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Politicians Have Been Attacking Roe v. Wade On A State Level For Years, Here’s How

President Donald Trump has made it pretty clear that overturning Roe vs. Wade is a top priority for his administration. Last month, the Trump administration moved forward on a dangerous policy against abortion rights. According to NPR, the Reagan-era proposal will ban groups such as Planned Parenthood from providing abortion and other related services under the same roof as procedures funded by federal family planning grants.

But, for people in a growing number of states, lawmakers have already obstructed their right to an abortion. For years. Politicians in states across the country launched full-on attacks against access to safe, legal abortions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, just in the first three months alone, 347 measures were introduced in 37 states to restrict access to abortion, contraception, or both. And now, with news that notorious Supreme Court swing vote Anthony Kennedy looking to retire before the primaries in November and Trump has announced Judge Brett Kavanaugh as his intended nominee to replace him, the future for Roe— and the federal-level implications of these state-level obstructions are going to be at the forefront of a lot of uterus-owning people’s minds.

What are the goals of these laws? Well, that’s up for debate. But according to Dr. Jamila Perritt MD, MPH, FACOG, board-certified Obstetrician and Gynecologist, reproductive health and family planning specialist and activist, and fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, told Her Campus that she finds that lawmakers propose arbitrary gestational limits and restrictions with the sole intention of making abortions harder to access and less safe for people who need them. While many people believe reproductive rights, particularly abortion, are a women’s rights and women’s health issue, reproductive rights affect everyone.

“These restrictions are just another way to limit access to abortion period. What we are experiencing is a rollback of essential, safe abortion services, with devastating consequences for women’s health,” said Dr. Perritt.  

But let’s backtrack a little: What actually is Roe vs. Wade?

On January 22, 1973, the US Supreme Court passed a landmark decision in the case of Roe vs. Wade. It essentially recognized the constitutional right to a person’s privacy extends to the right to make their own medical decisions. The decision gave the right for anyone to have an abortion during the entirety of the pregnancy, but allowed states to regulate abortion in the second and third trimesters.

When people talk about Roe, they’re talking mainly about a uterus-owning person’s right to keep a private medical procedure between them and their doctor.

And what are the challenges and threats?

On the state level, there are a few different ways that anti-choice politicians have sought to undermine Roe v. Wade and keep individuals from being able to access abortions. They include creating physical, financial and logistical barriers, additional steps and complications for providers and relying on bogus, non-scientific studies to further that agenda.

1. Hyper-restrictive reproductive legislation

Iowa recently passed one of the most severe and restrictive abortion bans into law and directly challenged Roe v. Wade. According to Francine Thompson the Director of Health Services at the Emma Goldman Clinic in Iowa City, Iowa’s “heartbeat” bill bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is typically around 6 weeks into the pregnancy. The only exceptions being in potential cases of rape, incest, or medical emergency.  

Many people, who are against the decision, have argued that the bill goes against a person’s constitutional right and that a state may not ban abortion prior to viability or the fetus’s ability to live outside of the uterus. “The [‘heartbeat bill’] is just one more thing in a long line of legislation that’s affecting how abortion providers can give women the best possible care,” Thompson tells Her Campus.

Prior, the state had permitted most abortions up to 20 weeks (which is the average gestational restriction for people seeking an abortion in other states). Thompson adds that the Emma Goldman Clinic and Planned Parenthood of the Heartland are the only two clinics that provide abortions in Iowa.

The 6 week time restriction, or really any gestational time limit, doesn’t always work for people seeking abortions, as the deadline is often well before a person even knows they’re pregnant. When a person misses their period, we don’t usually jump to the conclusion that we are pregnant. Sometimes, stress, your birth control, or another medical condition can cause a missed period. Also, your periods could just be irregular, which is completely normal! Basically, there are a million things that could lead to a missed period before a person may think or realize they’re pregnant.  

“The vast majority of women get an abortion in the first 12 weeks. Arbitrary gestational age bans and cutoff points deny necessary health care to women who are often already facing complex circumstances as they seek care. Every person is unique, and every patient is different.  We shouldn’t have blanket policies that drive women’s health care decisions,” said Dr. Perritt.

On the same day that Iowa passed the heartbeat bill, South Carolina Democratic legislators blocked a similar measure. Even though Democrats won in a primarily red state, South Carolina will undoubtedly pursue legislation like Iowa’s bill that removes person’s constitutional right to choose their own medical decisions.

2. Laws that are insensitive to sexual trauma survivors

Back in March of 2018, Governor Phil Bryant of Mississippi signed in a different type of gestational law. According to NPR, it bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, giving exceptions only to medical emergencies or fetal abnormalities. Incidents of rape or incest aren’t exempt from this bill (which is a scary assault on individuals who have been already robbed of their choice, and are already in a vulnerable position because of it).

The state also would require a 24-hour waiting period for people seeking an abortion and bans telemedicine, which would allow physicians to provide people with abortion consultation and prescribe the abortion pill without actually having to be there.

Mississippi has only one health center, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that provides abortions to people in the state. Telemedicine is then critical for the state. Many people have been forced to travel long distances and across state lines just to access an abortion clinic. This ultimately limits who can access these types of services.

“Although women from all walks of life have abortions, when we limit access to any health care service, including abortion, we know that those who are hit hardest are communities that are under-resourced and underserved. Young people, people of color, those who are economically disenfranchised are often bear the brunt of these policies,” said Dr. Perritt. (The Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi Center for Justice, and the Center for Reproductive Rights have filed a lawsuit against the bill.)

3. Forcing people to unnecessarily justify their decisions. 

There are many reasons as to why a person might have an abortion. Nearly 1 in 4 women in the United States will have an abortion by the age of 45, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Just last month, Arizona, who has multiple abortion restrictions, signed a bill that required people to provide a reason for why they’re seeking an abortion. This is incredibly invasive because it forces people who are seeking abortion to actively justify their reasoning, when they should need to validate what they want or need to do to their body.

One example? Nebraska. As reported by The Cut,  Nebraska had already eliminated state funding to health centers that provide abortion including Planned Parenthood back in April. Title X or federal family planning programs are relied on by 93 percent of Planned Parenthood patients in Nebraska and represent a particular resource for low-income folks seeking reproductive healthcare. Although Planned Parenthood can’t currently use Federal funds for abortions (because of the Hyde Amendment), the procedure is almost unobtainable when you consider the other variables needed to get to their doctor, take time off work or get childcare in order to have the procedure on top of the financial burdens a lack of funding puts on patients.

According to Refinery 29, the bill specifically requires doctors to ask people if they are victims of sexual assault, human trafficking, or domestic violence, and report their answers to the Arizona Department of Health Services. Names of the patients would remain confidential — adding another layer of trauma to an already over-stigmatized situation.

Reproductive activists argue that this information is none of the government’s business.

4. Prohibiting specific abortion procedures

In states like Kentucky, an abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation was banned starting at 11 weeks after fertilization. In the updated legislature, medical emergencies are the only exception. In the procedure, a medical professionals dilate a patient’s cervix and then use suction to remove the fetus from the uterus. According to the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, medical professionals use D and E in approximately 95 percent of abortions after the first trimester.

State politicians have implemented an extensive list of reproductive restrictions on the gestational time people can receive an abortion to the limitations on the types of procedures that can be used for an abortion.

It can be scary the power politicians have gained in the decision over individuals’ health and bodies. We cannot let access to reproductive health care prevent people from getting the information and treatment they need to make safe choices with their bodies, as people deserve more than what state legislation is providing.

“As a physician, I disagree with laws that ignore medicine and science in favor of ideology,” said Dr. Perritt. “If we truly care about women’s health we would be expanding access to health care services, not limiting them.”

Carissa Dunlap is a Her Campus News X Social Intern for Summer 2018. She is a current Publishing major and Journalism minor at Emerson College (Class of 2020). When she isn't perusing the YA bookshelf at the bookstore, she can be found watching dog videos on Facebook, at her favorite coffee shops, or relaxing on the beach. Follow her on Instagram @dunlapcarissa or Twitter @Caridunlap.