Op-ed: Roe v. Wade didn't solve it all

Tuesday, March 29, 2016 - 6:41pm

Since the 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade — the controversial Supreme Court case over abortion rights — women have had the right to choose what happens to their bodies in regard to unwanted pregnancies. However, legalizing abortion was not the only significant milestone this case promoted. This ruling revolutionized the health care system for women, paving the way for more accepting and less stigmatized views of women’s health and placing a continued emphasis on autonomy in such choices.

Prior to this case, women who wanted to get an abortion often pursued very expensive and dangerous procedures by backstreet providers who were often not medically trained. One study estimates between 200,000 and 1.2 million illegal abortions were completed per year from the 1950s to 1960s. The same study cites abortions as the official cause of death for one-fifth of maternity-related deaths in 1930. Though the legal status of abortions has changed since the 1930s, even now, decades after Roe v. Wade, advocates have to fight to keep the right of women’s safety a priority for lawmakers.

The Supreme Court has begun preparations to make a ruling on the legality of a Texas law passed in 2013 that places stringent regulations on abortion clinics. The ruling is expected to take place sometime in June. The Court’s decision could alter the ways in which abortion is viewed and carried out in not only Texas, but also in other states that choose to adopt this law. The law requires physicians to have admitting privileges, or the capability of placing and treating a patient in a hospital. The law would require such a hospital to be within 30 miles of the clinic. The law would increase requirements for the buildings housing the clinics, such as expanding the width of hallways and adding showers and lockers in certain areas. Adhering to these requirements could end up costing millions of dollars. Such measures would assess clinics on similar standards to the ways in which surgical centers are assessed. These requirements would be enforced even if the clinic does not offer surgical abortions, instead inducing abortions by medication, making the requirements unnecessary and excessive.

Supporters of these regulations claim they will prevent unnecessary health risks to women who seek an abortion. However, continuation of this law could have detrimental effects for women seeking abortions in the coming years. Many advocates for this law are pro-life supporters who are simply aiming to severely limit the right a woman has to choose to terminate a pregnancy. Coercive action, which is often used to place increased pressure on women to not go through with an abortion, is already mandated by laws not only in Texas, but across the country. Women are consistently discouraged from making the personal choice to go through with an abortion. Fourteen states require women to attend two separate appointments, which often use unnecessary ultrasounds and other scare tactics to place doubt in the choice to terminate the pregnancy, before being authorized to receive an abortion. These appointments are often aimed to place doubt in the choice to end a pregnancy. 

Reports have indicated that sections of the Texas law that are already in place have decreased the number of clinics legally authorized to offer abortions from 41 to 19. If the law is upheld after the Supreme Court decision, the number of clinics open could drop to only 10 statewide to service a population of 27,469,114. Such a dramatic decrease in the opportunities women have to get an abortion will likely have negative effects.

Those who are not willing or able to travel the increased distance to a state-approved abortion clinic may find more dangerous, black-market alternatives to end a pregnancy. Some in Southern Texas would potentially have to make a 150-mile journey to make it to the nearest abortion clinic. Without a ride to get to such a faraway place, enough money to stay or return to the area for two visits, and no insurance to cover the cost of the actual procedure, attaining the ability to exercise the right to have an abortion would be impossible.

In these areas where abortions are especially difficult to accomplish legally, many have taken to a medication prescribed for ulcers in order to induce a miscarriage. The drug, if taken properly, is still only 80-to-85-percent effective and if too much is taken, can be fatal. This drug, called misoprostol, is actually one of the safer nonclinical methods used by those who desperately seek an abortion if traveling to a clinic is out of reach.

It is not unheard of for women to go to extreme measures in order to give themselves an abortion when their access is extremely limited. Even in the days after the legalization of abortion, women feel forced to resort to unsafe measures in order to act upon their rights to autonomy. If the government will not allow women to receive an abortion legally and in a safe facility in a reasonable way, they will find a way to give themselves abortions.

Caitlin Heenan can be reached at heenan@umich.edu.