The battle over women’s reproductive rights, namely access to legal, safe abortion services, continues to rage on in the US. Though this is not a new fight, and attacks against the Roe v. Wade decision have carried on since it was first handed down, it seems the war by pro-lifers (politicians, religious groups included) has blazed a lot stronger in the past few years. A new fact sheet from NARAL, “The War on Women,” shows just how many attacks have recently been waged against women’s reproductive rights, peaking in 2011.
In addition, a recent case against Jennie McCormack, who bought RU-486 (the “abortion pill”) over the internet to terminate an unintended pregnancy, has highlighted that protecting a woman’s right to choose is still a difficult task given the complexities of such situations. Her case highlights the depressing state of reproductive health care in the US:
The number of Planned Parenthood affiliates has been cut in half since 1987, to fewer than 100. Almost 90 percent of counties in the U.S. and 98 percent of rural counties have no abortion services.
Like many women, McCormack lived very far from the nearest clinic that provides abortion services. The nearest clinic in Salt Lake City, over a two-hour drive away for her, is imposed by the Utah state law that enforces a waiting period for women seeking abortion services. Thus, she would have had to make two trips to the clinic, the second to actually have the services performed. So, she had her sister by RU-486 over the internet to send to her through the mail. Though her use of the pills is not considered illegal, she was arrested for taking her health into her own hands:
Although RU-486 is legal and the fetus was not yet “viable” (that is, old enough to live outside the uterus), Idaho has a 1972 law—never before enforced—making it a crime punishable by five years in prison for a woman to induce her own abortion. The day after police arrested McCormack, her mug shot appeared above the fold in the local newspaper. “It’s hard to imagine the humiliation and fear,” says her lawyer, Richard Hearn, who is also a physician.
Unfortunately, what is missing from the anti-abortion attack on women’s reproductive rights is viable alternatives. While women like McCormack are successfully denied convenient access to abortion services (among other services provided by places like Planned Parenthood), they are not offered safe alternatives. Simply put, removing access to abortion services does not eliminate our need for them. In fact, there is some evidence that abortion rates are higher in places that criminalize abortion, resulting in a higher number of “illegal” and unsafe abortions that sometimes leads to injury or death of the women undergoing these procedures.