Breaking down Roe

1969 marked the first year that women openly spoke up about their rights to their own bodies and abortions. A constantly controversial topic, the Supreme Court decision in the famed Roe v. Wade case cemented this right and ensured safe access to abortion. Recently, mounting numbers of high level policymakers, emboldened by the current administration, have been trying to undermine the ruling. However, there is a lot more hiding behind the scenes.

With the fate of Roe v. Wade up in air, legislatures nationwide are already taking the advantage to effectively ban all abortions. Policy makers in a dozen states have planned what are known as ‘heart-beat bills.’ These bills intend to criminalize abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, citing it as the first sign of ‘new life.’ Essentially, they would be outlawing it after around six weeks, making it effectively impossible for women to get the procedure. Just three months into 2019, six of these bills have already passed in some chambers, and one has been signed into law in Kentucky by Governor Bevin.

On the bright side, it was almost immediately blocked by a federal judge - a nearly guaranteed maneuver. The bill was brazenly unconstitutional, and while these kinds of proposals are usually overlooked by the public, the current increase is ‘heartbeat’ legislation is troubling. Anti-abortion forces continue to drive reproductive rights advocates to court, giving the recently abortion hostile majority on the Supreme Court the opening to revoke Roe.

Dr. Elizabeth Nash, who researches abortion at the Guttmacher Institute, observed that the latest resurgence of heartbeat bills is also “a reflection of the fact that these states have done everything but ban abortion.” In Kentucky, for example, lawmakers already severely impede private insurance coverage for abortions, ban coverage from Medicaid and for public employees and require a 24 hour wait period. It is also worth noting that the entire state has just one abortion clinic. Right now, there’s isn’t much else to do but out-right ban the procedure itself.

The American Civil Liberties Union stated last Friday that “Kentucky just banned abortion.” This was not an exaggeration. Firstly, it is very challenging for most women to recognize they’re pregnant before six weeks, because it is at least two weeks after a missed menstruation. Even in an ideal case, a rarity, the woman would have only about 2 weeks to buy and take a pregnancy test, decide whether to get this procedure, schedule one, and arrange for travel and the costs of the procedure itself.

The situation would be even more intense with fewer clinics and mandatory waiting and counselling periods. In Missouri, for instance, a woman would have to wait 72 hours and attend state-mandated counselling where she would be actively discouraged from terminating the pregnancy, all before having to make a second trip to the state’s lone clinic for the procedure itself. Additionally, some physicians won’t even perform an abortion before six weeks due to the fetus not being visible in an ultrasound.

These bills might seem pointless because of their low impact level on the public as a whole, but the unrelenting nature of the legislators serve to show the anti-abortion voters that Republican lawmakers are willing to do anything, including pursuing costly and futile battles, to deny women their constitutional right to bodily integrity and abortion. Such heartbeat bills may never see the light of day, but conservatives might eventually win the war by bringing about the fall of Roe.


Image courtesy of NPR Illinois