, she was prohibited from having an abortion, as the procedure — at that time — was reserved solely for cases of incest or rape. In an attempt to obtain a legal abortion, McCorvey lied, claiming that her pregnancy was the result of a gang rape.
This ploy failed as there was no police statement to attest to McCorvey’s story. Her attempt to get an illegal abortion failed as well, as the police previously shut down the site. Running out of options, she referred to attorneys Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, who were looking for a litigant in their planned class action lawsuit against Texas in regard to the state’s abortion laws. Adopting the alias “Jane Roe,” McCorvey dropped the rape claim and consented to be the chief plaintiff in a discrimination lawsuit against Henry Wade, the district attorney for Dallas County.
The district court ruled for McCorvey (“Roe”), but declined to file an injunction against the enforcement of the abortion laws. The ruling was based on the Ninth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which argues that all rights not defined by the Constitution (including the right of privacy) are retained by the people.
In Georgia around the same time, Sandra Cano, a 22-year-old pregnant mother of three, became the plaintiff of a discrimination lawsuit against Arthur Bolton, the Attorney General of Georgia. Georgia — at the time — required the written consent of three physicians and a special committee at the hospital the procedure was to be performed at in order to get an abortion, with non-residents of Georgia being banned from getting an abortion in a Georgia hospital under any circumstance. Despite the fact that Cano stated that she was unaware that a case was filed on her behalf (as “Mary Doe”) and despite her attempts to have the case overturned 30 years after its ruling, Doe v. Bolton and Roe v. Wade, both ruled on by the U.S. Supreme Court Jan. 22, 1973, form the modern basis for abortion rights in the United States today.
Now, 40 years after the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton rulings, seven in 10 Americans feel that the Supreme Court ruling should stand, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. Since the polls started tracking the question in 1989, this has been the highest level of support recorded for a woman’s right to an abortion.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal, this upswing is due to more Democrats supporting the decision, the embracing of the ruling by the Hispanic and African-American communities and an increasing pool of support among Republicans.
However, in the same poll, almost seven in 10 respondents suggested that there would be some circumstances in which they would not support abortion. Thirty-one percent believe that there should be unconditional legality of the procedure, while 9 percent believe that the procedure should be unconditionally banned. Thirty-five percent think that the procedure should be banned except in the case of rape, incest or to save the woman’s life. Twenty-three percent believe that the procedure should be legal, but with caveats.
A shifting conversation
In light of this, the debate has changed. Instead of seeking an outright ban, abortion opponents now seek to ban the most contentious aspects of the procedure, such as late-term and gender-based abortions. Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ abortion and euthanasia campaigns, told the Wall Street Journal, “You really need to start with the abortions that are most controversial and where you have the broadest consensus, even if they are not that common … All or nothing has produced nothing.”
This tactic seems to be working. A 2011 Gallup poll found that 86 percent of abortion-rights adults and 87 percent of those that are pro-life are in favor of informed consent — in which the risks of the procedure, legal options, alternatives to abortion and facts about the procedure are shared with a patient before she can consent to the procedure — and 79 percent of pro-choicers and 94 percent of pro-lifers are in favor to making third trimester abortions illegal.
In 2011, 92 measures restricting abortion rights were passed in 24 states. In 2012, 43 more were passed in 19 states. Nine states
have banned abortions after 20 weeks of gestation. In 2013, Texas, Indiana and Missouri are scheduled to consider restrictions or bans against chemically-induced abortions. Indiana and South Carolina are considering new operating restrictions for abortion clinics. Several states have added cost-increasing requirements already, including mandating certain staffing levels for abortion clinics and requiring the installation of hospital-quality ventilation systems. Proponents of these requirements argue that they protect the health of the patients of these facilities.
Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, contradicts this assertion: “I don’t need a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe. Clinic regulations do actually challenge Roe.”
Proponents for abortion rights have refocused their argument, too; asserting that while a person can be morally opposed to abortion, it is a matter of a woman’s right to privacy and control over her own health concerns.
Carole Lieberman, M.D., is a highly-esteemed practicing psychiatrist and a three-time Emmy award-winning talk show host and media consultant. In conversation with Mint Press, Dr. Lieberman shared her take on the abortion conversation: “I am appalled at how much power the fanatical anti-abortionists have managed to amass since Roe v. Wade. Women should have the choice as to whether or not to bring their baby into the world. I have treated countless women who had babies they weren’t emotionally prepared for, but were too intimidated to abort.”
She adds: “Many of these women have gone on to live miserable and unfulfilling lives because their dreams were cut short because they had to care for babies instead. And I have treated countless unwanted children and adults born to parents who did not plan for them and could not give them the love and attention they deserved, but who were guilted into having them. The stories are heartbreaking.
“Children are not pets who can be shuffled around to different caretakers as long as they are fed. Even pets need consistent ‘parenting’ by their owners, and children are far more sensitive and aware that they were not really wanted. It is no wonder that, with the increase in power of anti-abortionists, there has been an increase in child abuse and neglect … Though women I have treated, who have had abortions, are still haunted by these memories, they nonetheless recognize how their life would have unfolded in a different way than they had planned and dreamed if they had had a baby at that time, such as by marrying a man they didn’t love, stopping their education, forgoing a career in the arts and so on,” Lieberman concludes.
For most of American history, abortions were legal. The first restrictions came in 1821, when Connecticut made it against the law to cause a miscarriage chemically after the fetus “quickened,” or was felt to move independently — typically, in the fourth or fifth month of gestation. In 1873, the Comstock Law was the first federal abortion law, banning the selling or distribution of any materials related to contraception or abortion. It was in the 1930s and the Great Depression, however, that most states adapted abortion laws. During this period, the abortion rate exploded as married women with children could not afford to feed another child and unmarried women could not afford to marry. Maternal deaths from unsafe or illegal abortions reach 14 percent in 1931.
“Therapeutic abortion boards” appeared in hospitals in the 1950s to judge the validity of an abortion request on a case-by-case basis. In 1955, Planned Parenthood organized a conference, “Abortion in the United States,” which suggested a reform of the nation’s abortion laws, and by the 70s, 20 states had passed abortion reform. New York, Alaska, Hawaii and Washington fully legalized the procedure.
Currently, only California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada and Washington have laws that protect the right to abortion external to Roe v. Wade. In his 2013 State of the State Address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) called for the codification of abortion right protections for the state of New York.
Legal on paper only
Many opponents of Roe v. Wade feel that the nationalization of the issue polarized the issue. Michael Taylor, executive director of the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment, argues, “I’m not sure if you’d have as much black and white in politics as you do today if the court had not taken this very aggressive position. As another scholar said, the court has made legislators and citizens mute on this issue.”
However, it can be debated if independent opinion on this issue is truly dead. As reported by NBC News, in at least four states — North Dakota, South Dakota, Arkansas and Mississippi — there is only one state, and in one state — Mississippi — the one provider is in violation of the state’s requirement that all abortion providers must have hospital admitting privileges. If the Jackson, Miss. clinic closes, Mississippi will be the first state in the Union in which it is legally impossible to get an abortion.
The most pressing issue regarding access to abortions, however, is federal funding. The federal government prohibits the allocation of federal dollars for most abortions, and only 17 states fund abortions for low-income women. It is argued, however, that the federal government’s funding of Planned Parenthood is de facto funding for abortions, as the use of federal funds for the organization’s other women’s care programs frees up money that can be used to fund the abortion program.
In Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin, the states have moved to cut funds for Planned Parenthood.
In Washington, D.C., where there is no state-based funding, the city’s poor may not be able to obtain an affordable abortion. In South Dakota, in order to use the one part-time clinic, a patient has to deal with a wide array of delays and counseling requirements.
In part due to the actions of the states, the rate of abortions have leveled off at 15 per 1,000 women after a steady decrease. This is in spite of public approval for abortions increasing at the same time.
A question of personage
An argument that has been made with the pro-choice camp is the argument of personage. It can and has been argued that in personifying and extending legal protection to the unborn fetus, you are — in effect — taking them away from the mother and denying her personal authority of her own body.
Jeanne Flavin is the author of “Our Bodies, Our Crimes: The Policing of Women’s Reproduction in America” and serves on the board of directors of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. In conversation with Mint Press, Dr. Flavin shared: “There is no way to add fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses to the community of constitutional persons without subtracting pregnant women. I think many – maybe even MOST — people who are morally opposed to abortion recognize some common ground here.”
Flavin adds, “The only way to create a culture of life is to value and respect the women who bring forth that life. We must call upon legislative authorities and others to affirm the personhood of pregnant women, ensuring that upon becoming pregnant and through all stages of pregnancy, labor and delivery, women retain their civil and human rights.”
On Jan. 15, the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law published their study, Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States, 1973-2005: Implications for Women’s Legal Status and Public Health, which states that 413 criminal and civil cases that resulted in the arrest or submission to medical interventions have occurred since the ruling of Roe v. Wade. These cases universally held the pregnant woman responsible for the outcome of the pregnancy, despite the fact that no state have laws that place that burdened upon the women. So-called state-based “personhood” measures recognize eggs, embryos and fetuses as separate from their hosting mothers, which invites punitive action against the mother for their harm.
Cited examples are the case in which a judge in Ohio prevented a woman from having an abortion by keeping her imprisoned, a case in Washington, D.C. ordering a severely-ill woman to have a Caesarian section in which neither the mother nor child survived and a case in Utah in which a woman was charged with homicide for giving birth to one live and one stillborn twin upon her decision to delay cesarean surgery.