In a 1980 article about the proposed Human Life Amendment (HLA) to the U.S. Constitution, journalist Ellen Goodman asked, “is a woman a person?” The HLA would have granted constitutional personhood to every fertilized human ovum. Few people back then believed that legal abortion was in peril. Their complacency allowed the political debate to be dominated by the question “is a fetus a person?,” rather than that of how pregnancy affects women’s health and lives.
Since President Trump’s election, seven states have passed bans on abortion, and the Supreme Court has two new justices. For the first time in forty-six years, people are finally realizing the Court could overturn Roe v. Wade, making abortion illegal in many states.
We simply cannot rely on the Courts to protect reproductive choice. Voters have to make the issue a priority in congressional and legislative races. Even if the Supreme Court never overturns Roe v. Wade, for millions of women the damage has already been done. It can only get worse.
Past Supreme Court decisions have already upheld numerous laws designed to keep women from obtaining abortions, even while the procedure remains legal. In the entire state of Mississippi there is only one abortion clinic. Last year, 5,528 women came to Illinois from neighboring states for abortion services because of restrictions in their states.
Right now, only 10 states in the entire country have no restrictions on access to abortion: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Sixteen additional states provide abortion coverage under their state Medicaid programs, but six of them, including Illinois, deny abortion services to anyone under age 18 without a parent’s involvement. Other states, like Colorado, do not require parental involvement but exclude abortion coverage from the Medicaid program.
In most states, women under age 18 cannot obtain an abortion without a parent’s involvement. In Texas, four years after the parental consent law passed, the number of 18-year-olds terminating pregnancy during the second trimester increased 21 percent, because young women waited until they were old enough to not have to tell a parent.
Most teens involve a parent in the decision. Those who don’t have good reason. The law allows the teen to go to court to ask a judge to waive the notice requirement, but it is impossible for the teen to remain anonymous in this process. How do you get time off school and explain to a neighbor who sees you at the courthouse what you are doing there?
The bill to repeal Illinois’ Parental Notice of Abortion law will come up for a vote this fall. Please contact your State Representatives – Carol Ammons, Brad Halbrook, Michael Marron or Dan Caulkins, and your State Senator – Scott Bennett or Chapin Rose. Tell them you want them to vote “yes” on repeal of the Parental Notice of Abortion Act.
If two doctors cannot certify that a pregnancy will definitely kill a woman, but they do certify that she will suffer severe, long-lasting physical health damage from continuing the pregnancy, should her government-sponsored health plan pay for an abortion? The so-called “pro-life” position is that there should be no mercy for any woman unless the pregnancy will definitely kill her. The U.S. House and Senate, as well as 31 state legislatures, have adopted the “no-mercy” policy for women on Medicaid, the health plan for extremely low-income people.
The same restriction applies to federal employees, including military personnel and their dependents. Indeed, “pro-life” amendments to the Department of Defense Appropriations bill prohibit military hospitals overseas from performing abortions for personnel who are fighting in foreign wars, and denies them and their dependents health insurance coverage for abortion unless the woman or girl will definitely die without one.
Way back in 1980, before Donald Trump or even Ronald Reagan had made one single Supreme Court appointment, a 5-4 majority of the Court upheld the no-mercy policy for Medicaid, saying that having a legal right does not carry with it a constitutional entitlement to the resources needed to exercise that right.
Just like in the pre-Roe days, if a woman has the money and the means to travel, she can obtain a legal abortion somewhere in the U.S. That won’t change. Everyone else faces barriers that for many are insurmountable.
In addition to the cost of an abortion, women living outside of large metropolitan areas have to travel long distances, even out of state, to find an abortion clinic. Stricter regulations than those applied to all other health care delivery, as well as threats of violence, create that problem.
Even here in Champaign-Urbana, where we once had two medical practices that provided surgical abortions, now there are none. Women in our own community need to travel to Peoria, Aurora or Granite City for a surgical abortion. The local Planned Parenthood does still provide the abortion pill for women who choose that option.
In fifteen states, the law requires the pregnant woman to visit the clinic in person at least 24 hours (sometimes longer) before the procedure. That’s two days off work and, if the woman has to travel far, a hotel stay for the waiting period. The Supreme Court upheld this restriction decades ago.
In discussions about the presidential primary, I see lots of comments on Facebook from people who say that they will not support any candidate who promotes only a public option instead of pledging to fight for a full single-payer health care system.
Will you take as strong a stand against any version of single-payer that does not include coverage for abortion and birth control? Once legislation is in play, compromises get made. Will you say comprehensive reproductive health care including abortion is a deal breaker? Will you demand that of the candidates for whom you vote?
Three out of ten women in the U.S. will have had an abortion by age 45. To all the women and the men who were/are their partners, I ask you to remember that you benefitted from the fact that abortion was legal and available when you were in crisis. Please make it matter to you now as much as it did back then.
It’s time to step up. We must stop being afraid to say out loud “Abortion rights is a top priority for me as a voter.” No, there is no compromise on the issue. Compromises are about which women we sacrifice in the foolish hope of quieting our opponents. Nothing will quiet the people who believe the law should stop women from making their own decisions about pregnancy care.
We can only outnumber them and change the laws. Seven out of ten people are pro-choice. Only a tiny percentage of us speak up. Among opponents, close to half are politically active on the issue. That’s why they win. We need more pro-choice people to raise their voices in support of women’s health, dignity and lives.
Esther Patt has been a pro-choice activist since 1976, volunteering with the local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union, National Organization for Women and National Abortion Rights Action League (now NARAL Pro-Choice America), and for campaigns of pro-choice candidates.