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Bans Off Our Bodies: A Californian's perspective on abortion rights

Bans Off Our Bodies: A Californian’s perspective on abortion rights

Trigger warning: The following blog contains discussions about abortion and a brief mention of sexual assault. Some readers may find this distressing.

On Tuesday the third of May, a Politico leak revealed that the Supreme Court, the highest court in the United States, intends to overturn a landmark ruling declaring the legal right to an abortion. The actual vote has yet to take place, but it’s predicted to happen sometime in late June or early July. If the Supreme Court votes to overturn the landmark case of Roe v Wade, then the legal status of abortion will be up to individual states. That doesn’t mean that abortion will be outlawed across the country overnight, but it gives states the right to restrict abortion and, in some cases, prosecute those who aid and abet abortions.

A press release that followed the leak explains “Although the document described in yesterday’s reports is authentic, it does not represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member on the issues in the case.” However, considering the fact that several of the justices have already voiced their intention to overturn Roe v Wade, I think it’s more than likely that abortion will become a state issue. Some more liberal states, like New York, have enshrined the right to an abortion in their state constitutions, and clinics in these states are already preparing for the influx of travellers crossing the state lines for abortions.

I grew up in one of these states, California, in a family that is fiercely democratic. We are strong believers that every person has the right to govern their own life and their own body, even if we as individuals disagree with their choice. I won’t deny that I am proudly pro-choice. As a neuroscience student, I have tried to write objectively on this complex matter, but, as writers, we have to acknowledge that our own beliefs will bleed into the way we interpret and present information.

What is Roe v Wade and why does it matter?

Roe v Wade was a court case that arose from the district court in Dallas, Texas to the highest court in America. It was a lawsuit by a then anonymous woman rape victim who had tragically fallen pregnant and been forced to give birth against her will because she could not obtain an abortion. Four years after she filed her initial lawsuit, the case was heard by the US Supreme Court in 1973, which voted in her favor.

The case of Planned Parenthood v Casey, which could also be overruled in the near future, gave states more freedom to restrict abortion. In 1990, Planned Parenthood sued the governor of Pennsylvania, Bob Casey Sr., arguing that the state’s abortion restrictions were unconstitutional. While most of Philadelphia’s laws were upheld by the Supreme Court’s decision, the Republican supermajority unexpectedly reaffirmed Roe v Wade. Ever since, abortion has been federally legal, but many states have worked tirelessly to restrict abortion, as you can see on this map by the Guttmacher Institute.

A map showing states where abortion is available (blue) or severely restricted (red). The map is interactive and updates regularly — Image source: The Guttmacher Institute

Texas has already banned abortion at the point that embryonic cardiac activity can be detected, which is usually five or six weeks into a pregnancy. Lots of people claim that six weeks is plenty of time to make a decision and seek out an abortion, but there are many circumstances where that’s not the case. People taking birth control, on the onset of menopause, people who are anorexic or malnourished, people on hormonal medications, or people who have irregular periods, could all easily not notice a late or missed period, or dismiss it as normal for them.

The University of Texas estimates that nearly 1,400 Texans travel out-of-state to have abortions every month, and that’s just one state. The financial obstacle of paying for an abortion can be huge, and even more so if travelling is required. Medicaid, which provides health insurance for low-income Americans, doesn’t cover the cost of an abortion in the vast majority of cases. According to Planned Parenthood, an abortion can cost between $750-$1500, and that’s not taking into account the cost of transportation, days off work, or staying at a hotel if you live in a state with a waiting period.

What are the mental health consequences of having (or not having) an abortion?

Although the results of studies are mixed, it is fairly undisputed that abortion is associated with poor mental health. Experiences of guilt and depression are commonly reported, but so are feelings of relief and freedom.

For many people, abortion will be the hardest decision they ever have to make. The fact that people have a variety of responses to abortion, both positive and negative, emphasizes the need for unbiased and accessible counselling, more research into the mental health outcomes of abortion, and better legal protection for abortion patients and providers.

It’s important to keep in mind the fact that abortion research has many limitations. In places where abortion is illegal, people will be hesitant to tell doctors and researchers about their experiences for fear of judgement or persecution. Some researchers believe that the stigma that surrounds abortion likely contributes to a great deal of the negative mental health outcomes that can follow. Research has shown that abortion patients who are harassed by anti-abortion picketers often experience anger and guilt as a result.

Adoption is often presented as an alternative to abortion, but the mental and physical consequences of adoption for mothers (as well as the mental and physical consequences of pregnancy) cannot be understated. Very little research has been conducted on the mental health consequences of relinquishing a newborn, and this area of study is subject to many, if not all, of the same limitations as abortion research that I discussed previously. The stigma that surrounds unplanned pregnancy, adoption, and grief makes studying the mental health impacts of adoption difficult. Still, studies have shown that the grief that comes with relinquishing a baby can be devastating and life-changing, with more grief symptoms than women who have lost a child to death.

Of course, sometimes adoption is the best outcome for everyone involved, even if it’s painful, just as abortion is sometimes the best outcome. Both are incredibly personal choices that are often made in tragic circumstances, and no individual or government has the right to restrict that decision. One choice is not universally right or better; that’s why it’s essential that it remains a choice.

Taking away that choice will result in injury and death for many. And, in some cases, it already has. In Poland, a 30-year-old mother named Izabela died of sepsis because her doctors refused to abort her 22-week-old fetus, even if they were aware of severe foetal defects. The fetus was unlikely to survive because of developmental defects, but under Polish law, the presence of a heartbeat meant that Izabela couldn’t legally get an abortion. One of the last text messages she sent before her death read “I hope that I don’t have septicaemia, otherwise I will not make it. It’s dreadful. And I have to wait.”

Her death spurred massive protests in Poland and around the world, prompting the Polish government to clarify that abortion is allowed in circumstances where the life of the pregnant person is at risk. Unfortunately, says Katarzyna Kotula, one of the organizers of these protests, “the doctors will be afraid to perform abortions,”. Healthcare providers are in a difficult position where they could be forced to choose between their patient’s life and breaking the law.

Image source: David Zuchowicz/Agencja via REUTERS

How can we reduce abortion rates?

While abortion is an issue wrought with tragedy, there are success stories where abortion rates have been reduced without restricting it.

The state of Colorado has one of the lowest abortion rates in the United States because they made family planning a public health issue. Intrauterine devices (IUD), which can prevent pregnancy for years and don’t require women to take a pill every day, are available for free if you qualify as low income. Pharmacists can prescribe birth control, so people don’t have to pay for a doctor’s appointment to access it. Also, the morning-after pill is available over-the-counter. As a result, the teen abortion rate decreased by 64%. It is estimated that these measures saved the state nearly $70 million. The percentage of high school drop-outs in the state has also reduced.

While these measures are, in my opinion, the best way to reduce abortion, it’s important to remember that not everyone can take birth control and not everyone chooses to have sex. The most important thing is that our bodies remain our own to control, and this cannot happen if abortion is restricted.



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