Reproductive rights in the United States are constantly under threat. Anti-choice advocates are particularly emboldened now with the election of a Republican president and the effect it will have on the Supreme Court, along with gaining a Republican majority in both chambers of Congress. Many politicians who share anti-choice views utilize their platforms to impose their religious beliefs on women. In the past week alone, several states introduced and passed legislation that challenges the reproductive rights women gained with Roe v. Wade.
In 2003 Texas passed a law restricting abortion access by requiring women to make multiple in-person visits to clinics, forcing them to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion, and requiring that health centers provide women considering abortions with an “informational” booklet titled, “A Woman’s Right to Know.” Under Texas law, doctors are required to distribute the booklet and enforce a twenty-four-hour waiting period to allow women time to read it before having an abortion. Recently, a Texas state agency released a new edition of the booklet, but the false information in it remain unchanged.
“If you give birth to your baby, you are less likely to develop breast cancer in the future. Research indicates that having an abortion will not provide you this increased protection against breast cancer,” the booklet reads, even though the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Gynecology Practice and other organizations have directly refuted these claims. The booklet also uses language like “your baby” and states that abortion increases a woman’s chance of infertility, depression, and thoughts of suicide, disregarding the research of the American Psychological Association that found no such links.
Required Burial of Abortions
Next week, health centers in Texas will be required to bury or cremate embryonic and fetal tissue resulting from abortions. Greg Abbott, the state’s Republican governor, approved the legislation. His spokeswoman told reporters that he “believes human and fetal remains should not be treated like medical waste, and the proposed rule changes affirms the value and dignity of all life.” However, this regulation disregards the personal wishes and religious beliefs of women while unnecessarily increasing the cost of reproductive health care services. This is nothing more than a way to restrict medical care to women by financially burdening them and again, shaming their decisions.
Heartbeat Bill and the Twenty Week Bill
Just last week the Ohio Senate and House passed a bill that would ban doctors from preforming abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. The bill was added at the last minute to a child abuse prevention bill and made no exceptions for victims of rape. A heartbeat can generally be detected six weeks into the pregnancy, a time when most women still don’t even know that they are pregnant. Although Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) vetoed the bill on Tuesday, he instead signed a bill that will ban abortion at twenty weeks, on the conjecture that fetuses might feel pain, despite experts insisting otherwise. We cannot let the conjunction of these two bills distract us from the gains the twenty-week bill made for anti-choice activists.
Ohio’s Senate President Keith Faber (R) told reporters that in regards to the so-called “heartbeat bill, “[A] new president, new Supreme Court justice appointees change the dynamic…there was a consensus in our caucus to move forward.” Even though the “heartbeat bill” was vetoed, anti-choice legislators still moved their agenda forward.
In more encouraging news, a rigorous study conducted over the course of five years by the University of California San Francisco, and published yesterday in JAMA Psychiatry, finds that abortion does not lead to emotional and psychological trauma for women. That claim is often used to deter women from choosing to end a pregnancy, and some states require that women seeking abortions are counseled to consider the supposed negative psychological effects of the procedure.
Called the “Turnaway Study,” the research looked at the psychological effects on women who obtained abortions and the effect on those who sought abortion but were turned away from clinics because their pregnancies were too far to allow it.
The psychological well-being of the approximately 1,000 women in the study was assessed by researchers one week after their clinic visit and then once ever six months for five years. What they found was that women who got abortions didn’t report increased depression or anxiety. Those who were denied abortions experienced depression, anxiety, and less life satisfaction. By six months to a year later, however, those women had regained the same level of well-being as those who’d terminated their pregnancies.
The New York Times article on the Turnaway Study quoted Dr. Roger Rochat, former director of reproductive health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying that the research “‘provides the best scientific evidence’ on the subject and was likely to be influential in court challenges to state laws.”
The Turnaway Study offers abortion rights activists rebuttals to erroneous anti-abortion claims, and we must use these facts, along with others, to continue to push for advances in women’s reproductive rights and strike down restrictions to these rights. Operating under the guise of caring for women’s best interests, the anti-abortion measures brought to the forefront this past week shame women for taking control of their bodies, their finances, and their lives while assuming that women don’t know what’s best for them. As humanists, we strive for a progressive society where women actually have a “right to know”—but a right to know scientific fact. Women deserve to not be forcefully presented false statements by authority figures in order to shame them into giving up their bodily autonomy. Women have value and dignity, and humanists must not allow politicians to forget that in favor of tissue.