The Changing State of Abortion Access in the US
Ever since the decision handed down in Roe v. Wade there’s been a continual back and forth between those on both sides on the issue of abortion. While the Supreme Court’s ruling set the legal standard for access, it did not prevent states from creating laws meant to regulate or limit access. In some instances this would be used as a mechanism to protect safe access to what amounts to a medical procedure, but in others it would be used as a tool to restrict access the procedure as much as possible in the hopes of minimizing access altogether. Access could not be bluntly denied, but it could be subject to many limitations and restrictions.
In the wake of President-elect Trump’s victory, many Pro-Life politicians are hopeful that the tides are turning in the debates about abortion. Why? Well – Trump articulated positions during the nomination process and during the campaign proper that reflected very Pro-Life views. This, in and of itself, isn’t terribly surprising – any candidate looking to secure the Republican nomination and invigorate a conservative base would espouse such rhetoric. What may be considered more surprising is that unlike many of the positions Trump claimed during the election (building the wall, assigning a special prosecutor for Hillary, draining the swamp, dismantling Obamacare, etc.) – his Pro-Life positions haven’t seen backtracking or downplaying as of yet.
The main promises Trump made, which appear still on the table and in play, centered first on his intentions for the Supreme Court. As President, Trump would nominate replacements to Supreme Court Justices should they pass away or step down. Presently, one opening exists following the passing of Antonin Scalia – but it’s certainly possible (perhaps even likely) that more openings will appear during Trump’s presidency. Trump has, in turn, promised to fill such seats with those that match his ideological standards. What this means for Trump’s Pro-Life views is that he has vowed to focus his nominations on socially conservative picks that will champion a similar mindset in their service on the Supreme Court.1
It doesn’t quite stop there, though – Trump has also confirmed a desire to “withhold federal funding from Planned Parenthood, and sign legislation banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.”1 Given Trump’s Pro-Life stance, his desire to withhold funding from Planned Parenthood may appear an obvious one. The clear counter to that view, though, is that Planned Parenthood offers a multitude of services completely disconnected from abortion. Thus, defunding them restricts and limits services that are entirely separate from abortion itself. Then add to the equation that Trump has picked Senator Jeff Sessions for the post of Attorney General (and the fact that Sessions is a staunchly opposed to abortion), and a clear pattern emerges.1
But what are we seeing at the state level? Well - one very specific example headlining in the news lately would be based out of Ohio. Ohio has had two bills pass through their legislature that target abortion access.2 The first focuses on banning abortions from the point that a fetal heartbeat can be detected (a measure which could prevent access as early as six weeks into a pregnancy).2 The second favors banning access from a more defined point of twenty weeks.2 While the first measure carried a low probability for being approved, the second measure follows the same twenty week standard Trump himself has supported previously.
Governor Kasich of Ohio, in considering both measures, opted to sign the twenty-week limit for abortions into law while vetoing the bill that would prevent abortion from the point of a heartbeat being detected.3 Governor Kasich is known to hold a Pro-Life stance, so his willingness to sign the twenty-week limit was somewhat expected. However – his rejection of the more stringent measures proposed by the heartbeat standard seems noteworthy. The heartbeat bill would have been a harder measure to defend in the face of legal challenges given the very limited window of time it would allow an expectant mother to decide if she may want to have an abortion. Indeed, a ban as early as six weeks into a pregnancy might prevent many women from making the decision at all if they aren’t aware of the pregnancy from the earliest possible stages.
Ohio, though, is just one state of many that are seeing renewed and revitalized efforts to restrict abortion access. The apparent implication here is that Trump’s win combined with his Pro-Life rhetoric is signaling a groundswell of support for those wanting to advocate for restricting abortion access as much as possible. Governor Kasich’s unwillingness to sign the heartbeat bill shows a pushback against this even from some within the Pro-Life movement, but the fact that the Ohio legislature passed such a measure to begin with seems to verify the mindset that bills targeting abortion access are now on the rise. The question of the moment, then, seems to be if moderation and dissent will counterbalance this movement or if we’re seeing the first steps towards a true challenge of Roe v. Wade.
1 - http://www.wsj.com/articles/donald-trumps-victory-looks-set-to-renew-battle-over-abortion-rights-1479671454
2 - http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/11/us/abortion-foes-donald-trump-restrictions-politics.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FAbortion&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=6&pgtype=collection
3 - http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/12/13/505457437/ohio-gov-kasich-signs-20-week-abortion-limit-rejects-heartbeat-bill