US abortion laws have come under scrutiny over the last few weeks. On 15th May 2019, the Republican governor of Alabama (Kay Ivey) signed a bill to outlaw abortion in its entirety – the only exception being in the case of the foetus posing a medical risk to the mother. As the proposed Alabama abortion law currently stands, there are no stipulations for rape or incest; this is particularly detrimental, as according to MIT 14,000 women undergo abortion as a result of rape and incest annually.
This was the most restrictive abortion bill passed in America to date, far surpassing the Heartbeat Bills passed in states like Georgia, Iowa and Mississippi (which remove abortion as a possibility as soon as a foetal heartbeat can be detected – this can be as early as six weeks when some women are not even aware they are pregnant).
Although the bill has not yet gone into effect – and it is unclear how exactly this ultra-conservative bill will be enforced- it still has significant implications for American society, signalling a worrying trend in terms of the favouring of more extreme policies.
In order to fully discuss the ethical issues surrounding the bill, it is imperative to first consider the issue of abortion itself. What makes this such a hot-button issue? There are two distinct camps: pro-life and pro-choice. Essentially, this boils down to the difference in perspective concerning the foetus.
If the foetus is believed to be a baby from the point of conception (this view is normally held by religious people and conservatives) then abortion is equated to murder (as the unborn child is entitled to human rights, least of all the right to life); if the foetus is only believed to be a baby after a certain period of time (in England, Scotland and Wales abortion is allowed up to 24 weeks) then abortion is a reasonable option for a wide range of socio-economic reasons.
Therefore, the morality of abortion is relative as it fundamentally hinges upon your perspective. However, what can be ascertained from the accessible information is the impact of stricter abortion bills on women.
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), abortion rates in America are at a historic low due to the widespread availability of contraceptives and the inclusion of sex education in the curriculum. This does not negate the fact that women should still have access to safe, legal abortions.
A potential argument is that the enforcement of the Alabama abortion bill would not prevent abortion; instead, it would endanger women further as they would be forced to seek out alternative methods of illegally inducing abortions. The Alan Guttmacher Institute states that worldwide, unsafe abortions contribute to 13% of pregnancy-related deaths.
The bill would also affect minority and low-income women disproportionately; according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, they are twice as likely to be non-users of contraceptives. These minority and low-income women would be forced to go through with their pregnancies (as it is unlikely their financial situation would allow for safe abortions), further perpetuating the cycle of poverty and exacerbating the problem of single motherhood.
The CDC states that among teens (aged 19 and under), 80% of the pregnancies are unintended; without access to safe and legal abortions, the teens would likely be ostracised by their respective communities and be deprived of further education, ensuring that they would be unable to secure higher paying jobs. This would also impact their children who would not benefit from financial security or a stable family unit.
The landmark ruling in the Roe v Wade case (1973) adjudicated that the right to a safe, legal abortion was implicit in the right to privacy enshrined in the 14th Amendment. Therefore, a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion is protected by the Constitution.
It seems obvious that bills that seek to impose restrictions on abortion will be blocked by lower courts; the Alabama bill has already generated much public outcry, with the American Civil Liberties Union and other proponents of abortion planning it to challenge it at court.
In actuality, the heartbeat bills passed in several states are not designed to be enforced, nor is the more extreme Alabama bill. They are engineered by proponents of the pro-life movement as tools that will ideally undermine Roe v Wade; the supporters hope that the bills will be appealed at the Supreme Court, where pro-life judges like Brett Kavanaugh may introduce measures to restrict access to abortion instead of taking the drastic course of action and overturning Roe v Wade.
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Even if these harsher abortion bills (that seek to restrict women’s rights and impose a radical conservative agenda upon the masses) are not enforced legally, they still reflect a shift away from moderate policies that should concern everyone. With the pro-life movement growing more vocal and becoming more emboldened by the Republican President (Donald Trump) in the White House, these pieces of legislation should be the cause of some unease; to suggest that a doctor should be jailed for up to ninety-nine years for performing an abortion (as the Alabama bill does) is unfeasible in today’s society.
At the same time, I’m not suggesting it’s a doomsday scenario fresh out of the The Handmaid’s Tale – nor do I wish to use aggravating rhetoric to fan the metaphorical flames. The likelihood that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v Wade is low; it would be far too radical.
By Devangi Dave
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