Imagine you’re a 17-year-old girl in Alabama. You had a little mishap and ended up pregnant, but you can’t keep the baby, so you decide you want an abortion. However, laws passed in your state don’t allow you to get an abortion-under any circumstances, even in the case of rape or incest. The nearest abortion clinic is over 100 miles away, and you’re afraid if you leave the state to get one you may be arrested. You barely even know what an abortion is- it is the ending of a pregnancy by the removal/expulsion of a fetus before it can exist outside of the fetus. There’s a terrible stigma around abortions, created by the Roe vs. Wade case and Mexico City Policy, which have also limited women’s access to healthcare and reproductive resources. However, Planned Parenthood has helped provide women with access to these resources and made progress in educating people about abortions.
A story from The Atlantic outlines a pregnant woman’s story who got the Rubella virus, an illness similar to Zika, that can cause severe birth defects to a baby. Panicked, the woman, Bette, went to trusted doctors and church officials to find out what she should do. She was a young religious Christian woman, and in 1970- before the Roe vs. Wade case- she had never heard of abortion before. Bette ended up getting an abortion in her second trimester, after deep consideration with trusted church leaders and family. She said, “‘The suffering that abortion alleviates in the world is the mess we have created because we haven’t figured out a way to take care of the children who are already here’” (Bodenner). Bette believed that abortion’s were a technology created by God’s people to prevent bringing babies into a world where they won’t be healthy or raised properly. She got important advice from her aunt, a missionary nurse who, “...agreed with my parents’ Sunday school teacher—a Chief of Cardiac Surgery at a major hospital—that this abortion was within God’s will” (Bodenner). Although Bette had just found out what an abortion actually was, she was advised by those whom she trusted with religious advice to get one and believed it was part of God’s plan. As a Christian woman, it was especially important to her that those closest to God said an abortion was okay. Similar to her aunt or church pastor, many other religious officials believe abortions can be viable options, in certain scenarios. The Evangelical Lutheran Church, a branch of Christianity, believes, “‘abortion prior to viability [of a fetus] should not be prohibited by law or by lack of public funding’ but that abortion after the point of fetal viability should be prohibited except when the life of a mother is threatened or when fetal abnormalities pose a fatal threat to a newborn” (Pew Research Center). Similar to Bette’s case, when the newborn or mother’s life is at stake, the church supports it. In Islam, it is believed a fetus only becomes a human after four motnhs, so abortions are only permissable before then, if the mother of fetus is at risk, or in the case of rape. In Buddhism, even though there is not an offcial position on abortions, though many Buddhists in Japan practice them and believe that the souls are led to the land of the dead after.
Similar to Bette from the story from The Atlantic, many other women had never heard of an abortion around the 1970’s. That was, until the Roe vs. Wade case was brought to the Supreme Court in 1973, and abortions became the most controversial topic across the country. This case would change the way abortions were looked at and how easily they could be accessed. In Roe vs. Wade, a woman from Texas appealed that Texas state laws banning abortion (except in the case when the mother’s health is at risk) were unconstitutional and violated her First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. The Supreme Court decided that states could not restict abortion access in the first or second trimester (unless the mother’s health was at risk in the second). In the third trimester, however, states are allowed to restrict/ban abortions, with the exception of cases when the mother’s health was threatened. Since this monumental Supreme Court decision, many states have passed tighter restrictions on abortions, and created a general stigma around them to make women feel ashamed of their choices. Prior to Roe vs. Wade, 30 states banned abortion and 16 banned them with exceptions for certain cases such as rape/incest- the remaining four allowed abortions. Today, … In New Jersey, there are no specific bans on abortion. There are no restritions on waiting periods, parental involvement, or limits on publicly funded abortions. However, the South is MUCH more restricted- in Alabama, women cannot get an abortion after 1 week since their last menstrual period. Compared to Mississippi, who only has access to abortions in 1% of it’s counties, New Jersey has abortion providers in almost every county.
Previous to the Roe vs. Wade case and even further back in history, however, abortions were more accepted. Before the 1840s, abortions used to be a regular popular practice. Women had to wait until about 4-6 months in, to be sure they were pregnant, and using herbal concoctions, they legally performed abortions. However, during the mid-nineteenth century, physicians began to fear their legal rights would be taken away if they kept performing these abortions, so they began the “right-to-life” movements. Jennifer Holland, a professor at the University of Oklahoma, discusses the history of abortions in the US. According to the professor, “While many physicians believed that scientific medicine would benefit their patients, some, in order to hurt lay healers’ business, sought governmental licensing and regulation to weed out the competition. Physicians used anti-abortion laws, pushed in state legislatures, to increase their own stature and undermine their opponents”(Holland). Contrary to popular belief, the acceptance and practice of abortions was majorly shifted because of the Right-to-Life movements, not because of religious groups. This began a long process of restricting women’s access to abortions. These movements also created a stigma around abortion that still lasts until today, and makes even deciding to get an abortion a very hard process for a woman.
Another policy that had effects similar to the Right-to-Life movements and state bans on abortions is the Mexico City Policy (also called the Global Gag Rule), which has caused a major setback in other countries abortion laws. In 2017, Donald Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy, which bans funding ($600 million to be specific) to international family-planning agencies, unless they agreed to not promote abortion. Furthermore, this policy only provided other countries with US government funds if they also to: advocate for laws restricting abortion, not give advice/refer patients for abortions, and NOT perform abortions themselves. In short, Trump would only give money to countries that NEEDED it for basic healthcare if they agreed to not allow abortions. On top of that, “Trump’s policy extends restrictions to an estimated $8.8 billion in US global health assistance, including funding support for family planning and reproductive health, maternal and child health, nutrition, HIV/AIDS…” (Human Rights Watch). More than just basic manipulation to project his own ideas of abortion restriction on other countries, Trump put other funds at risk that are neccessary to save thousands of lives that could be lost due to basic lack of health funding.
The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 heavily restricts certain ways of performing a second-trimester abortion.
“In 1965, abortion was so unsafe that 17 percent of all deaths due to pregnancy and childbirth were the result of illegal abortion (Gold, 1990; NCHS, 1967)” (Planned Parenthood). Margaret Sanger opened the first Planned Parenthood clinic in 1916, in Brooklyn. Sanger and the two other founders were arrested only nine days after opening the clinic. While spending 30 days in jail, Sanger took advantage of her situation and educated the women around her. She extended her movement by creating a research facility in Manhattan that distributed birth control devices and collected data. In 1923, the same year, she formed the American Birth Control League. She combined these two organizations to make the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. Later in 1936, the court ruled that birth control technologies could no longer be classified as obscene, and they could legally be distributed in New York, Connecticut, and Vermont. Planned Parenthood has made a giant impact on women’s reproductive rights and access to information/sources that can help us. The organization has been involved in numerous Supreme Court cases, such as Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, in which the court ruled that states could pass abortion restritions, as long as they didn’t violate the Undue Burden Standard. The Undue Burden Standard states no laws can be passed that are too restrictive or burdensome on someone’s fundamental rights. According to USHistory, “Later Court decisions such as PLANNED PARENTHOOD V. CASEY(1992) have upheld the right of states to impose waiting periods and parental notification requirements. President George Bush imposed a 'gag rule' that prohibited workers in federally funded clinics from even mentioning abortion as an option with their patients. Bill Clinton promptly ended the gag rule in 1993” (1).
Planned Parenthood also funded research for the creation/development of birth control pills. Katherine McCormick, a leader in the suffrage movement and the League of Women Voters, headed the project. The first human trial was conducted in 1956 in Puerto Rico but is now considered unethical and illegal, because it was performed on Puerto Rican women without consent. Since that trial, the pill was revised and eventually legalized, “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the sale of pills for contraception on May 9, 1960. Within 5 years, 1 out of every 4 married women in the U.S. under the age of 45 had used the pill” (Planned Parenthood). The birth control pill has not only saved many women from unwanted/irresponsible pregnancies, but has helped many people become educated and learn about their bodies/options on how to protect it. By creating the pill, McCormick and her team have empowered women with the ability to have more control over their family planning and gave them more independence with marriage/childcare.
Extending their impact even further, Planned Parenthood passed Title X. “In 1970, Title X of the Public Health Services Act became law. It established public funding for family planning and sex education programs in the U.S” (Planned Parenthood). Title X is a federal grant program that is specifically dedicated to providing people with family planning and preventive health services. 25% of the funding Title X has is donated to Planned Parenthood. Title X has helped to extend Planned Parenthood not only as a company, but as a widely-accepted and trusted organization that many women feel comfortable going to for help. More than 100 years later after opening, Planned Parenthood has spread across the country, now running more than 600 clinics.