April 3, 2019

Abortion rights in the United States are under attack. Access to the medical procedure has been declining in recent years. With the retirement of Justice Kennedy last summer, women’s health advocates worry about the possibility of a nationwide abortion ban in the coming years.

However, there was a time in the United States when abortion policy was less contentious. Deciding to have an abortion was neither controversial nor immoral. Services advertised openly. The judicial system used the “quickening doctrine,” and public policy governing abortion was apolitical. Policy centered on safety, protecting women from untrained abortionists, nothing more. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, changes began to occur.

Led by Dr. Horatio Storer, in 1856, a national campaign against abortion took root. Using his influence in the American Medical Association, Dr. Horatio Storer argued in favor of life beginning at “conception.” Within a few years’ time, the AMA had fully adopted the position, and by 1900, laws forbidding abortion and abortion literature had been adopted nationwide. Abortion, once wide-spread and legal, was now a felony.

The tightening of abortion policy did not happen overnight; policy developed incrementally. Laws grew from regulating to restricting to outlawing the procedure. Penalties evolved from “unenforced” misdemeanors to charging abortionist with felonies. The changes in policy that occurred were not random; they were a series of incremental approximations, all leading to an end.

Abortion policy in the United States remained unchecked until the early 1960’s. In 1965, theSupreme Court ruled in Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965), that birth control was a women’s “privacy.” From that point, abortion policy began to swing in the opposite direction. Hawaii decriminalized abortion, followed by New York, Washington, and other states. Then, in 1973, Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), became the law of the land.

Recently, many restrictive measures have been put in place to limit a woman’s access to abortion. Missouri, Mississippi, West Virginia, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming only have one licensed abortion clinic each. In other states, women must endure mandatory waiting periods, counseling, and ultrasounds. Additionally, “Trap Laws” are being used as a means to combat access to the procedure.

What is happening in the United States is not unique. Abortion laws in Ireland have long stigmatized and denied abortion access to women. However, on May 25, 2018, the country was able to navigate the obstacles of its past and chose to safeguard women and their choices. Voters in Ireland have shown us that a pro-choice position is not pro-abortion; it is something entirely different. A pro-choice position suggests women should have the right to make decisions about what happens to their bodies. Let’s hope the United States was paying attention.


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