Sugar, Spice, and Reproductive Rights
Updated: Dec 16, 2020
The recent vacancy in the Supreme Court after the death of liberal-leaning Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg coupled with the reopening of Supreme court case Roe v. Wade, which protects a pregnant person's ability to get an abortion without excessive government restriction, leaves a lot of uncertainty to the future of abortions and funding of sexual health centers like Planned Parenthood. While the discussion around the morality and ethics of abortion has gained more attention, the argument around the legalization of abortions and Planned Parenthood has been a longstanding debate not only in the United States but worldwide, such as in Poland, where thousands of people took to the streets of Warsaw demanding a lift on the new ban on abortions. As women worldwide face restrictions on their bodies due to religious values, government policies, and cultural beliefs, women of all demographics and backgrounds deserve absolute freedom over their bodies and uninhibited access to sexual health care facilities.
As the United States prides itself on being known as a democracy and not a religious theocracy, people in positions of political power should not use their religious beliefs to exert control over women's bodily rights. Many who are pro-choice or advocate for defunding Planned Parenthood argue that abortions are a sin from God. After signing an abortion ban into law on Wednesday in Alabama, Governor Kay Ivey stated, "every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God" (Chandler). Although all religions and beliefs are equally valid and valuable, this does not constitute the right to dictate laws and government policies. The United States' founding fathers deemed it critical in the Constitution that differences in religion would not affect its citizens' rights (Lankford and Moore). However, when looking at the modern-day case of Roe v. Wade, it is evident that the separation of church and state is absent. With the new appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett solidifying a 6-3 Christian majority and conservative-ruling Supreme Court, it is clear that women's bodily autonomy and sexual health care facilities are in jeopardy (Bui). In countries such as the Philippines, where abortions are legally banned on the basis of Catholicism, roughly 1,000 women die annually from not having the option of abortions, while many others go to jail in attempts to perform illegal abortions (Aspinwall). If America prohibits access to abortions, our consequences will mirror the Philippines' on a national scale. Because not all Americans share the same religious beliefs, it is unfair to make national policies and jurisdiction favoring one way of thinking over others. The ability to make choices over bodily autonomy should not be considered a privilege but an inalienable freedom that cannot be taken away. While you do not have to support abortion, it is unjust to eliminate the choice from other women simply because you do not like it or because it does not align with your religious beliefs. When the U.S. government and politicians attempt to justify stripping women from control over their bodies, it makes people question whether it is genuinely about faith at all.
Although the global rate of unplanned pregnancies has gradually declined over the years, the United States continues to have one of the highest unplanned pregnancy rates in the world with over three million unplanned pregnancies a year (Stanger-Hall). As high unplanned pregnancy rates often lead to higher rates of abortions, instead of focusing on banning abortions, data indicates that it is more effective to focus on the root of the issue through providing access to birth control and implementing proper sex education (Almendrala). Thousands of high schools across the country either advocate for abstinence-only practices or do not require sex education, creating a direct correlation between adequate sex education and unplanned pregnancies (Willingham). Historically, California's past high schools' sexual education classes were mostly abstinence-based, yielding the nation's highest teen pregnancy rate, with 157 per 1,000 teens pregnant. In 1992, California's government officials realized they needed a policy change and switched to a more proper sex education curriculum consisting of lessons on birth control, contraceptives, and STDs. The shift in curriculum led to a nearly 50 percent decline in teen pregnancies (Wurth). By advocating for uniform and proper sexual education in high schools throughout the country, the United States has the opportunity to mirror the results of California nationwide as the knowledge gained will guide students for the rest of their lives.
According to Washington University in "Access to Free Birth Control Reduces Abortion Rates," investigators also found that providing free and accessible birth control to women substantially decreases the rate of unplanned pregnancies, which in turn reduces the national abortion rate by 62-78% (Almendrala). Currently, more than 19 million American women of reproductive age rely on publicly funded contraception and lack reasonable access to a health center. By providing more accessible birth control to millions of women, the rate of unplanned pregnancies will drastically decrease, reducing the need for abortions (Power to Decide). While many will argue that the United States already provides affordable and accessible access to birth control to women and men, the current Trump administration is moving away from this goal through implementing regulations that allow employers to stop covering birth control. With this regulation, women who currently receive no-cost contraception will have to pay out of pocket for their resources, allowing any employer to exempt the birth control coverage mandate by overhauling the Obama administration's birth control mandate (North). If the nation and states invest in comprehensive and standard sex education and advocate for better access and affordable contraceptives and birth control, there will be a decrease in abortions.
The debates and policies regarding abortions have changed and adapted over the years. As seen through history, banning or having high restrictions on abortion has not stopped women from performing them in illegal and unsafe manners. In countries where abortion is prohibited or heavily restricted, every 8 minutes, a woman dies from complications from an illegal and unsafe abortion accounting for 8 to 11 percent globally of all maternal deaths (Wurth). Where safe abortions are not accessible, women will often risk their health and lives with an illegal abortion because the prospect of continuing the pregnancy is insufferable. These unsafe abortions can range from using coat hangers to overdosing on pills, which can result in life-threatening conditions such as severe hemorrhages, uterine perforation, sepsis, or damage to other internal organs (Pollitt). Unsafe abortions continue to be one of the five leading causes of maternal mortality, even though it could be easily preventable by allowing them to be regulated like any other medical procedure. As unplanned pregnancies will continue to happen, restricting access to safe abortions means that abortions will be performed behind closed doors, and more young girls and and women will die or be severely injured.
A multitude of Americans who want to defund Planned Parenthood often do not understand that these health care service clinics provide many more resources separate from performing abortions, such as STD testing and treatment, infertility services, hormone therapy, cancer screening and prevention, and general health care (Willingham). Eliminating Planned Parenthood would create a national health care disaster. Planned Parenthood has an irreplaceable role in receiving 2.4 million patients in the past year, providing nearly 300,000 breast exams, more than 4.7 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, birth control to 2 million people annually, and over 270,000 Pap tests. As in previous years, clinics provided the overwhelming 95% of U.S. abortions, while private physicians' offices and hospitals accounted for only 5% (North). Those against Planned Parenthood may argue that other providers can support Planned Parenthood's patients. However, there is no other sexual health care organization as expansive as Planned Parenthood, meaning that there simply are not enough reproductive health care providers out there that provide the level of care as Planned Parenthood. If Planned Parenthood gets defunded or taken away, there will be an immense inequality of health resources in America, placing thousands of Americans in a health deficit. In the process of defunding abortion and sexual health sites, thousands of people who utilize public health care programs such as Title X and Medicaid are being blocked from accessing preventive care. This specifically would affect people of color, those living in rural areas, people with low incomes, and others with disproportionately limited options for care (North). For many people throughout the United States, Planned Parenthood is the only place to get needed quality care. Denying public health care to the millions of adults and teens who rely on their services will only risk people's lives and well-being by limiting their choices.
The most common reason that pro-life supporters share is the rationale that every life has a place in this world in which many government officials today would agree. However, many pro-life officials often fail to recognize that abortion is far more faceted than that. The question of whether a fetus would even be considered a "life" is left for debate scientifically. However, the debate of whether a woman is a person is not in question— and it is woman personhood, not fetal personhood, that should have control and choices basic bodily autonomy. Many Americans are under the assumption that the only reasons women want an abortion are because the baby was conceived from incest, rape, or simply not wanting a child at all. However, many other factors get overlooked, such as mental health difficulties, preexisting health conditions, and financial instability. While many may agree that every life is precious, if the baby is born into an unwanted, unsafe, or unstable environment, it will not be given the quality upbringing that it deserves to succeed. The banning of abortions will cause a drastic increase of children in adoption centers, an already severely broken system with children in the adoptive system over-represented by rates of substance abuse, incarceration, and suicide (Boonstra).
The U.S. government's need to make women justify why they need or deserve an abortion or sexual health care resources like Planned Parenthood is simply another way that the government has tried to control women's bodies. One's religion, morals, or feelings are not another's responsibility or should be deemed more important than anyone else's rights to their bodies. As there are zero laws on men's bodies but countless policies on women's, it is misogynistic for those in Congress to strip women of their bodily freedoms and rights. Every person deserves the right to make decisions about their sexual and reproductive health without asking permission from the government and ability to execute this right free from stigma or discrimination.