On anniversary of Roe v. Wade, access to abortion getting harder
This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade case, which created a constitutional right to abortions while preventing states from banning the practice. However, states are working hard to find ways to make the process as difficult as possible, especially in Arizona.
In fact, Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group, listed Arizona on its top 10 list of anti-abortion states, even giving it an honorable mention for legislation enacted in 2012.
Arizona made the list thanks to a law that bans abortions past 20 weeks, even if the doctor discovers the fetus has a fatal defect, such as not developing a brain or other vital organs.
One of the big problems with the law is how it defines gestational age – in this case, starting on the first day of the woman's last period – which isn't necessarily an accurate measure. Conception can occur later than that date, so the reality is, the window for a woman to get an abortion is even smaller.
According to the Roe v. Wade decision, abortions are generally permitted until a fetus is determined to be “viable,” meaning it can survive outside the womb, with or without medical support. That point, physicians agree, is somewhere near 22 to 24 weeks of gestation.
Other laws passed in Arizona over the last few years added more restrictions on abortion:
• Specially trained nurse practitioners can no longer perform abortions – either surgically or via medication, which means Planned Parenthood offices in rural parts of Arizona, including Yuma, can no longer perform abortions. Now, women must travel to Phoenix, Tucson or into California to have an abortion. The only exception to that is the morning-after pill, which is available in Yuma, but is only effective within a limited time frame after unprotected intercourse.
• Women are required to have a face-to-face consultation with a doctor at least 24 hours before an abortion. This is a major problem in a rural area such as Yuma. Now, a woman must drive to a metro area, visit the doctor, spend the night, and then have the procedure the next day – steps which add significant cost to the patient. It creates a financial barrier, especially for low-income women considering the process.
• The state Department of Health Services website now, by law, features a list of possible complications during an abortion, as well as a list of services available to women who decide to keep the child. The message there is pretty clear: There's no reason to have an abortion – there are services available to help you, such as adoption, or the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) and housing assistance. The message is baffling in a state that is struggling to get people off of social services.
Limiting access to abortion – making the process so difficult, especially for those in rural outlying areas – can create a vicious circle, where women without resources wind up with children that they can't care for adequately, and they wind up in the “system,” relying on social services to make the rent and feed their families.
Abortion is an ugly topic – no one wants to think about a loved one in that position, facing that decision. Yet it's not for us individually to decide how or why someone makes that choice.
Regardless of one's personal stance on abortion, it exists, and those who choose it likely have not done so lightly. Decisions at the U.S. Supreme Court level – the highest court in the land – have given women the right to choose and established guidelines, and states should respect those parameters.