The Abortion Debate

Phoenix Smith, Reporter

In early April of last year, Indiana proposed a bill that would almost completely ban second-trimester abortions in the state. Only days later, Ohio enacted a similar law, banning most abortions after an embryo’s heartbeat could be detected, around five to six weeks. This set in motion a battle between pro-life and pro-choice states and voters to either protect or ban abortion. For the majority of April and May in 2019, almost all of social media and news sources were flooded with stories concerning the morality of abortion laws. 

Overall, in 2019, eleven states passed bills that would restrict abortion access, the strictest being Alabama’s complete ban on abortion, with no exceptions to rape or incest. This law makes it a felony for any doctors in Alabama to perform an abortion. Beyond that are seven other states considering stricter abortion laws, three of them being almost identical to that of Ohio’s “heartbeat” bill. In response to these bills, pro-choice states Vermont and New York enacted laws that would expand abortion access, as well as make abortion a fundamental right. Vermont’s bill, approved by both the House and the Senate would “recognize as a fundamental right the freedom of reproductive choice” and “prohibit public entities from interfering with or restricting the right of an individual to terminate the individual’s pregnancy.”

Almost all of the restrictions to abortion access have not been made effective due to legal controversy; many believe these laws violate constitutional rights. In 1973, in a court case named “Roe v. Wade,” the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution of the United States must protect a pregnant woman’s right to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction. At least six of the eleven proposed abortion restrictions are being challenged in court by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) on the grounds of the ruling of Roe v. Wade. Many states, such as Tennesse, plan to propose abortion restrictions if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, though this is unlikely because an independent poll conducted in January of 2019 found that 73% of Americans are opposed to overturning Roe v. Wade.

If these strict abortion laws were to take effect, studies show there will be drastic effects on young women, primarily women of color. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, after the legalization of abortion in the 1970s, teen fertility rates dropped, while high school graduation and college attendance rates increased, especially among black women. Along with increased education for women, abortion access also led to higher participation in the workforce. The percentage of women in the workforce raised about 2% overall but increased by 6.9% for black women. Although unintended and teen pregnancy rates have dropped since the implementation of Roe v. Wade, there has been a slight rise in unintended and teen pregnancy since 2015, due to the recent restrictions on abortion access, demonstrating a direct cause between abortion access and birth rates and teen pregnancy. 

This issue impacts teens in North Clackamas. A Clackamas High School senior, who’s identity is being withheld due to the personal nature of the issue,  says changes in the law can and will impact teens.    “I had an abortion when I was 16, a little over a year ago. It was a very hard decision, but when I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wasn’t ready to raise a child or to even go through pregnancy,” she says. When asked how she feels about the new abortion restrictions being implemented around the country, she says, “It makes me feel awful. I know there are so many girls who are like me throughout those states…I just can’t imagine being one of those girls, or women, who will have to carry a pregnancy to term, even if they know they aren’t ready.”  

 Christel Allen, the political director of Oregon NARAL, an active pro-choice organization that advocates and fights for abortion access throughout the state explains that this attack on abortion access is just “about power and control.” Because of Roe v. Wade, “you can still get an abortion in all 50 states,” these strict laws just make it more difficult for people to get them, especially those who are financially struggling or who are a minority. According to Allen, the reason these strict laws in Alabama and Georgia are being passed even though the majority of the United States does not want to overturn Roe v. Wade is because those proposing the bills are a “vocal majority.” Allen believes that life is about “autonomy and agency;” everyone has the freedom to develop their own beliefs and opinions, and should be given the right to make their own choices. 

Liberty Pike, the Communications Director from Oregon Right to Life, a pro-life organization, believes that “all laws and Supreme Court decisions that perpetuate and allow legal abortion violate both constitutional and human rights.” She explains that “Roe v. Wade was decided under the 14th amendment’s right to privacy,” and believes that “the inherent right to life supersedes the right to privacy.” Like Christel Allen from Oregon NARAL, the Communications Director representing Oregon Right to Life, does not believe that the rest of America should follow states like Ohio and Alabama in terms of the proposition of these strict abortion laws. She backs her opinion by explaining, “these bills are a drastic attempt to roll back legal abortion,” she believes legal abortion “needs to be dismantled incrementally…we need to take logical steps to repeal abortion.” 

As 2020 begins, the debate between pro-life and pro-choice continues, and with that so does the debate about whether these abortion bans are constitutional. The fate of Roe v. Wade and the validity of these laws will be seen as the year continues.