Monday, June 27, 2016

Desperate in Texas: The Supreme Court’s Ruling and the Plight of the Abortion-Seeking American Woman

Earlier this morning, the Supreme Court made a historic ruling, now being called Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt, to strike down new restrictions for Texas abortion clinics. The 5-3 vote came as a surprise to many, and a victory to far more. In the last five years, some 200 new abortion restrictions have sprung up around the United States, and Texas just seems to be a hotspot. Among the restrictions shot down today were those that required doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic and that clinics must have hallways wide enough to accommodate two passing gurneys. Due to these hospital-like regulations, more than 20 clinics have shut down. A recent study showed that abortions dropped by 13 percent since these new laws were enacted.

Restrictions like these are untenable, even abominable, considering the true statistics of abortion in the US. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 65.8% of abortions occur less than 8 weeks into pregnancy. These pregnancies would be terminated by a two-pill process which can be taken at home, from which less than 1% of women encounter any complications. Even surgical abortions are out-patient procedures, further showing the bizarre nature of the Texas restrictions. In March, Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked her fellow justices a rather pointed question: “Is there really any dispute that childbirth is a much riskier procedure than an early-stage abortion?”

Yet women have been driven to extreme lengths to secure abortions in Texas. Not voted on today was a law that requires women to make not one, but two trips to an abortion clinic. In the first visit, she must receive state directed counseling designed to discourage abortion and view an ultrasound of the fetus. Twenty-four hours later, she may return to the clinic to get the procedure. But with only 22 clinics serving the 268,820 square-mile state, many women find it nearly impossible to receive the care they need. Andrea Ferrigno, vice president of Whole Woman’s Health, recalls receiving a phone call in which a desperate woman asked, “What if I tell you what I have at home in my kitchen cabinet and you can tell me what I can take?” Laws intended to discourage abortion have ended up making Texas women take unnecessary risks in order to end their pregnancy.

Naturally, the question must be asked: why are we still dealing with abortion regulations? After all, it was in 1992 that the Supreme Court ruled that abortion restrictions could not place an “undue burden” on women. And it was Roe v. Wade which determined that women had a constitutional right to seek abortion in 1973. Planned Parenthood, the nation’s first family planning clinic, was founded by Margaret Sanger in 1916. And yet, we find ourselves here a full century later, struggling to defend a woman's right to choose. It is such a hot-button issue that Cosmopolitan, a magazine typically known for its somewhat odd sex tips, ran a huge article in April on how to have a safe abortion.

It is at moments like these that I think of a friend of mine who currently lives in Texas. She is a student at Texas A&M, a university of nearly 60,000 students in College Station. Not long ago, she went on what she thought was going to be a date. But when she showed up, her date was drunk and aggressive. He raped her at 8 PM on a weeknight and sent her on her way. She did not feel comfortable reporting the incident, and had she been impregnated, would not have been able to seek an abortion. The nearest Planned Parenthood, in Bryan, has been permanently closed, and she would have to travel nearly two hours to Austin. She does not have a car.

On a human rights level, the restrictions Texas has placed on women are deplorable. On a personal level, as a student, they are terrifying. One in four women will be raped during college, and the fact that thousands of these women may be unable to deal with an unwanted pregnancy is deeply saddening. Even if a woman finds herself pregnant as a result of consensual sex (keep in mind that 59% of women who seek abortions are already mothers), they should be able to terminate a pregnancy as they see fit.

Today’s ruling is, doubtless, a victory for women nationwide. But we must not grow complacent: only nine states have no major abortion restrictions. Today, we can celebrate the progress that has occurred in Texas. But tomorrow, we must rise once more to fight for a woman’s right to choose. We must draw on the strength of lawmakers and activists before us, and pave a path for those who are yet to come.

--Madelene Nieman, MWPC Intern