A woman’s right to choose whether or not she has an abortion is protected by Roe v. Wade. Safe and legal abortion is a constitutional right, however many legislators have been working tirelessly to restrict women’s rights to choose what happens to their own bodies. Bills that ban abortion at any point in a pregnancy are a gateway to banning abortion altogether. As of now, 43 states have laws banning abortion at some point during pregnancy. A common state sponsored anti-abortion law is the 20-week ban which, simply put, bans abortions for women who are more than 20 weeks pregnant. These bans are unconstitutional and must be repealed.
The following 19 states ban abortion after 20 weeks: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin. However, nearly 99% of abortions occur before 20 weeks. Many women who have abortions after the 20 week mark don’t want to terminate the pregnancy, however, there may be extenuating circumstances that force them to go through with the procedure. Certain severe medical abnormalities and genetic defects can only be detected after 20 weeks, leaving women with a short time frame to access abortion healthcare. Some women have no choice but to have an abortion because the baby’s life will be at risk, or they would carry the baby to term just for the child to suffer medically or become stillborn. Furthermore, women who may not know how the pregnancy will affect their health until 20 weeks do not have the protection they deserve. These 20-week bans prevent women from having the liberty to choose what they want to do with their bodies.
Representatives introduce bills under the guise of names such as “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act” or the “Women’s Health Defense Act.” Legislators use coded language to trick constituents into believing the bills are for the greater good, but in actuality, restrict women’s rights. The bills do not take into consideration the health of pregnant women who may face serious medical trouble at 20 weeks. The “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act” is a 20-week ban that passed in the House of Representatives in 2017. The bill makes it “a crime for any person to perform or attempt to perform an abortion if the probable post-fertilization age of the fetus is 20 weeks or more.” Legislators use 20-weeks as a groundless number to control women’s bodies. Jennifer Conti, a clinical assistant professor and OB-GYN at Stanford University and a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health said that twenty weeks “is just an arbitrary limit set in place by politicians that has no medical or scientific backing.”
Banning abortions at any point in a woman’s pregnancy not only endangers the life of the individual woman, but also furthers the narrative that women do not have control over their own bodies. These bans also criminalize doctors. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act can lead to up to five years in prison for doctors. Criminalizing doctors will not prevent abortions, rather will lead to more unsafe abortions. To avoid this, abortions should be kept private and handled between the woman and her healthcare provider.
So, what can be done to ensure that these 20-week bans are repealed? To begin, it is important to educate ourselves about abortions. It is vitally important to recognize coded language such as the language used in the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act.” Proper sex education and less restrictive laws, fewer political and religious obstacles, and lowering the social stigma around abortions are important factors as well.
The circumstances surrounding abortions after 20 weeks are already traumatizing experiences for women. They should not also have to endure the trauma of having a stillbirth or watching their child suffer from health conditions because some government official made up an arbitrary number. Women should not have to risk their own health or lives due to government restrictions on abortion. Abortions after 20 weeks are probably not what most mothers want to experience, but are a last resort due to severe medical problems. Women whose health and lives are at risk due to pregnancy deserve the choice to terminate it, no matter when in the pregnancy that may be. Imposing a 20-week ban would only lead to more unsafe abortions, and is a stepping stone to banning all safe abortions.
Blog by Avni Khera, Digital Media Intern
Guttmacher Institute: https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/state-policies-later-abortions
Planned Parenthood: https://www.plannedparenthoodaction.org/issues/abortion/20-week-bans