June 4, 2017


The Abortion Battlefield (Marcia Angell JUNE 22, 2017, NY Review of Books)

When it became more difficult to confront doctors at their clinics because of better protection, antiabortion extremists found them at their homes and churches. After Shannon's attempt on his life, George Tiller was later murdered in his church by a friend of Shannon's. Another doctor, Barnett Slepian, wrote about the intimidation he experienced:

The members of the local non-violent pro-life community may continue to picket my home wearing large "Slepian Kills Children" buttons, which they did on July 25. They may also display the six-foot banner.... They may continue to scream that I am a murderer and a killer when I enter the clinics at which they "peacefully" exercise their First Amendment Right of freedom of speech.... But please don't feign surprise, dismay and certainly not innocence when a more volatile and less restrained member of the group decides to react to their inflammatory rhetoric by shooting an abortion provider. They all share the blame.

Four years later, Slepian was murdered at his home. The total count between 1978 and 2015, writes Haugeberg, was eleven murders (nine of them physicians), twenty-six attempted murders, 185 arsons, forty-two bombings, and 1,534 vandalizations of clinics.

The attention of antiabortion advocates also turned to legislative efforts to restrict the right to abortion, with the hope of regulating it out of existence. Many states, particularly Republican strongholds, began to pass legislation that put onerous and often humiliating conditions on women seeking abortions and on the doctors providing them. In the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court considered a challenge to the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act, which set a twenty-four-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions, and required doctors to provide them with information designed to dissuade them from their decision. Although the Court affirmed a constitutional right to abortion, which could not face an "undue burden," it eroded that right substantially. As Sanger writes:

The Court announced that Roe had undervalued the state's interest in potential unborn life, an interest which Casey now fixed at the moment of conception. States were now within their rights to persuade pregnant women against abortion from the start.

The trimester system of Roe v. Wade, in which fetal interests came into play only in the third trimester, was gone.

Since then, and particularly since Republicans have gained control of most state governments, states have rushed to pass new laws that treat pregnant women like errant children. According to Haugeberg, "Between the 2010 midterm elections and 2015, states adopted 231 new restrictions on abortion."

Consider Alabama's Women's Right to Know Act. It requires a twenty-four-hour waiting period prior to an abortion. Before the procedure, the physician must first perform an ultrasound examination of the fetus, and must ask the woman if she would like to see the image. After the procedure, she must complete a form acknowledging either that she looked at the image of her fetus or that she was "offered the opportunity and rejected it." Ten states have enacted similar legislation. Some include a requirement that the physician describe the fetus in detail to the woman.

Texas went even further. It added two more requirements to its already daunting restrictions. The first required all abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, and the second required all abortion clinics to be licensed as "ambulatory surgical centers," essentially mini-hospitals. These requirements would put many abortion clinics out of business, as the legislators well knew--and intended. The case eventually reached the Supreme Court, which held in Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt (2016) that these additional requirements put an "undue burden" on the exercise of a constitutional right--one of the few pieces of good news in recent years for defenders of abortion rights.

Still, about half the abortion clinics in Texas have had to close, as have many in other states. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 95 percent of abortions are performed in freestanding clinics, not in hospitals or doctors' offices, so widespread closures have an enormous impact. [...]

The latest figures from the Guttmacher Institute are for 2014. They show a rapid drop in abortions to the lowest level since Roe v. Wade, about half the frequency from the peak in 1980. The decline probably reflects better methods of contraception, but it is likely that it also reflects the growing difficulties in obtaining abortions.

Posted by at June 4, 2017 12:12 PM