On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that the right to an abortion was constitutionally protected under the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment prohibits states from depriving citizens of “life, liberty, or property” without due process. The Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade ruled that the amendment provides a fundamental” right to privacy,” which includes the right for a woman to have an abortion. Fifty years later, on June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision.
The decision is highly opposed by the majority of society not only within the United States but worldwide. Abolishing a constitutionally protected right to abortion not only limits the basic privacy rights of women but also forces them to make riskier decisions on their health and life. Most importantly, banning abortion does not help to reduce abortion levels, and to achieve this result more actionable reforms need to be introduced.
LEGAL CHANGES AFTER OVERTURNING THE DECISION
Overturning the Roe v. Wade decision means that abortion rights will be a subject of state law regulations and vary among the states. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in total 26 states are certain or most likely to ban abortion after overturning the rule. States will have different approaches to banning abortion at different periods of pregnancy. For example, Texas and North Dakota are imposing six-week bans in order to restrict late-abortions; Utah bans abortion after 15 weeks, while North Dakota after 22 weeks. Some states also allow abortion in case of rape and incest when the risk to a mother’s health is proven. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have laws to protect women’s right to abortion.
ABORTION DOES NOT DISAPPEAR BY CRIMINALIZING; IT ONLY BECOMES MORE COMPLICATED
According to a number of studies on the issue, the level of abortion does not differ between countries with and without having a legal right to abortion. Countries that legally allow abortion have an abortion rate of 37 per 1,000 people; the same indicator for countries where abortion is illegal is 34 per 1,000 people (Levitt, 2018). This statistic proves that banning cannot reduce abortion levels, but it can bring significant obstacles to women.
The fact that abortion will be legally allowed in some states of the U.S. makes it possible to travel from one state to another (or travel to another country where abortion is legalized). However, this solution can be extremely costly and unaffordable for many women. Even for those who can afford to get service in other states, this will be associated with additional barriers and stress, that will negatively affect their mental and physical health status.
Banning abortion does not eliminate the demand for abortion and consequently, a shadow market will always emerge. This brings additional issues to consider. First, given the activity is illegal, the government cannot control whether the safety standards are met when the procedure is performed, or at least require the procedure to be made by a certified medical doctor. The absence of control from the relevant regulatory bodies makes abortion decisions riskier for women’s health and life (Vecera, 2014). Additionally, as long as the service is illegal, it becomes more expensive and increasingly unaffordable for marginalized groups of society.
Examples from the countries where abortion is prohibited (such as Poland, Brazil, and El-Salvador) reveal that when abortion is not legally accessible and affordable, women have to find alternative solutions (Eleches, 2006). In such cases, women often use a ‘self-treatment’ approach and try to terminate pregnancy on their own, without supervision from a doctor. Such decisions often lead to either adverse health effects for them or even fatal results.
CAN WE ACTUALLY DECREASE ABORTION LEVELS?
Many policymakers claim that the goal of restricting abortion is to reduce abortion levels. However, the reasons why women decide to get abortions to have many different root causes and reducing the abortion level is only possible by fighting against these underlying reasons.
The most prevalent reason why women decide to get an abortion relates to social-economic circumstances. Most of the women (and couples together) report that they cannot afford to raise up kids due to the high childcare costs in the country (Eleches, 2006). Consequently, the first step to reducing the abortion rate is making the cost of raising children more affordable for parents, which includes affordable daycare, health care, schooling, etc.
In many cases, women need to get an abortion because it is risky for their health and/or life to give birth to a baby. Most of the time these women need affordable and accessible contraceptives in order to avoid risky pregnancies.
Last but not least, up to 2 percent of women who get an abortion report that they are victims of rape (Bankole, 2018). Even though many states will make an exception on abortion rights in cases of rape, it is critically important to work on improving safety levels and reducing the number of victims of rape in the country.
The list of reasons for abortion can be infinite but the reality is that nobody gets pregnant in order to have an abortion later. Abortion is a decision that women make due to many different reasons and if we really want to reduce abortion rates, we should first fight against its root causes instead of ruling on women’s bodies.
Bankole, A. S. (2018). Reasons Why Women Have Induced Abortions: Evidence from 27 Countries. Washington D.C.: Guttmacher Institute.
Eleches, C. (2006). The Impact of an Abortion Ban on Socioeconomic Outcomes of Children. Journal of Political Economy, 744-773.
Levitt, S. (2018). The Impact of Legalized Abortion. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 379-420.
Vecera, V. (2014). The Supreme Court and Social Conception of Abortion. Law and Society Review, 345-375.