Can you think of a concept that’s been unfairly stigmatized at the expense of both personal freedom and social progress? These days, it’s easy to name a few. In light of recent events, though, let’s focus on one: access to contraceptives.
It’s not news that family planning is considered an essential aspect of comprehensive healthcare in the U.S. That’s why many women and couples generally have access to a variety of options with regards to contraceptives—among them the pill, IUDs, the patch, and so on. In theory, all of this means that couples should be able to obtain the education and care necessary to plan the number and spacing of their children.
We know that easy access to modern contraceptives is the best and most effective way to help people achieve their DESIRED family size (that word is capitalized because it infers an important point: women and couples have the unequivocal right to have as many or as little children as they want—this number could be two, or it could be five. The main point is that the decision is made autonomously).
Family planning has a proven track record of contributing to improvements in maternal and child health, especially in places where resources in general are low and where overall access to health services is limited. Internationally, family planning is legally regarded as a human right. From a social development perspective, the World Bank identifies access to contraceptives as a ‘highly cost effective public health intervention.’
In a very real way, family planning saves lives. It reduces maternal and child mortality, empowers women, reduces poverty, and lessens stress on the natural and political environment. These statements aren’t political and they’re not ideological: they’re conclusions that have been drawn from extensive historical and sociological research. In other words, these are all just non-partisan facts of life.
Domestically, for example, access to contraceptives has been extremely important in our overall social, political, and economic evolution. In the early 1960s, the average family size in the United States was 3.4 children. Sixteen years later, in January 1977, the average family size had dropped by nearly 50% to 1.8 children per woman. This extraordinary shift came as the direct result of women making decisions for themselves. Access to contraceptives, combined with women’s increased enrollment in universities and expanded employment opportunities, made for an important cultural shift in which women were able to decide the trajectory of their own lives.
All good things here, right? Well, nowadays, contraceptives have become so institutionalized within our medical and social systems that it may be hard to believe they weren’t always legal. For decades, though, Americans—including doctors, could go to jail for promoting, selling, distributing, or in some cases even possessing birth control.
In 1965, the Supreme Court stepped in to protect married couples’ rights to contraceptives, free from government interference. In 1972, the Supreme Court extended that right to all people, regardless of marital status. And in 1973, the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade.
States must comply with federal law, but they have the power to impose restrictions regarding the ease with which patients can access birth control and abortion as long as they don’t cause an “undue burden” for the patient seeking services. For example, Texas recently imposed various restrictions, including a requirement that, prior to receiving an abortion, most women must receive state-directed counseling designed to discourage them from choosing abortion and then wait 24 hours before the abortion is provided.
With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s untimely retirement, President Donald Trump has been granted the opportunity to nominate his second justice to the high court. He has vowed to nominate only the most conservative judges—particularly those who will overturn Roe v. Wade if given the opportunity.
The ultra-conservative Federalist Society vetted Trump’s list of 25 potential names and, after already succeeding in getting Neil Gorsuch confirmed to the Court in April 2017, Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh. Currently a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Kavanaugh’s career has certainly embodied his ultra-conservative ideals: Kavanaugh identifies as an ‘originalist,’ opposes net neutrality, ardently defends anti-choice ideology, and has been a harsh critic of environmental and food safety labeling regulations. Oh, he’s also against gun control. Bet you couldn’t have guessed that…?!
If Kavanaugh is confirmed by the Senate and the new, conservative-dominated Court does decide to overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion could immediately become illegal (AGAIN) in 13 states, and severely restricted in many more. Four states have already passed “trigger laws” which would instantly outlaw abortion the moment Roe v. Wade is reversed. Ten states banned abortion before Roe v. Wade went into effect in 1973, and would revert back to those bans without affirmative action to change state law.
In the years between 2011 and 2018, state legislatures have enacted 401 abortion restrictions, which make up 34 percent of all abortion restrictions passed since 1973. In addition, state and federal lawmakers are working steadily to introduce anti-abortion legislation in hopes that it will escalate to the Supreme Court and chip away at Roe v. Wade.
Take Mississippi, for example, where the governor attempted to pass a law that would outlaw abortion after just 15 weeks of pregnancy (this law was blocked by a federal judge temporarily, but still might pass). Iowa poses another prime example: Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law in May that banned abortion after the detection of a fatal heartbeat, or about six weeks into pregnancy–making it one of the most restrictive bans in the country. This law was also temporarily blocked in response to a lawsuit brought about by Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.
In essence, Roe v. Wade is being threatened purposefully by lawsuits that are currently being introduced across the country. This nomination is a real danger to the reproductive rights of women in the U.S., and would be a giant, historic LEAP backward. Ultimately, this fight is much larger than Roe v. Wade—it’s about basic access to all forms of contraceptives, lest you wonder what the ultimate goal of Roe’s opponents is. The most fundamental of human rights—that to determine when and if to have children—is potentially on the line for all women in the U.S.
We already know how integral family planning is to women’s health and development overall. The benefits of such access are both a symbol of development and an internationally understood human right. Additionally, abortion in the U.S. is considered one of the safest surgical procedures for women because less than 0.05% of women obtaining an abortion experience complications. With that, it’s time we recognize that the restriction of abortion is not only dangerous but also entirely backward. We’re all for progress, are we not?
Can someone please explain the sustained impulse to deny science and ignore tenets of development recently? Anyone else feel like we’re living in an episode of the Handmaid’s Tale?
Please work with us to ensure women’s rights are protected. Our future depends on it!