The Year of Reckoning for Reproductive Rights

The reckoning for woman’s reproductive rights has arrived in the United States.

Since January 22, 1973, Republican’s, conservative and religious groups across America have been turning over every rock in an effort to overturn the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade that allowed abortion to become legal in the U.S.

In the past five months, more than a dozen states have passed, or attempted to pass, stricter abortion legislation. In the past week alone, both Alabama and Missouri have followed Georgia and voted in favor of laws that have all but eliminated the procedure.

In Alabama, the bill is considered to be the most restrictive in the country. It allows an abortion only when a woman’s health is at “serious risk”, excluding rape and incest. While the bill doesn’t outwardly punish women, it does doctors. Any doctor performing the procedure outside the purview of the bill could face up to 99 years in prison.

Just a few days later, Missouri followed Kentucky, Ohio, Mississippi and Georgia by enacting what’s called the “heartbeat bill”, which forbids the procedure “once fetal cardiac activity is detected”: around eight weeks.

In the states that have passed stricter abortion laws, those laws have yet to go into effect. This leaves room for pro-choice legal organizations to file their appeals. In the cases of North Dakota and Iowa, their “heartbeat bills” were reversed after court challenges: in Kentucky, a judge suspended the bill.

Conspicuously absent in many of these bills is the “rape and incest” clause. This is deliberate. The states want the legal battle. In other words, by excluding that clause, they anticipate a more hurried response by pro-choice legal advocates. The belief by pro-life advocates is that this will expedite it through the U.S. legal system.

The purpose of these restrictive bills has little to do with the safety of women or of the fetus. It’s about overturning what many consider an unjust law according to God’s will. The hope is that by making the law so restrictive it will then get to the Supreme Court of the United States faster. The Supreme Court’s current make-up is five conservative justices and four liberal (although all are supposed to be unbiased to the law).

This does not bode well for Roe v. Wade should it be challenged and make it to the Supreme Court.

Much more importantly, it’s the goal to have at least one of these contested laws find itself before the Supreme Court for the term that begins in October 2019. This would insure that the courts ruling would come down right in the middle of the 2020 presidential election.

Important to note is that in these states passing this type of restrictive women’s legislation, women are egregiously under represented in their respective states legislature. In Alabama, the state ranks 47th in terms of female legislative representation. In Mississippi, women make up 13.8% of the legislature.

In fact, it’s only Georgia that ranks in the top half of gender representation in their state legislature.

In short, men are shaping and making decisions about a woman’s reproductive rights.

It’s challenging to compare how the U.S. rates to other countries around the world. The views on abortion vary. And other things like social norms and religion play such a role that it makes any straight comparison much too complicated. For example, the United Kingdom has liberal abortion laws, except for Northern Ireland. In which case, a woman would need to go to the U.K. or cross the border into Ireland (which legalized abortion in 2018).

In countries like Brunei, Guatemala, Libya and Syria, abortion laws do not make exceptions for cases of incest or rape, but do allow terminations to save the woman’s life.

With that being said, it’s safe to say that the state laws in the U.S. that dictate the laws of the procedure vary as widely as the laws governing abortion do from country to country. For example, in Indiana, there is a mandatory waiting period, required counseling and at least one parent must consent in the case of a minor.

Meanwhile, next-door in Illinois, there is no mandatory waiting period, no mandatory counseling and only parental notification for minors. Additionally, Illinois has 20% more providers.

So, one could drive from Indiana to Illinois the same way one could cross the border from Northern Ireland to Ireland.

However, there is one alarming commonality in all countries where restrictive abortion laws exist. According to Amnesty International, doctors don’t want to treat pregnant women for fear of doing harm to the fetus. And that is simply because the laws are so punitive to doctors.

Over the past 45 years, the Supreme Court of the United States has moved methodically to build more and more restrictions into Roe v. Wade. To deny that they were on course to reverse the decision would be foolish. Despite that, the pro-life legislators saw the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation as the perfect opportunity to reverse their states abortion laws: they began showing as much restraint as a seven year old does on Christmas Eve.

In time, it’s likely in the current political climate Roe v. Wade will be overturned. But, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts doesn’t like to move quickly or be pushed. As a result of these states shifting their anti-abortion movement into overdrive, the odds are looking like he will be.

However, asking too much too soon from Chief Justice Roberts, and the court, may backfire. It has in the past.