Restrictions Cramp Womens' Health Care: Terminating Abortion Access
The debate over reproductive rights continues along party lines in state legislatures across the country. In the Virginia State Legislature, measures to restrict access to late-term abortions failed to pass, but House Republicans promise that the fight is far from over.
Dave LaRock (R-Loudoun County) is a passionate supporter of pro-life policy and believes that members of both parties can come together on the issue of abortion access. He believes that the abortion debate lacks educated discussion of abortion procedures and the humanity of fetuses.
“The biggest obstacle is that the procedure that I’m talking about, saline abortion, is not well known to the public,” says LaRock.
Saline abortions are performed at 16 weeks of gestation by injecting saline into the amniotic sac, which induces uterine contractions that expel the fetus. As of 2003, saline abortions make up less than 1 percent of all abortion procedures conducted in the United States, according to Guttmacher Institute.
“I’ve had someone comment to me, ‘If I were to describe what takes place to this baby and say would you treat a person in a prison camp, or Guantanamo Bay, would you subject them to mercy or would you stretch them apart and dismember them?’ We’d all be on the same side at that,” LaRock said.
In regard to third-trimester abortions, LaRock said that if the public was made aware of “the biological reality that we are dealing with an almost fully formed human being," more and more people would identify as pro-life.
“In practice, no federal funds can go towards abortion. In de-funding Planned Parenthood, women and men in medically underserved communities are blocked from getting basic preventative health care, STD testing and cancer screenings.”
Third-trimester abortions are relatively uncommon, with 90 percent of all abortions occuring in the first trimester of pregnancy, according to Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
But for LaRock, the issue is about the life of the fetus, not reproductive rights.
“I’m not really in a position to comment on the ideology of women’s rights versus other rights,” he said. “I think those topics have been debated extensively.”
He asserts that education will allow individuals to make more “informed” and “compassionate” judgments on the “inhuman procedure.”
Pro-choice activists similarly argue that the public is uneducated when it comes to abortion. Those in support of pro-choice policy have accused those in the pro-life community of purposefully spreading misinformation about abortion procedures, sexual and female health and pro-choice organizations.
The main target of pro-choice politicians and activists is Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of reproductive and sexual healthcare in the United States. Michelle Woods, the public and legislative manager at Planned Parenthood of Metro Washington, explains that when politicians talk about de-funding Planned Parenthood, more is at stake than the access to abortions.
According to Planned Parenthood’s 2013-2014 Annual Report, abortions account for 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services. Forty-two percent of services are focused on STD/STI testing and treatment, 34 percent go toward providing birth control, nine percent to cancer screenings, 11 percent for other women’s services and one percent are for other general services.
Though some pro-life Americans do not want any of their tax dollars to go towards providing any abortions that are not a result of incest, rape or endangerment to the life of the mother. Woods explains that these individuals don’t need to worry.
“Something that isn’t talked about is the Hyde Amendment,” Woods said. “In practice, no federal funds can go towards abortion. In de-funding Planned Parenthood, women and men in medically underserved communities are blocked from getting basic preventative health care, STD testing and cancer screenings.”
The Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976 and confirmed by the Supreme Court in 1980, is a “rider,” or legislative provision that is attached to bills when the subject matter is considered too controversial or weak to pass as its own bill.
The amendment has been attached to the congressional appropriations bill and approved by Congress every year since. This forbids federal funds from being utilized to finance abortions except in the cases of incest, rape or endangerment to the life of the mother. The decision to fund abortions is left to the states. Woods said that in Virginia, no public funding goes towards abortions.
Currently, the most successful abortion regulation occurs indirectly through TRAP laws. TRAP laws, or Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, are regulations placed on abortion-providing clinics themselves. The ultimate goal of TRAP laws is to drive clinics out of business by making abortion care too expensive to provide.
"The requirements that states are placing on medical facilities that provide abortions are just not necessary. You don't need to have your hallways be a certain width so that women can take two pills in your office."
Examples of TRAP laws include facility modifications that have no impact on the health of patients, demanding physicians to have admitting privileges at the nearest hospital or imposing staffing requirements. According to a Bloomberg analysis, since 2011, 162 abortion clinics have closed due to TRAP laws. A third of those clinics were operated by Planned Parenthood.
“[TRAP laws] treat the provision of abortions differently than other medical procedures,” said Jessica Waters, associate dean of the School of Public Affairs at American University. “Requiring only abortion clinics to meet certain building requirements. The requirements that states are placing on medical facilities that provide abortions are just not necessary. You don’t need to have your hallways be a certain width so that women can take two pills in your office.”
State policy makers resort to TRAP laws because direct regulation of abortion is more difficult.
“We’ve seen around the country that states are trying to put a cutoff on when abortion procedures can be performed,” Waters said.
The Supreme Court declared in the landamrk case Roe v. Wade that a fetus is not a person under the 14th Amendment. Therefore, abortion regulation based on the argument that life begins at conception have no legal value. But with 44 percent of people still identifying as pro-life, according to one Gallup poll, it is clear that debates over abortion regulations will have a continued presence in state legislatures across the country.
“Some are putting [abortions] at the point of fetal viability, when the fetus can live outside the women with or without medical intervention,” Waters said. “Some states are pushing it even earlier, trying to block abortions at the moment of conception. But these laws are often challenged immediately because they seem to not [keep] with what the courts said in Roe and Casey.”
Despite the TRAP laws and pro-life efforts in the legislature, Woods remains hopeful for the future of abortion providers, particularly Planned Parenthood, in the U.S.
“The overwhelming majority agree to support Planned Parenthood,” Woods said. “More than six national polls have shown that voters stand with Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood is here to stay.”