Pro-abortion rights supporter Yatzel Sabat, left, and anti-abortion protestor Amanda Reed demonstrate at the state Capitol in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday July 2, 2013. Gov. Rick Perry has called lawmakers back for another special session with abortion on the top of the agenda. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Jay Janner) ORG XMIT: TXAUS105
Updated: August 6, 2013 4:52PM
Abortion opponents have crusaded against Roe vs. Wade for 40 years without much success. But in recent years, and more so in the past few months, they have scored victories that could make it harder for women to get abortions in a number of states.
It is all part of a stepped-up and wide-ranging assault on a woman’s fundamental right to have an abortion — most of the opponents would like to ban the procedure completely. And it will hurt women who don’t have the resources to overcome the new and unjustified hurdles.
Among the new edicts are rules banning abortions at an earlier point in pregnancy, excessive new regulations that will force clinics to close and the imposition of medically unnecessary procedures designed to discourage women from having an abortion.
One argument behind the new laws is an assertion that fetuses can feel pain sooner than previously thought and that abortions therefore should be banned after 20 weeks of pregnancy. That would replace the current standard of about 24 weeks, which is considered the time when a fetus becomes viable. Fetal pain was the argument behind the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” that passed the U.S. House last month and legislation that has caused a furor in Texas, where Republicans on Wednesday sent a bill to the state’s House that would ban abortions after 20 weeks. Ten other states have passed bans set at 20 weeks or sooner, although federal courts have been rejecting or delaying them.
Let’s be clear: There are honest questions about whether medical science is moving beyond the standards of Roe vs. Wade, including questions about when a fetus is “viable” and when it first feels pain. These are concerns that cannot be dismissed.
But the consensus of the medical community remains that fetuses younger than 24 weeks are not sufficiently developed to feel pain, and that the necessary nerve wiring doesn’t develop until 29 or 30 weeks. There’s no reason at this point to abandon Roe’s 24-week standard, except as a step toward prohibiting legal abortion altogether. That seems to have been the motivation in Arkansas, where lawmakers passed a ban on abortions after 12 weeks, and North Dakota, which banned most abortions after six weeks.
Banning abortions after 20 weeks can have dire consequences. Many serious fetal medical conditions can’t be detected until about 20 weeks. Even if such a diagnosis comes in just before the deadline, women will be forced to make a very difficult decision with the clock running out.
Abortion providers also are under fire. North Carolina’s legislature is considering new requirements that most of the state’s abortions providers don’t meet. The Texas legislation could close as many as 37 of the state’s 42 abortion clinics. Mississippi is down to one clinic, and that one remains open only because of a federal lawsuit over a requirement limiting which doctors can work there. A bill on the Wisconsin governor’s desk also would put new limits on providers and require an ultrasound before an abortion — something eight other states already require. Ultrasounds often are medically unnecessary and required only to make women uncomfortable about going through with an abortion.
Abortion will always be a matter of great contention, and advances in medical science will challenge us all to keep an open mind about where to draw lines. But abortion remains a woman’s right. And the debate should be centered on facts, not false claims.