Restricting Access to Abortions Will Backfire

Banning abortions won’t stop them from happening; it will just make them more likely to result in health complications or even death.


The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade landmark case in 1973 legalized abortion in all 50 states. However, in 1992 it was declared that states could pass restrictions that do not present an ‘undue burden’ to women seeking abortions. Now the definition of undue burden is being challenged in many states around the country.


A Republican-led push to outlaw abortion began in 2011 and although efforts have failed to ban it entirely, leaders have used other strategies to close numerous clinics. Efforts include passing policies such as requirement of parental approval, waiting periods and near-impossible hospital-like standards required for clinics. This June the Supreme Court is expected to rule on Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, its first abortion case in more than 20 years. The case concerns Texas law, HB2, passed in 2013, that requires abortion clinics have standards similar to surgical centers, including staffing, anesthesia and doctors’ admitting privileges at a hospital no more than 30 miles away. Texas State supporters argue that the regulations ensure women are not subject to substandard conditions and that hospitals are close in case of complications. Critics argue that the regulations place an undue burden on a women’s right to end her pregnancy. In the wake of HB2, more than half of the facilities that provided abortions in Texas had to close and as of November 2015, only 17 clinics remain for a population of 5.4 million women of reproductive age. A 2015 survey of women in Texas found that up to 240,000 women between the ages of 18 and 49 have tried to end a pregnancy by themselves. Sounds like a burden to me.


Amidst all the hubbub, abortions are actually declining —even in states without such restrictive laws.


According to an Associated Press data review, abortions are down 12% between 2010 and 2015 in nearly every state regardless of access or whether the state leaders are trying to restrict access to the procedure. Pro-choice supporters say it is likely due to increased access to birth control and decrease in unintended pregnancies. While anti-abortion advocates believe there has been a shift in societal attitudes and women are instead carrying the baby to term. One undeniable fact has been the decrease in the teen pregnancy rate, which is at its lowest in decades.


Women who choose an abortion want children at other times.  The majority of women (61%) who have abortions have at least one child already. Three-fourths of women cited the following reasons for having an abortion, including; concern or responsibility for other individuals; inability to afford a child; and interference with ability to go to work, school or ability to care for dependents.


Will limited access stop women from trying to terminate an unwanted pregnancy? Maybe for some. But, it also will drive some to seek illegal (read, unsafe) abortions or have an unwanted child, which doesn’t bode well for the child. The discussion often centers on the ramifications of having an abortion, but what happens to women who are denied one? There are significant economic, psychological and physical effects for the mother. In a longitudinal study of two similar groups of women, those who are denied an abortion were three times as likely to end up below the federal poverty line two years later. There were also negative physical and mental health outcomes for women denied abortions.  In countries with legal abortions where women have access to the procedure, there is minimal morbidity and a negligible risk of death, making it one of the safest procedures in medical practice. A study that estimated mortality rates of live births and legal induced abortions in the U.S. found the risk of death during childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion. Overall morbidity associated with childbirth also exceeds that with abortion.


The child is also likely to suffer significant disadvantages in psychosocial development and mental well-being, according to a longitudinal study in the 1960s of Czechoslovakia children born to mothers who sought an abortion and a similar, more recent follow-up study. These children were breastfed for shorter periods, were slightly overweight, suffered more instances of acute illness, and had lower grades in school.


Banning abortions doesn’t stop abortions from happening. Instead, it results in a greater number of unsafe abortions and higher maternal mortality rates. It also harms the child. If you want fewer abortions, provide greater access to contraceptives and education on correct and consistent use of contraceptive methods to prevent unintended pregnancies.

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