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A Case For National Pro-Choice Abortion Legislation

Mona Khalifeh |
March 23, 2015 | 3:15 p.m. PDT



Much advancement has been made since the gavel struck in Roe v. Wade, but with that progressive wave has come a backlash that has reversed and challenged pro-choice legislation nationwide.

The last few years have proven to be especially backward in the arena of reproductive health, creating a hostile environment for women. With legislation varying from state to state, your geographic location becomes the determining factor for whether or not you can attain safe reproductive health care, let alone have access to it. While teen pregnancy rates are lower than they have been in years, limited access to care creates an environment that leads to unsafe "back alley" abortions. 

According to the World Heath Organization, roughly 20 million abortions are performed every year by individuals lacking medical training, in unsafe environments and without the necessary medical equipment. This has lead to the death of 68,000 women worldwide, and many more suffer complications or permanent damage. 

The decision handed down in Roe v. Wade holds that women have the right to an abortion under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, however that right is subject to each state’s interest in regulating abortions. This leaves the circumstances under which a woman may obtain an abortion up to the state in which she resides.

The ruling leaves a woman's decision to have an abortion within the first three months of her pregnancy up to her and her doctor - in theory. But in practice, laws that vary state by state can leave women with little to no access to reproductive healthcare. In Mississippi for example, a state with only one abortion clinic, only licensed obstetricians and gynecologists can legally provide abortions. The state of Arizona passed a law making it a felony for anyone to knowingly perform or provide funding for race or sex-selective abortions, drawing an ACLU lawsuit on behalf of two civil rights groups who see the law as a "wolf in sheep's clothing" designed to create further legal obstacles for women, particularly women of color, seeking abortions.

In the case that access to abortions or reproductive healthcare is limited, having a child thus becomes the only (legal) option, even if a parent or household is not adequetely equipped to care for that child. If abortion access was federally guaranteed through national legislation, the need for state-by-state laws would be eliminated and invalidated. Women would have their own, private and personal choice in their reproductive health, removing the decision from the out-of-touch, mostly male, lawmakers who have been trying for years to determine what women do with their bodies and babies.

In January, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments about increasingly restrictive abortion laws in Texas. In 2013, there were 40 licensed abortion facilities in the state, a number which has since been cut in half following the passage of new restrictions on clinics such as requiring all abortions be performed in facilities larger than 7,000 square feet. Advocates say that number could be reduced to just eight, if new legislation requiring clinics to have hospital-like settings for surgeries takes effect. But, the women of Texas are less than hopeful that their conservative state will make a major turnaround.

READ MORE: DIY Abortions On The Rise In Texas

Texas is not the only state to witness new restrictions on reproductive care. According to a recent report produced by the National Abortion Federation, the summer of 2014 saw a pushback on reproductive rights nationwide. Less than a year ago, on June 26, 2014, Massachusetts enacted legislation that removed the buffer zone around reproductive healthcare facilities, leaving women susceptible to the violence and harassment of pro-life protestors who often wait outside of abortion clinics chanting hateful slurs, holding up pro-life signage, and sometimes attacking patients that attempt to enter or exit these clinics. Just one month later, the Supreme Court ruled that some for-profit private corporations could deny birth control coverage to employees.   

What is most shocking is that in a year when a female president could be on the horizon, we are still saying that women not only do not have the right to their bodies, but also do not have the right to feel safe that their employer, the typical provider of healthcare coverage, will support their reproductive health and decisions. This leaves women with no reproductive health options, whether or not they chose to get pregnant, or in the event that sexual violence occurs.

The only thing that could guarantee women control of their own bodies and reproductive health is national pro-choice legislation. If men’s health is of no concern to the government and national public, why are we allowing men to control our health, the very men that contribute to the situations that cause us to seek out reproductive healthcare in the first place? We’ve created a culture of over-sexualized men that look down on the sexual power of women and aim to diminish it. Instead of us feeling great about our bodies, we are forced to pick at them, and seek a male view of perfection that is quickly torn apart once the real consequences of sex occur. Both women and men should continue to fight this battle, and urge the “men in charge” that it’s time to release their undeserved power and allow us to safely make the right choice for our bodies, our health, and our lives, whether or not we choose to reproduce.

READ MORE: SCOTUS, You've Got To Be Joking

There are pro-life advocates that say that if we engage in sexual activities, willingly or not, we should honor the life that has been created within us and bring a child into the world, ready or not. If that is how they feel, then they should be able to choose to bring a child to term. But they should not be allowed to impose their beliefs on others who may not feel the same way. Pro-life beliefs aside, national law speaks for itself. States should not be able to restrict a right the federal government has already determined to protect.

The choice is ultimately up to us, and no matter the legislation, women will find a way to do what they believe is best for them. If national pro-choice legislation is enacted and state-by-state regulations abolished, at least we can rest easily knowing all over the country, their choices will be made safely.

Reach Contributor Mona Khalifeh here.



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