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Recently, the Supreme Court made a 5-to-3 decision, that a Texas law that aimed to hinder women’s ability to attain an abortion, was unconstitutional (5). The rhetoric surrounding abortion rights has a long history, and is frequently tied to the rights of women’s health as a whole. It is a controversial topic that sparks debates and provokes strong emotions out of rhetors and their audience. In order to understand the significance of the Supreme Courts ruling, you need to understand a few key moments in history that define our current discussions of abortion. Those include Roe vs. Wade, Casey vs. Planned Parenthood, and the videos released by CMP.
The landmark case that brought abortion rights into the political spotlight was the Supreme Court’s recognition of Roe Vs. Wade in 1973. Previous to this ruling states restricted or banned all abortions, with no exceptions. This ruling stated that laws that aimed to ban abortions were unconstitutional within the first ninety days of pregnancy. More specially, it says that States cannot outlaw or regulate abortions during the first trimester. However, they are still able to regulate the second and third trimesters, and it is legal for them to pass laws that protect the fetus’s life during the third trimester (1). This ruling was highly publicized and controversial.
For the Roe vs. Wade trial the Supreme Court decision involved various disputes surrounding ethics, religion, and biology. People argued that this decision legalized murder, and that there was not enough justification within the constitution for abortion (1). Those who question the ruling also argued that a fetus is a person according to the fourteenth amendment, and that the writers of the constitution did not feel that it was necessary to define human life.
Roe Vs. Wade resulted in a divide in the nation, and abortion rights have slowly eroded ever since that ruling. Following the Supreme Court’s decision states began to openly defy the ruling by passing new laws that prohibited abortions, and imposed procedural hurdles upon women seeking abortions (1). For example, in 1992, the case Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania Vs. Casey, resulted in the Supreme Court reaffirmation of the Roe Vs. Wade ruling, but resulted in the amendment of the trimester structure (2).
Casey Vs. Planned Parenthood is arguably the most important case regarding abortion rights. Although it did reaffirm the Roe ruling, it also expanded the states ability to regulate abortions. This case was brought to the Supreme Court because in 1982, Pennsylvania passed the Abortion Control Act. This Act required women to give “informed consent” before an abortion could be performed. In order to be “informed” women had to comply with a twenty-four hour waiting period, during which they would be provided with information regarding the procedure. This act also required that minors seeking abortions had to obtain consent from their guardians, and in case of “medical emergencies,” wives had to inform their husbands of the procedure (1).
The Supreme Court ruled that, for the most part, the Pennsylvania law was constitutional. The Supreme Court reestablished the fact that abortions could not be banned prior to the point where the fetus is able to sustain life outside of the womb, nor could abortions be banned in circumstances that would preserve the life and health of the mother. However, they held that the state could now pass laws that regulated the first trimester, and due to advances in life-preserving medicines, the point at which the fetus becomes “viable” could come prior to the third trimester. Finally, the Supreme Court stated that any regulations that imposed a “substantial obstacle” for a woman seeking abortion was an “undue burden” that violated the woman’s constitutional right (1).
In more recent history, abortion rights have, again, come under fire in the political sphere following the release of a highly edited and misleading video by the Center of Medical Progress, or CMP. In July 2015, CMP released videos that showed a Planned Parenthood employee discussing fetal tissues with an employee of the CMP, who was posing as an undercover research representative for a biotechnical company (3). This video had shocking consequences throughout the United States, because politicians and citizens disregarded its legitimacy. People began to assume that Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting off of the sale of tissues from aborted fetuses, and politicians began urging the House Energy and Commerce Committee to open an investigation on Planned Parenthood (3).
The story headlined all major news networks. For example, the Washington Post released a story that stated “Republicans quickly leaped on the video, denouncing the doctor's callousness and Planned Parenthood's alleged profiteering in one fell swoop. Presidential candidate Jeb Bush called it "a shocking and horrific reminder that we must do so much more to foster a culture of life in America” (4).This media coverage had a dominating effect in states around the US. Bills began to arise aimed at making abortions illegal and inaccessible to citizens, and Republican politicians began aggressively verbally attacking women’s health care providers. Since then, Planned Parenthood has been cleared of the accusations of CMP, and the anti-abortion company has been indicted for tampering with government records (Reuters, 2016)
This brings us to the Supreme Court’s most recent ruling. The ruling concerned a law that was implemented by then governor of Texas Rick Perry. Rick Perry previously stated that his goal was to stop abortions at every stage (6). The law required that clinics that offered abortion services had to meet the standards for “ambulatory surgical centers, including regulations concerning buildings, equipment and staffing” (5). It also stated that doctors need to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of their facility. Additionally, the law banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, which is based on a medically disputed belief that a fetus begins to feel pain at that time.
This law would have resulted in around 42 abortion clinics being forcibly shutdown around the state. As Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote, “neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes. Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a pre-viability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the federal Constitution” (5).
The political moves that aim to violate a woman’s control over her body can be seen time and again throughout history. Legislation that closes down facilities that offer healthcare have devastating effects on citizens, specifically in rural areas, who do not have more accessible options, and unfortunately, most of the time these politicians do not have suggestions for alternative healthcare providers to fill the spot of Planned Parenthood. The attack on women’s healthcare providers is going to continue to effect citizens throughout the United States. The Supreme Court ruling was a monumental moment in history, but the continuing attacks on women’s healthcare providers is going to have harmful effects on all citizens and further create a divide in our nation.
McBride, Alex. "Roe V. Wade (1973)." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
Pearson Education. "Roe v. Wade, 1973." Prentice Hall. Pearson Education, n.d. Web. 01 May 2016.
Calmes, Jackie. "Planned Parenthood Videos Were Altered, Analysis Finds."The New York Times. The New Yor3k Times, 27 Aug. 2015. Web. 14 Mar. 2016.
Cillizza, Chris. "Planned Parenthood, for an unplanned video." The Washington Post. (July 19, 2015 Sunday ): 314 words. LexisNexis Academic. Web. Date Accessed: 2016/05/01.
Liptak, Adam. "Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Abortion Restrictions." The New York Times. The New York Times, 27 June 2016. Web. 02 July 2016.
Fernandez, Manny. "Abortion Restrictions Become Law in Texas, but Opponents Will Press Fight." The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 July 2013. Web. 30 June 2016.