Reproductive Regression

An increase in illegal abortions isn't a theoretical outcome of Roe someday being overturned. It's already happening.

| January 26, 2006

Pro-choice activists are gearing up to fight further legal challenges to Roe v. Wade, but University of California-Davis professor Carole Joffe suggests on that 'whether Roe v. Wade is technically still the law of the land is beside the point.' Joffe notes that barriers to abortion are popping up all over the country, and the attendant spike in illegal abortions has caused healthcare professionals to worry.

Roe v. Wade still stands, but the whirlwind of political controversy surrounding abortion has caused multiple barriers, legal and otherwise, to arise between women and the abortion they desire. Consider, for example, the case of Texan Geraldo Flores. As Joffe reports, Flores and his girlfriend, teens at the time, found themselves facing an unwanted pregnancy. The state has a parental-consent provision, and while researching their options for obtaining a legal abortion, the couple was provided with misleading information. In a desperate act, Flores -- with his girlfriend's consent -- stomped on her stomach, causing a stillbirth of twins. He is now serving a life sentence for two counts of fetal homicide.

The incident testifies to how difficult it has become for some people to obtain an abortion. The barriers around the procedure, from stigma to cost, reflect the ambivalent position the country has taken: keep it legal, but make it difficult. Joffe suggests that this stance -- and the policies that have come about as a result of it -- is why more women are turning to illegal, and unsafe, alternatives to the procedure. Furthermore, as Joffe notes, 'the very policies that could reduce unwanted pregnancies ... are resisted at every turn by right-wing extremists and their allies in the Bush White House.' As family-planning services are scaled back, school kids are force-fed abstinence-only sex education.

Countless women -- mostly very young or very poor -- have fallen victim to a climate in which abortion is legal but obtaining one is increasingly difficult. Cost, access to (mis)information, notification provisions, and proximity of provider clinics all factor into an equation that equals bad news for anyone looking to end an unwanted pregnancy. Abortion may still be a right in the United States, but access to it is not.
-- Nick Rose

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