The abortion wars
30 years after Roe v. Wade
(Page 3 of 4)
"As a woman, my concern with 30 years of Roe is that it has created an abortion mentality," says Carrie Gordon Earll, a bioethics analyst at Focus on the Family, a conservative organization based in Colorado Springs.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"Even though most Americans don't like abortion," she says, "it has become the cultural default - almost an automatic assumption that a woman in a less-than-ideal pregnancy will at least consider it."
Since Roe, support systems that existed to help women with unwanted pregnancies - such as homes for unwed mothers - have shrunk. A classic cry among abortion-rights forces has been that abortion critics care more about the unborn than the born.
But in recent years, the antiabortion movement has built up a network of crisis-pregnancy centers - clinics where pregnant women can go for help with prenatal and postnatal care. Care Net, an umbrella organization for these centers in Sterling, Va., estimates that there are now about 2,500 in the US; in 1980, there were less than 500.
Amid all the fierce debate and violence surrounding abortion clinics and doctors, the number and rate of abortions in America has steadily declined. The reasons are hotly debated. Prochoice advocates credit the growth of emergency contraception, a high-dose birth-control pill a woman can take after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. In general, a wider range of contraceptive choices means women are doing a better job of using contraception, they say.
Both abstinence and the use of contraceptives are on the rise among teenagers, in particular, so fewer are getting pregnant to begin with. Among girls aged 15 to 19, the abortion rate has been dropping since the late 1980s - and fell another 27 percent between 1994 and 2000.
Another factor that may be contributing to the overall decline in abortions is the availability of ultrasound technology, showing the earliest fetal development - which, some observers suggest, leads some women to think twice about ending pregnancies.
But the bottom line is that the US still has one of the highest abortion rates in the industrialized West. And the abortion war is only intensifying.
Now that Republicans control both the White House and Congress, abortion opponents are readying a major push for new restrictions, starting with a ban on so-called "partial birth abortions." Another bill would ban transporting a minor across state lines for an abortion so that she can avoid parental-notification laws; a third would criminalize harming a fetus during an attack on a pregnant woman.
Laws protecting clinic entrances have helped reduce clinic violence, and litigants have successfully used racketeering laws to thwart some of the most extreme antiabortion activists. Since 2000, US government approval of medical abortion through the use of mifepristone (RU486) has given women an alternative to surgical abortion.
Yet abortion-rights leaders still feel they are losing ground, and acknowledge that their opponents have gotten savvier about shaping public opinion and "chipping away" at abortion rights. Since 1982, the number of abortion providers has been declining.
But there are still young people eager to join the shrinking ranks, inspired by stories of risky, sometimes deadly, abortions before legalization.
Angel Foster, a medical student at Harvard University, is training for a career in women's reproductive health - including providing abortions. As a young adolescent, she learned of her mother's illegal, pre-Roe abortion.
"That experience was extremely traumatic for her - not the abortion itself, but what she had to do to get it," says Ms. Foster, who, as president-elect of Medical Students for Choice, is working to beef up medical-school curricula on abortion and other issues of women's reproductive health.