Responding to a slate of restrictive state laws that effectively ban abortion and seek to punish health care providers, Washington’s U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray joined 42 of their Democratic colleagues this week in introducing a resolution for the Senate to affirm a woman’s constitutionally protected right to safe abortion care.
“Anytime anybody is going to take on access to health care for women and erode what is a basic right in our state, and I believe a basic right protected in our Constitution, we are going to raise our voices,” Cantwell said in her Senate floor remarks Tuesday.
The senators and hundreds of thousands decrying the state laws at “Stop the Bans” rallies across the country are fighting the passage of some of the most restrictive reproductive health care laws this nation has seen since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which ruled a state law banning abortions was unconstitutional.
In Alabama, a new state law could punish health care providers who perform abortions with 10 to 99 years in prison. The 25 men behind this law, which essentially outlaws abortions entirely, also blocked a provision that would have made an exception in the case of rape or incest.
In Georgia, a new law could punish anyone — a mother suffering a miscarriage, for example — who causes the death of an embryo or fetus with a detectable heartbeat, which usually happens six weeks into a pregnancy — days after a missed period and before most women know they are actually pregnant.
Speaking at a “Stop the Bans” rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday, Murray said of the new laws: “There’s no getting around it. This is a frightening time. The abortion bans we’re seeing across the country — not just in Alabama and Missouri — but in Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, and Georgia, are not just wrong. They’re cruel. They’re extreme. They’re designed to control women’s decisions and criminalize doctors. They do the most damage to the patients who have the least resources to fight back.”
These bans are obviously alarming to pro-choice advocates, but they also should be ringing some major alarm bells for anyone who truly wants to see fewer abortions happening in this country.
That’s because studies prove strict abortion laws do not lead to fewer abortions. Countries with the most restrictions on abortion also have the highest abortion rates. Conversely, nations with liberal abortion policies — and, critically, systems with affordable health care and access to a variety of birth control options — have the world’s lowest abortion rates.
Abortion rates in the United States, for instance, have been steadily falling since the passage of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as “Obamacare” to its detractors, which increased Americans’ access to health care insurance and birth control options. A 2017 University of Michigan study found the ACA, which allowed people to stay on their parents’ health care plans until age 26, led to a 14 percent drop in abortions among women ages 20 to 24 who had access to their parents’ health care insurance. That group’s use of long-term birth control also increased by nearly 70 percent thanks to the ACA — contributing to the decrease in abortion rates.
The research proves that giving young people better, more affordable access to birth control will reduce abortion rates in this country. Studies also show that abortion bans do little to stop abortions — they only make abortions dangerous for women seeking them.
And yet the very people advocating for these harsh abortion bans are the same folks who are restricting birth control access and therefore ensuring more abortions. Anti-abortion laws passed in Alabama and West Virginia, for example, also criminalize certain types of birth control, such as the IUD — a form of birth control that is 99 percent effective at preventing unintended pregnancies.
These bans, enacted by mostly religious male legislators in Georgia and Alabama, aren’t going to stop abortions. They will, however, make life more dangerous for women already living on the edge.
Babies resulting from unwanted pregnancies in these states won’t have it much better. Georgia ranks 48th for overall health of infants in the U.S. and is the worst for mothers dying during or shortly after giving birth. Alabama families have one of the highest rates of infant mortality and food insecurity in the nation.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us,” Sen. Murray said at the Tuesday rally outside the Supreme Court. “But even though we have a tough fight ahead — I’ve never believed more in the power of women’s voices to make change than I do today. When women speak up — change happens. Progress happens.”
Let’s hope, no matter which side of the abortion issue we fall on, that she’s right.