The British anti-choice lobby is learning the lessons of their damaging US counterparts
In 1970, Norma McCorvey, aka Jane Roe, sought to terminate her pregnancy by abortion. At the time, Texas law prohibited abortions except to save a pregnant women’s life. The case became a class action lawsuit and worked its way up to the US Supreme Court. On January 22, 1973, the Court handed down the decision in the case of Roe v Wade, establishing that a woman’s right to an abortion falls within the right to privacy protected by the 14˄th Amendment of the US Constitution. Effectively, this case legalized abortion in the United States. In addition, Roe v Wade took away the right of individual states to pass laws criminalizing abortion. Roe v Wade changed abortion laws in 46 states.
From the day Roe was passed, it has been chipped away at. In 1992, Roe was left extremely vulnerable by another Supreme Court decision, making it legal to place restrictions on abortion as long as they did not place “undue burden” on women. As no definition of “undue burden” was given, this kicked off a frenzy of legislation from anti choice groups.
Hundreds of restrictions have since been imposed.
* 36 states prohibit abortions after a specified point in pregnancy – sometimes as early as 14 weeks.
* No Federal funding may be used to pay for an abortion.
* 32 states and Washington, DC prohibit the use of state funds to pay for abortion.
* More than 40 states allow health care providers and institutions to refuse to perform abortions.
* 28 states mandate that women be given counselling before an abortion that includes information on at least one of the following: the purported link between abortion and breast cancer, the ability of a foetus to feel pain, long-term mental health consequences for the woman, or the availability of services and funding should the woman decide to carry the pregnancy to term.
* 24 states require a woman seeking an abortion to wait at least 24 hours, between when she receives counselling and the procedure is performed.
* 34 states require one or both parents of anyone under 18 to be notified of and/or consent to an abortion.
* 87% of US counties do not have an abortion provider – 97% in non-metropolitan areas.
* 1 in 4 women has to travel 50 miles or more to obtain an abortion.
* Several abortion clinics have to fly doctors in from other states, because local doctors fear repercussions.
* 30 states are set to make abortion illegal if Roe v Wade is overturned.
This erosion of women’s rights is the result of a clever and insidious anti-choice campaign. Instead of shooting doctors, they hammer at the more emotional aspects of the abortion debate through grassroots campaigning, media outreach, and political lobbying. Instead of staging violent protests, they tackle abortion providers one on one with “vigils” at clinics and outside the homes of clinic employees, and through letter writing campaigns to the friends and families of those who support abortion rights.
The US anti-abortion lobby has been incredibly effective at identifying hot button issues such as teen abortions, late term abortions, and women using abortion as “birth control.” Sound familiar? In the US, supporters of abortion rights thought they were invincible, that Roe v Wade would always stand and that as long as Roe v Wade stood, abortion would remain accessible. It only took a few years of the anti-abortion onslaught for there to be serious changes. Abortion may be legal in the US, but it is virtually inaccessible to a large number of women, especially poor women.
Even liberal media outlets and politicians have changed the way they speak about abortion. It’s a blow to the movement and exemplifies how much ground has been lost, and how quickly. Many now follows the words “I’m Pro Choice” with “but”. The anti-choice lobby owns the debate.
The anti-abortion movement is not just anti-abortion. It’s anti birth control, anti non-procreative sex, and anti women. Abstinence only sex education is being taught in 35% of US schools, touting the fact that condoms don’t work in 7 out of 10 cases. 11 states have legislation pending that will allow pharmacists to refuse to fill a birth control or emergency contraception prescription if they are morally opposed to it. Finally, the US Center for Disease control’s recently recommended that all women between first menstrual period and menopause consider themselves “pre-conceptive” and follow guidelines for pregnancy, taking folic acid and cutting out smoking and drinking.
The British press over the last year is eerily reminiscent of that happened in the US. If we don’t stand up for our rights – loudly, proudly, and most importantly, righteously, we will lose them.
For more information on pro-choice campaigns in the US and how you can add your support please visit the ‘pro-choice – international’ page on this website