The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) asserts the need to decriminalise abortion “to eliminate discrimination against women and to ensure women’s right to health” outlining access to abortion as a fundamental human right.
Yet, a draconian return to the anti-abortion legislation of the past has occupied the present as after Texas in 2021, Republican states across the US have been prohibiting women from access to abortion.
Those who are pro-life (or rather anti-choice) advocate for the ‘unborn’, a convenient group who are morally unimplicated, asks for no demands and are detached from complicated socio-political structures of the state. This gives lawmakers like Governors Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott the ability to “love the unborn and advocate for them without substantially challenging [their] own wealth, power, or privilege” (David Barnhart) - all at the expense of pregnant women. While Republicans compete in intense battles over restricting female autonomy, Democrats seek an accommodating stance on the issues that will plague women for the foreseeable future.
Senate Bill 8 (SB 8) in Texas bans abortions where a heartbeat can be detected. This is as early as 6 weeks into a pregnancy, considered too early for most women to even know they are pregnant. With no exceptions for rape or incest, the law further permits a bounty of at least $10,000 to citizens who report all those who “aid and abet” in an abortion. The Texas Supreme Court has allowed for the law to remain in place, encouraging restrictions on reproductive rights.
After the law was passed in September, abortion rates have fallen by almost 50% with Texans having to travel for abortion access. This has not been as viable for many poor people of colour, who have been disproportionally displaced by their state’s legislation. Abortion provider Planned Parenthood has seen an almost 800% increase in visitors to their health centres in neighbouring states, such as Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico in just the four months since SB 8. More recently, Lizelle Herrera was arrested (and later released) on a murder charge for allegedly causing the “death of an individual by self-induced abortion”, essentially criminalising women who undergo abortions and normalising seeking healthcare in other ways, however unsafe.
Since Texas, six states: Florida, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Idaho and Wyoming have all overturned Roe, effectively banning abortion. Of these, Arizona, Florida and Kentucky have enacted 15-week bans, Idaho has implemented a “Texas-style” ban, while Wyoming has introduced a “trigger” ban to prevent abortion if Roe is overturned.
As red states execute a surge of anti-Roe legislation, blue states have taken a more protective approach, proposing shields to making abortion access easier by removing waiting periods and parental consent, particularly useful in cases of incest. With three-quarters of those receiving an abortion deemed low-income, states like California plan on paying for the full cost of the abortion, and potentially other expenses, such as travel.
While 26 states are likely to ban or restrict abortion, 15 states are presumed safe in the long-term, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. The defensive stance displayed by Democrats represents a “reaction” to increasingly hostile conservative legislation, characterising just how partisan the problem has become. Such polarisation confirms that abortion has morphed into a political question, rather than a healthcare solution.
Banning abortion only bans safe abortion, further affirmed by the OHCHR after Texas’ restrictions, “abortion is essential health care and a human right.” As such, abortion should have never been about the politics, but should rather represent the essence of what it truly is – a safe, legal and essential part of reproductive health care.