It wasn’t a regular day for Juliane Scowcroft five years ago as she was walking from the drug store to her friend’s apartment in Lyon, France. She had just bought a home pregnancy test and was sitting with her friend staring at that stick, holding her heart in her hand. She was hoping the result would be negative, as she knew she wasn’t ready to be a mom yet. She was 20 years old and had just started college and had her whole life ahead of her. She knew that having a baby would turn her whole world upside down and put all her dreams and ambitions on hold; indefinitely.
“Oh crap!” That was the first thing she said when she saw those three stripes appear on the test. Scowcroft knew she didn’t have the money or the resources nor was she mature enough to handle the responsibility of a child with a boyfriend whom she had just started seeing three months earlier. “I knew I had to get an abortion,” Scowcroft told me as she took a long drag from her Marlboro reds cigarette.
Had she been in Texas instead of Lyon, she probably wouldn’t have been able to get that procedure because of Texas’ new abortion law which put a lot restrictions on abortion clinics making it much more harder for women to get that procedure done.
According to a report conducted by the Guttmacher Institute titled Abortion In The United States, half of pregnancies among American women are unintended and four out of 10 of these are terminated; meaning twenty one percent of pregnancies, excluding miscarriages, end in abortion. In 2011, 1.06 million abortions were performed in the United States, down thirteen percent from 1.21 million in 2008.
Since Roe v. Wade was passed in 1973 through 2011, 53 million legal abortions occurred. NARAL Pro-Choice America reports that 12 states ban abortion after 20 weeks without an adequate health exception, 15 other states have near-total criminal bans on abortion.
On October 2, 2014, U.S 5th Circuit Court of Appeals gave Texas permission to enforce their House Bill 2 (HB2) signed by Republican Gov. Rick Perry last year, which will close all but seven abortion facilities in Texas unless those facilities would upgrade to comply with the regulations under HB2. Two years ago, Texas had more than 40 abortion clinics, many of which closed under part of the law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their abortion clinic; the law also entails that abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization are prohibited, except in cases of a severe fatal abnormality. The law also entails that abortion-inducing drugs must be used according to FDA regulations and that the women should visit the doctor in person for each of the two does and must have a follow-up appointment within 14 days; if we add those three visits to the already existing 24-hour waiting period –between the mandatory ultrasound and the actual abortion– law that Texas has that makes the total of doctor visits to four.
“The affect of these laws is to shut down abortion clinics, most everyone would agree that most opposition to abortion and most laws either prohibiting abortion, when that was allowed, or even now restricting abortion are motivated by religious beliefs.” says Greg Lipper, a lawyer at Americans United For Separation of Church And State. In the United States, a secular country, legislators can’t defend those laws using religious reasons because that will result in courts striking those laws down immediately.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday, October 14, 2014, blocked parts of the Texas law; in an unsigned order, it sided with abortion rights advocates and health care providers in suspending the October 2 ruling that Texas could immediately apply a rule forcing abortion clinics to spend millions of dollars on hospital-level upgrades. It also blocked another part of the law that only applies to clinics in McAllen and El Paso that requires doctors to have admitting privileges at close by hospitals. The debate over abortion has been going on for decades and it is still a heated argument in most political debates. Pro-Life advocates argue that human life begins at conception therefore, abortion is the murder of a person; the answer to this argument is a complicated one, scientists agree that an embryo or a fetus are live entities but that the question is when does “personhood” begins.
“Most people who oppose abortion, oppose abortion because they believe that life begins at conception, that a fetus or an embryo or whatnot has a soul,” says Lipper. There are many different moral and religious views on whether abortion is murder, but it is important not to adopt one religious view over another and not letting them affect laws in a secular country like the United States.
“Look at me! Can you imagine me now walking around with a five year-old child? I probably wouldn’t have been here. I can’t understand why they are prohibiting women from getting abortions here,” exclaimed Scowcroft. Most people would agree with her, even Catholics whom the politicians in the United States are claiming to issue those laws as an answer to their requests.
“The problem is one faith tradition seeks to impose its view points upon all people,” says Smith, “In the case of the bishops who have failed to convince the majority of the Catholics to go along with their view points they’re now seeking to impose that doctrine upon all people whether Catholics or not in a secular society and that’s a problem.” says Meghan Smith, domestic program associate at Catholics for Choice. The polling data have shown that the majority of Catholics support and use reproductive health care services. Ninety nine percent of sexually experienced Catholic women have used birth control, and about 27 percent of Catholic women will have an abortion at some point in their lifetime.
“The United States guarantees freedom of religion and freedom from religion in our constitution according to the first amendment and that’s our vision of true religious liberty,” says Smith.
Roe v. Wade reached the Supreme Court on appeal in 1970 and was passed in 1973; the court ruled that a right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion until viability. Abortion is still being debated to this day and it may return to the Supreme Court especially in the light of the HB2, the most controversial law regulating abortion. Other laws from Mississippi, Arizona and Wisconsin are also making their way back to the Supreme Court. According to Lipper it is clear that the justifications the legislators use to advocate for those laws are “dubious.”
“The justifications that are offered are unrelated to religion or even unrelated to opposition to abortion that doesn’t mean those are the real justifications,” says Lipper.
He believes that the underlying justification for anti-abortion laws is religious beliefs citing that abortion is statistically far safer than many other procedures that don’t require doctors to have admitting privileges to perform them. According to Smith, the Pope and the bishops in the United States do not listen to and do not represent the majority of Catholics. “63 percent of Catholics believe that contraception needs to be included in all health insurance plans,” says Smith.
“I’m very happy that I had an abortion. I have no remorse whatsoever. I did what was best for me at the time, I wasn’t ready then but now I am ready to be a mother,“ said Scrowcroft.