BY: JESSICA BEUKER
Abortion clinics are closing in the United States at an alarming rate. In five states—Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming—only one clinic remains. And the Supreme Court is expected to consider whether or not a Texas law, which would shut down all but 10 of the state’s remaining abortion clinics, is constitutional. The case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, is the first abortion case the Supreme Court is ruling on in over two decades. The decision will influence other states’ restrictions on abortion access.
Abortion restrictions have been gaining hold since the Republican Party re-examined its regulation starting in 2011. Although, according to Bloomberg, efforts to overturn abortion rights completely, which include initiatives to give the unborn the rights of a person, have repeatedly failed.
The Texas ruling sits amid a storm of other abortion laws that have recently generated headlines across the country. Just last week, both Indiana and Florida passed new laws that severely limit women’s access to abortion. The law will end state funding for family planning clinics, such as Planned Parenthood, which also provide abortions. The law will also require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals. This is often difficult for hospitals under constant pressure from anti-abortion groups. It’s this same requirement that cut Texas abortion clinics by half within a year.
Furthermore, a bill currently going through the Oklahoma State Senate would make anyone who performs an abortion guilty of first-degree murder, if passed. According to All That Is Interesting, the bill outlines first-degree murder as causing the death of another human being “unlawfully and with malice aforethought.” Senator Joseph, who wrote the bill stated, “Life begins at conception. Those human embryos deserve every bit of protection as a one-year-old child.”
Recent research is suggesting that, as it was before Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case in which the Supreme Court legalized a woman’s right to an abortion, women are turning to do-it-yourself abortion methods in response to the clinic closures. According to The New York Times, in 2015, Americans made 119,000 Google searches for “how to have a miscarriage.” Other searches included “how to self-abort,” “buy abortion pills online,” “how to do a coat hanger abortion,” as well as abortion-inducing herbs, uterus bleaching and even stomach punching. Overall, in 2015, there were more than 700,000 Google searches for self-induced abortions. The state with the highest search rate was Mississippi—one of the states where access is extremely limited.
The Oklahoma bill seems unlikely to pass but family planning care in the United States is becoming less and less accessible.
There’s a wide assumption that restricting access to clinics will hold abortion rates down. According to Bloomberg, abortion fell 12 per cent nationwide from 2010 to January 2015. But the clinic closures are only one factor. The drop is also affected by things such as an increasing cultural acceptance of single motherhood, the recession and more effective contraceptive use.
In Canada, where abortion is less restricted, the abortion rate is 25 per cent lower. While numerous strides still need to be made, Canada also has a much more flexible and comprehensive sexual education model. In 2015, Ontario announced updates to the sex-ed curriculum—the first since 1998—which included coverage of topics such as masturbation, sexting, bullying, gender expression, consent and LGBTQ relationships. But in the U.S., the sex education system is wildly outdated. Many states only offer abstinence-only education, and it’s clearly not working. The U.S. has the highest rate of teen pregnancy among developed nations. Research shows that countries with better health care and sex education have lower rates of unwanted pregnancies and, therefore, fewer abortions.
A study concluded that if 31 states outlawed abortion tomorrow, the majority of women would still travel to places where it remained legal. And as access to abortion diminishes, more women will begin resorting to illegal and dangerous methods.
These search patterns point to a very obvious truth—women will have abortions, and making them illegal will not prevent women from having them. Instead it pushes them to engage in dangerous DIY methods, or unsafe and unregulated medical procedures. The issue affects all women, even if not directly, as an issue of reproductive rights. As BUST states: “Future generations of women, perhaps women in your family, will depend on the decisions made today.”