Abortion is one of those things you don’t discuss at the dinner table. Contraception, though less controversial, is still probably something you keep for your nearest and dearest – much like politics or religion. However, no matter how open or closed you are about your god, your vote, your sexuality, or your uterus for that matter, issues pertaining to reproductive rights will always be of the utmost importance not only for women, but for men – and they are inherently political. This series of articles has no intention of inciting blame, or suggesting to the reader that their way of thinking might have more or less merit. In fact, this series has no hopes of changing your personal beliefs; be they pro-choice, or pro-life. This series will however, highlight the politics and the real-world ramifications of being on either side of the fence – in doing so, allowing you to discern for yourself the state of the uterus, and decide for yourself whether or not you can politically justify your conscience.
Roe v. Wade celebrated its 40th anniversary in early January, and with it marked 40 years of legal abortions in the United States. Although there are no standard reporting requirements for abortion in the country, according to the Guttmacher institute roughly 50% of pregnancies that occur are unintentional, and of those, perhaps 30% of them result in an abortion (In 2008, of 6.4 million pregnancies, 19% per aborted intentionally). In 10 states, of those unintended pregnancies carried to term, 70% of the births were paid for by publicly funded programs. The unfortunate reality is that there is a strong correlation between unintended pregnancies and poverty, unintended pregnancies and low levels of education attainment, and, of course, unintended pregnancies and inconsistent use of contraception.
The only way these numbers are kept at bay is through programs, funded in part through public means, such as Planned Parenthood, that provide access to contraception, counselling, pertinent health information, as well as abortions (however abortions themselves are not federally funded except in cases of incest or rape due to the Hyde amendment). Without these publicly funded family planning programs, studies suggest that there would be two thirds more unintended pregnancies than now. The largest concentration of such pregnancies would be amongst teenagers. In short, without the existing public programs put in place to provide contraception there would be more unintended pregnancies, and it stands to reason, more abortions – something the general consensus wants to avoid.
America, Abortion Law, and Personhood USA
Despite the reality that fewer family planning programs would undoubtedly lead to a greater number of unintentional pregnancies, and in turn, more abortions, programs like Planned Parenthood are often under fire in the United States. Abortion clinics and the practitioners who work in them are also subject to public shame and disgruntlement, as well as political challenges to their very necessary existence.
It has been 40 years since abortions were made federally legal; however women’s reproductive rights have arguably decreased since then. Although federally Roe v. Wade stands true, in 2011 alone 92 state restrictions, caveats and conditions were added to existing abortion laws. These restrictions make it harder for women to have access to abortions – this means that the risk for more births as the result of unintended pregnancy is greater. Statistically speaking, this means more teenage mothers, and more mothers who cannot afford these unintended children. These unintended children will most likely be born into poverty and will more often than not, be children of colour. This means that unintended pregnancies will aggravate the income gap between white people and people of colour, and compound issues of unequal access to education and ultimately, opportunity. The monetary cost to Americans for unintended births in 2006 was more than 11 billion public dollars. The cost of denying women access to contraception is more abortions, and the cost of denying women access to safe, affordable abortions will be more unintended children. This potentiality is socio-politically and fiscally unfeasible, unsustainable and arguably – dangerous.
Many of the 92 restrictions added in 2011 are associated with the growth of the personhood movement. There are a lot of political players involved in this, and one fringe group that’s certainly made headlines is Personhood USA. Personhood USA might not be the largest non-profit, but as far as activism goes they’ve made their way in the last four years. Recently, State legislators supporting the personhood movement in Mississippi have taken great pains to try and close the state’s only clinic through increasingly limiting restrictions. If they succeed it will be a huge win for the movement, and a great loss for women everywhere.
Overall, the last year was an especially interesting one for them, along with the Mississippi debacle, they made their play for Republican support – however they mostly failed outside of Colorado (more than anything, Republican support for personhood hurt Republicans and helped Obama). This being said, they’re a political force that we shouldn’t expect to go anywhere any time soon and the movement in general is considered instrumental in the creation of new legislatures related to abortion, and the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade has them riled and ready to go. As far as a next step, some are suggesting that the movement hopes to take a crack at the Hyde amendment – the removal of which would mean that even abortions as a result of incest or rape could not be federally funded.
The Politics of the Pill, the Church and Election Year 2012
In the last year or so, contraception also came back on the table when Obama put a rule in place forcing all institutions to provide healthcare that covered contraceptive care – something that the Catholic Church considered a violation of their religious liberty. Their affiliated institutions such as educational facilities, hospitals and community centers would be forced to provide this health care that they considered against the Catholic ethos. Some bishops, pastors and priests, in reaction to this, went against the U.S tax code and urged their congregations to become single-issue voters, as they argued that this health care law would undoubtedly mean this insurance would also cover abortions (which is impossible under federal law).This new insurance rule came out of 2010’s Affordable Care Act and the basic principle at play was that Obama needed to balance religious rights with affordable access to preventive care.
Rationally, Obama would rather give greater access to contraception because this is simply less expensive, less intrusive, less dangerous, and less politically volatile than abortion, and it stands to reason, more access to affordable and reliable forms of birth control means less abortion overall. However, this decision spurned a nasty Republican backlash for Obama during his presidential campaign, and the state of reproductive rights seemed on shaky ground when the original right wing platform called for the complete illegalization of abortion, and the protection for fetuses under the 14th amendment. Newt Gingrich, during the 2012 primaries, referred to abortion as “legalized infanticide” in an interview, and argued that the new A.C.A insurance rule meant that “The Obama administration is engaged in a war against religion,” – never mind the issue of access to affordable health care. Romney himself called for the end of federal funding to Planned Parenthood and the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
This being said, as we all know, Obama runs the show for another four years. This means that the Affordable Care Act stands and birth control will become more affordable and more accessible. As far as religious institutions go, they were given a year from August 1st 2012 to comply with the insurance requirements. Although this might seem promising, one would be good to remember that the dust has yet to settle and, there is still only one abortion clinic in Mississippi – fighting for its survival. The state of reproductive rights then is a tumultuous one in the United States. Ultimately, in order to protect and further the rights of women to make responsible decisions about their uteruses the country as a collective must vote in such a matter that is politically rational, and fiscally responsible. This means making contraception more accessible, and it means keeping abortion legal, no matter your personal beliefs.
– Meagan Potier
(Featured Photo: License UC Irvine, Creative Commons, Flickr
Photo 1:License ctrouper, Creative Commons, Flickr
Photo 2: License Amphis d’@illeurs, Creative Commons, Flickr)