Abortion: When Will Enough Be Enough?

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BREAKING NEWS UPDATE: The North Dakota State Senate passed two anti-abortion bills Friday, one surpassing Arkansas by banning abortions as early as six weeks into the pregnancy. Read more here.

Since I like to keep my columns as low-key and uncontroversial as possible, I thought that this week, we could talk about abortion.

Specifically, let’s talk about Arkansas' new law, which will ban abortions after 12 weeks into the pregnancy. Yes, just in time to commemorate International Women’s Day, the Arkansas State Legislature was able to override a gubernatorial veto and put into affect the strictest abortion ban in the country. They did this only a week after passing legislation that banned abortions after 20 weeks.  Frankly, at this point I’m amazed that politicians anywhere are getting anything done.

Now, I don’t care whether you’re pro-life or pro-choice. Regardless, I think we should be able to see a law for what it is. Here are just a couple of problems I want to point out with this new ban.

First, this ban is going to face some fun legal challenges—as well it should. The Supreme Court legalized abortion in the landmark case Roe v. Wade, and firmed up that legalization with Casey v. Planned Parenthood. While the Supremes have never agreed on a demarcation point for when the procedure becomes illegal, the general rule has been that, except in cases of incest, rape or danger to the mother, abortion is legal up to the point of viability (where the fetus could survive outside the womb). There isn’t a bright-line as to when this happens, but I can tell you this: it’s not at twelve weeks. In fact, the youngest child to survive premature birth in America was a bit past the 21-week mark. The 12-week line is nothing but arbitrary.

More importantly, you know who this law is really hurting? The young and the poor. Wealthier women can and will simply drive to the next state over if they’ve missed the deadline. But teenagers and woman who actually have to go to their jobs if they want to be able to buy groceries don’t have that luxury. The Arkansas General Assembly being overwhelming male, I somehow doubt that concerns about the well-being of these groups were, necessarily, at the forefront of their deliberations.

These are the two big arguments being bandied about the internet, but I think they miss a larger issue. At what point are we going to just call a spade a spade and acknowledge what this really is? This is nothing but a naked attempt to pander to a conservative base and (because who cares what the Supreme Court says?) institute a de facto ban that masquerades as mere regulation.

Plenty of women I know miss a period and think nothing of it (stress, for example, can cause that). Some women skip cycles pretty regularly. So, already, you’re looking at what could be eight weeks into this generous time allotment before a woman even has a reason to suspect something is wrong. If you take into account the difficulty some women will have arranging the procedure, the picture becomes clearer. For many women, like the groups discussed above, this will effectively make access to safe abortions impossible. So let’s at least be honest about it.

But hey. If old men shouldn’t be deciding what women can do with their bodies, then I just don’t know who should!

Photos from usatoday.com and tumblr.com

Senior > J.D. Candidate > Harvard Law

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