A ban or severe limit on abortion–a near certainty by the Supreme Court, and already happening in red states–will create a new criminal class and fuel a revival of loathed “back-alley” abortions.
Doctors, health workers, women of all income levels and young teens are all targets of anti-abortion laws, which criminalize the procedure with stiff fines and imprisonment.
Texas took the latest step in its crusade by restricting acces to medicine that induces abortion. Violators will face steep fines and imprisonment.
The move follows enactment of one of the toughest anti-abortion laws in the country. The medical procecure is banned after 15 weeks even in the event of rape and incest.
The law also mobilizes citizen vigilantes to track down violaters–turning citizens into informants or worse against their neighbors.
The new law, effective, today, prohibits doctors from prescribing the abortion pill after seven weeks of pregnancy, three weeks less than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s limit of 10 weeks.
“Abortion pill” is a common reference to two different medicines–mifepristone and misoprostol–that can end a pregnancy by taking them orally.
Doctors could be charged with a felony if they send abortion pills to a patient through the mail or currier service like FedEx.
Physicians are also required to do an “in person” examination before providing abortion medication.
Doctors can be punished by up to two years in prison and a fine of $10,000 for violating the law.
The fallacy of new anti-abortion laws is that it will not prevent abortions. Instead, it will simply drive the practice underground, sending pregnant women and teens to so-called “back-alley” abortionists.
Illegal abortions were prevelant in the years before the Supreme Court’s 1973 decison in Roe v. Wade, a landmark ruling that brought abortions into the light.
Prior to Roe, 30 states prohibited all abortions, and 16 states banned abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or a health threat to mother.
Only three states allowed abortions but limited the procedure to state residents, while only New York state allowed abortions generally.
Thousands of women and young girls were brutalized by botched abortions or died from complications. In some cases, organized crime got involved in illegal abortion rings.
Oddly, abortion had been legal since the founding of the country. But begining in the mid-1800s, the procedure was criminalized under most circumstances in most states.
That marked the beginning of back-alley abortions, according to the Guttmacer Institute.
Almost one-in-three women who did not want children experienced an unintended pregnancy and 63 percent of women who had children also had at least one unplanned pregnancy, according to a Princeton Unversity study.
In the two decades spanning the 1950s and 1960s, an estimated 200,000 to 1.2 million illegal abortions were performed each year.
By 1965, the number of deaths due to illegal abortion had fallen to just under 200 a year, but still accounted for 17% of all deaths attributed to pregnancy and childbirth that year.
The numbers are only rough estimates because back-alley abortions were rarely officially reported or cited as the cause of death, suggesting the actual number was likely much higher, according to the Institute.
Of course, poor women are hit hardest by abortion bans.
Almost one in 10 of poor women attempted to get an illegal abortin and four in 10 said they knew a friend, relative or acquaintance who had one, according to one New York City study conducted in the 1960s,.
In 1962 alone, nearly 1,600 women were admitted to Harlem Hospital Center in New York City for incomplete abortions– one abortion-related hospital admission for every 42 deliveries that year.
In 1968, the University of Southern California Los Angeles County Medical Center admitted 701 women with complications from septic abortions, one admission for every 14 deliveries.
In 1972, a year before the historic ruling in Roe, an estimated 130,000 women obtained illegal or self-induced abortions in New York City. Some 39 women died. The mortality rate due to illegal abortion for nonwhite women was 12 times that for white women.
In the 1950s and 1960s, police raided underground abortion clinics, and usually arrested both practitioners and patients.
In Alabama, South Carolina, and Tennessee, which have strict-anti-abortion laws, nearly 900 pregnant or formerly pregnant women were arrested for terminating, attempting to terminate, or otherwise causing harm to their pregnancies between 1973 and 2016, according to Scholars Strategy Network.
In one instance in Indiana in 2013, a young woman was hiding a pregnancy from her conservative Hindu parents.
She texted a friend about procuring abortion pills online. After a miscarriage she disposed of the fetus on her own.
She eventually went to the hospital due to complications where police arrested her for causing the fetus’s death.
She was convicted and sentenced to two concurrent 20-year jail terms. An appeals court later vacated the most serious charge, feticide, and reduced her sentence to 18 months.
States like Texas say women who seek illegal abortions won’t be prosecuted, but abortion advocates dispute those claims.
“It’s a hoax that they’re claiming that a prohibition on an arrest of a woman for having an abortion or stillbirth in one criminal law protects them from prosecution under all of the possible criminal laws,” said Lynn M. Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women
“It’s a giant hoax,” she asserts.
In 2013, a study found 413 instances between 1973 and 2005 in which a person’s pregnancy led to arrest, detention or other forced intervention. In more than 80 percent of those cases another criminal statute was used.
In 2019, Alabama enacted one of the strictist anti-abortion laws in the country that punishes doctors who perform abortions with up to life in prison.
Attempting an abortion was raised to a felony crime, putting the physician at risk of a 10-year prison term.
Under most current anti-abortion laws, the women’s health is no longer a paramount concern, a cornerstone of the ruling in Roe v. Wade
Many modern state anti-abortion laws are based on the concept of “fetal protection,” in effect giving rise to the Orwellian idea of policing pregnancy.
In other words, once a woman becomes pregnant, her body falls under the juridiction of, and control by, the state.
A pregnant woman and her fetus should never be regarded as separate, independent, and even adversarial, entities, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
“We could also expect to see still more criminal prosecutions or child abuse or neglect proceedings brought against women who make childbirth choices of which doctors or judges disapprove,” according to the civil rights organization.
To reach its decision in Roe, the Supreme Court drew on decades of case law that established the government cannot interfere with certain personal decisions about procreation, marriage, and other aspects of family life, according to a history of the ruling by Planned Parenthood.
The march back in time to the era of back-alley abortions seems almost inevitable in the current legal climate. The nation better be ready to pay the consequences.