Access to Abortion
Access to Abortion
Abortion is the termination of a pregnancy by removal or expulsion of an embryo or fetus. Unintended pregnancies happen for many reasons, the most typical being the ineffective use or lack of contraception. Pregnancy due to rape or incest also can lead to a decision to have an abortion, and if the fetus threatens the mother’s life, abortions can be performed and save her. Additionally, socioeconomic concerns and relationship issue also prompt abortions.
Abortion Rights are being Challenged
While in June 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed abortion rights after striking down a Louisiana law limiting abortion, abortion rights in the USA are very contentious. On May 19th, 2021 Texas governor Greg Abbott signed the most extreme abortion ban in the US. It prohibits women from getting abortions as early as 6 weeks after conception, which is before most women even know they are pregnant. This law comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s announcement that they would hear a case concerning a Mississippi abortion law that would ban abortion after 15 weeks, including cases of rape or incest. In 2019, Georgia and Ohio passed similar fetal heartbeat bills, where abortions were banned after six weeks, and Alabama banned almost all abortions starting at conception.
All these bills are also designed to challenge the United States Supreme Court ruling, Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in 1973. However, for many women, these bills have already made obtaining an abortion harder than pre-Roe v. Wade days. According to Planned Parenthood, overturning Roe v. Wade would put more than 25 million women at risk of losing access to abortion — more than a third of women of reproductive age in this country.
State abortion restrictions and federal policies, such as the Hyde Amendment, also keep abortion out of reach for millions of women. The Hyde Amendment blocks federal Medicaid funding for abortion services. This means Medicaid cannot cover abortion even when a patient’s health is at risk and their doctor recommends they get an abortion.
The many legal and socio-economic implications for women with unplanned pregnancies vary per country. For example, in some countries, women may legally qualify for an abortion, but no real access to safe services is available; in others, safe procedures may be available, despite severe legal restrictions on abortions. Elsewhere, the backlash against women’s legal right to abortion has resulted in the enactment of restrictions and obstacles to safety procedures.
Abortion laws vary considerably between countries and have changed over time. These laws range from the free availability of abortions to restrictions of different kinds to the outright prohibition of abortions in all circumstances.
Abortion continues to be highly controversial in many societies for religious, moral, ethical, and political grounds. While they have been banned or limited by law in many places, abortions continue to be common, even in countries where they are illegal.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), abortion rates are similar in countries where the procedure is legal and in countries where it is not. Also according to the WHO, the number of abortions worldwide is declining due to increased access to contraception. Almost two-thirds of the world's women currently reside in countries where abortion may be obtained on request for a broad range of social, economic, or personal reasons.
According to a United Nations report in 2019, abortion is allowed in 98% of countries to save a woman's life. Other commonly accepted reasons are for physical (72% of countries) or mental health (69% of countries), in cases of rape or incest (61% of countries), and cases of fetal impairment (61% of countries). Performing an abortion because of economic or social reasons is accepted in 37% of countries. Performing abortion only based on a woman's request is allowed in 34% of countries, including in the United States, Canada, most European countries, and China.
El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Andorra, Dominican Republic, Malta, and the Vatican City have all completely outlawed abortion, under all circumstances.
Roughly 121 million unintended pregnancies occurred each year between 2015 and 2019 - Of these, 61% ended in abortion, or 73 million abortions per year.
Nearly 1 in 4 women in America will have an abortion during their lifetime
Abortions occur as frequently in the two most-restrictive categories of countries (banned outright or allowed to save the woman’s life) as in the least-restrictive category (allowed without restriction)—between 37 and 34 per 1,000 women, in both categories.
In much of the world, 20–24-year-old women tend to have the highest abortion rate of any age group.
Unintended pregnancy rates are highest in countries that restrict abortion access and lowest in countries where abortion is broadly legal.
In 14 developing countries where unsafe abortion is prevalent, 40% of women with an abortion develop complications requiring medical attention. In all developing regions combined (except Eastern Asia), an estimated 6.9 million women are treated annually for such complications; however, many more who need treatment do not get timely care.
Path to Safer Abortions
Although legality is the first step toward safer abortions and decreased health risks for women, more steps must be taken to increase access to safe abortions for all. Full implementation of the law and destigmatization is vital so that all women can seek out a legal and safe abortion. Highly restrictive laws do not eliminate the practice of abortion but make those that do occur more likely to be unsafe. In countries with highly restrictive laws, improving the quality and coverage of postabortion care is crucial to saving lives and protecting women’s health.
Accurate information on how to safely use misoprostol (a pill used for abortions) should be widely shared to help make clandestine abortions safer, improve women’s health and chances of survival, and reduce the heavy financial burden of providing postabortion care. Moreover, in countries that highly restrict abortion, preventing unintended pregnancy through spread and education about contraception goes a long way toward preventing unsafe abortion.
Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit organization that provides essential and affordable health services to many women. The services they provide include abortions, birth control, STD testing and treatment, cancer screenings, infertility services, and general health care. You can donate to them at the following link:
Options for Women provides free and confidential services for women facing unplanned pregnancies. They have over 30 centers all over the United States that provide pregnancy tests and education about abortion and abortion alternatives. Their helpline is 888-652-1140. You can find a center near you, or educate yourself on types of abortions on their website: http://optionsmn.org/
Inability to pay for childcare or travel often limits many women from obtaining an abortion. You can donate to the Yellowhammer Fund or the National Network of Abortion Funds, which help pay for abortions or associated childcare and travel expenses:
You can also help uphold abortion rights by supporting progressive and pro-choice candidates who are running for office. Run for Something is an organization that recruits young progressive who wants to run for office and provides the resources for them to run efficient campaigns. You can volunteer with them or donate to them here:
Research Coordinator - Sachi Gosal
Editor - Vaishnavi Bhojane
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Illustrations - Shaina Rahman