The legislative process is in no way a one stop road of progress, and once progress is made in one area (Roe v. Wade) is must be protected until it becomes a matter of course. Control over the reproductive rights of women has long been a strong measure of control and oppression within Patriarchal cultures. This week the Supreme Court strengthened constitutional protection for women in Texas which would have made abortions much more difficult to get outside of larger metropolitan areas. Once again the question is being asked why abortion is such an unresolved and polarized issue in America. In a free country people should be free to make whatever decision they see fit for themselves as long as it does not harm another, but ah there’s the rub, for the debate often hinges around when a child becomes an other.
The decision which made abortion a constitutionally protected right in 1973, Roe v. Wade is often challenged in America. This week, “The 5-to-3 decision was the court’s most sweeping statement on abortion since Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, which reaffirmed the constitutional right to abortion” (Liptak). The Casey case established the “undue burden” clause on the access of abortions, which the Texas standards would have done through requiring physicians to have admitting privileges at hospitals and clinics meeting the standards of ambulatory surgical centers. These regulations would have forced many rural clinics to close their doors, placing undue hardship on women would be forced to travel to cities for abortions (Liptak).
The practice of establishing law based on the presidents set by court decisions affirms that this decision further strengthens the rights of women nationwide. This, “means that similar requirements in other states are most likely also unconstitutional, and it imperils many other kinds of restrictions on abortion” (Liptak). Since abortion is always a hotbed issue in politics, this bodes well for curbing outrageous promises and vows made by the right this election season. In regards to the ruling Justice Stephen G Breyer wrote,
We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes. Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the federal Constitution. (Liptak)
President Obama supported the decision, affirming that it is the right direction. This week he affirmed, “We remain strongly committed to the protection of women's health, including protecting a woman's access to safe, affordable health care and her right to determine her own future” (Sherman). Hilary Clinton shared her joy at this decision, tweeting, “SCOTUS’s decision is a victory for women in Texas and across America. Safe abortion should be a right — not just on paper, but in reality” (Edelman). Perhaps having his full of drama for the month, Donald Trump remained silent on this Supreme Court decision (Ocasio).
America is a polarized nation, and resting upon the sharp fulcrum of this duality is the question of abortion. However, “Since 1973, about 75 countries have liberalized their abortion laws (the most recent being Switzerland and Nepal last year). In most countries, that was enough to settle the debate. Not in America” (The Economist). The question of abortion is a question about freedom itself, but freedom under the Patriarchal banner. America differs from other nations it how it views and protects abortion, and this leads to controversy in part. In contradistinction to how America legalized abortion,
European countries did so through legislation and, occasionally, referenda. This allowed abortion opponents to vent their objections and legislators to adjust the rules to local tastes. Above all, it gave legalization the legitimacy of majority support. Most European countries provide abortion free. But they have also hedged the practice with all sorts of qualifications. They justify abortion on the basis of health rather than rights. (The Economist)
Key here in this different approach was the inability for abortion opponents not having a way to vent their views. This may be why there is constant protesting, violence, and manipulative moves like these Texas regulations as a way to try and balance the scales. On the other hand, “Abortion supporters had to rely on the precarious balance of power on the Supreme Court. Legalization did not have the legitimacy of majority support. Instead, it rested on a highly controversial interpretation of the constitution” (The Economist). Researchers emphasize that viewing abortion as a health issue legislatively rather than a rights issue constitutionally simplifies the issue.
However, this is only part of the issue, as America’s national character is strongly religious, whereas in Europe people have a more ambivalent attitude about religious disputes. Global context of this factor shows according to, The Pew Global Attitudes Project recently revealed that six in ten (59%) of Americans say that religion plays a “very important” role in their lives. This is roughly twice the percentage of self-avowed religious people in Canada (30%) and an even higher proportion when compared with Japan and Europe. To find comparable numbers, you need to look at developing countries. (The Economist)
One of the results from such dedication to religion is polarized beliefs due to the belief in absolute right and wrongs. However, even more a “result of America's religiosity is its relative conservatism about sex. Thirteen states still have anti-sodomy laws” (The Economist). This cause a cyclical problem that the most fundamentalist regions of America have the least helpful sex education, access to contraceptive, and abortion access (Chen). This trifecta creates the highest teen pregnancy rates in the southern U.S., and the Bible Belt. Research ironically found, “conservative religious communities in the U.S. are more successful in discouraging use of contraception among their teen community members than in discouraging sexual intercourse itself” (Chen). This is becoming a compounding problem in the South, as first generation of teen mothers have begun repeating these cycles, leading their children ill equipped and pregnant too young (Theodorou and Sandstrom).
Researchers emphasize that one reason abortion is such a divisive issue is that it changed the political debate. Before the 1960s, the political climate was largely defined by economic class and the lasting legacy of the civil war. Much different than today,
The Republicans, like Europe's conservative parties, were rooted in the business and professional elites; the Democrats were rooted in the trade unions, the urban political machines and ethnic minorities, mostly Irish and Italian. White southerners of all classes also voted Democratic (a legacy of Republican opposition to slavery). Those most opposed to abortion—Catholics and southerners—were almost all Democrats. (The Economist)
Researchers emphasize that after the 1960s the political face of America began to change, and values began to trump class. However, this may just appear to be so on the surface, for classism is still a strong determinant of voting potential. However, it is true that “Regularity of church attendance is a much more reliable predictor of voting intentions than income” (The Economist). The political face of America has become increasingly divided on this issue since Reganomics took hold. Currently, “Some 84% of state Democratic platforms support abortion (the rest have no position), while 88% of state Republican platforms oppose it (none support it)” (The Economist). However, the issue of abortion is not a logical one in any regards, which reveals that it is usually employed as a trick.
For evidence of this duplicity look to the face that Republicans claim to oppose government regulation in favor of free choice and free market. However, but on the most sensitive subject of all—reproductive rights—conservatives are now on the side of government control. The Democrats are no more coherent: a party that will do anything to protect a woman's right to choose an abortion will not support her right to choose a public school for her child. (The Economist)
These facts in no way clear up the issue of why abortion is consistently such a divisive issue, and may harken back to the simple desire to control women in the population. As the debate grows more heated and unresolved, more violence breaks out, which has led to a shortage of doctors willing to perform the service. For instance in Mississippi there is only one clinic left which performs abortions in large part due to doctors being murdered and harassed in the conservative state.
To further complicate the issue, the anti-abortion efforts are growing more insidious and convoluted. Duplicitous practices like opening up a women’s clinic that gives free pregnancy tests, and masquerades as an abortion clinic but really pressures women into keeping their pregnancies have become more common. Funded by conservative groups, these misleading health centers often stage their services nearby actual women’s clinics in the hopes of confusing young women. Anti-abortionists have successfully emphasized rare practices like “partial-birth abortion” which most people find disgusting. In fact the name in itself is a propaganda tool, for the power of words cannot be underestimated. Anti-abortion activists “are busy building what they call a ‘coalition of the vulnerable’, arguing that, if people are prepared to dispose of inconvenient fetuses, they will start disposing of inconvenient old people, sick people and poor people” (The Economist). Unfortunately, these underhanded and manipulative tactics are surprisingly effective, and according to a Gallup poll, the public support for abortion has gone down 34% in 1992 to 24% (The Economist).
This week’s Supreme Court decision may be a victory for Texas women, but the battle to protect reproductive rights is far from over. The complexity of this debate is enmeshed in the very fabric of the national character, and the violence inherent in that character is taking its toll on the young who are suffering an increasing lack of education. What could be a matter of individual choice remains an issue of national divide.
Chen, Michelle. “The Bible-Belt Miseducation of Pregnant Teens.” Ms. Magazine, 27 Oct. 2010. Retrieved from: http://msmagazine.com/blog/2010/10/27/the-bible-belt-miseducation-of-pregnant-teens/
Edelman, Adam. “Supreme Court strikes down Texas abortion clinic regulations.” New York Daily News, 27 Jun. 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/supreme-court-strikes-texas-abortion-clinic-regulations-article-1.2689506
Liptak, Adam. “Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Abortion Regulations.” The New York Times, 27 Jun. 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/28/us/supreme-court-texas-abortion.html?_r=0
Ocasio, Bianca Padro. “Trump goes silent on Supreme Court abortion ruling.” Politico.com, 27 Jun. 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.politico.com/story/2016/06/donald-trump-abortion-supreme-court-224859
Sherman, Mark. “Texas illegally curbs abortion clinics, Supreme Court rules.” The Big Story, 27 Jun. 2016. Retrieved from: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/654afc839388440f8a4efc2eb22ca41a/supreme-court-strikes-down-texas-abortion-clinic
The Economist. “Abortion in America: The war that never ends.” Economist.com, 16 Jan. 2003. Retrieved from: http://www.economist.com/node/1534731
Theodorou, Angelina E., and Aleksandra Sandstrom. “How abortion is regulated around the world.” Pew Research Center, 6 Sep. 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/10/06/how-abortion-is-regulated-around-the-world/