A few months ago, I got an email from a reader who said she grew up conservative Christian, though now considered herself progressive and a feminist. The abortion issue still vexed her. She asked me this:
Q: I have been having a cognitive issue with abortion rights. I am fervently pro-women and consider myself a feminist, but something about it isn’t sitting right. I agree that women should have control of their bodies, but I guess I’m having an issue with when and/or whether a fetus becomes/is a person. At some point, does abortion become an ethical issue?
My response to her included this:
A: My take on the matter is that yes, abortion is an ethical issue. And, it is clear to me that a woman has the right and responsibility to make the decision that is best for her and her family, in consultation with her doctor, partner, and faith leader if she has one. I see no reason not to trust women to make decisions that are best for their health and well-being, and that of their families. To me, attempts by the state to infringe on women’s ability to make ethical decisions are what too quickly become unethical. To assume that they cannot or will not make good decisions is fraught with sexism.
And so I celebrate today as the Supreme Court overturns Texas’ attempts to restrict women’s access to healthcare in a 5-3 decision. The majority opinion in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt contains a clear indication that states may not unduly infringe on women’s access by passing laws that only target abortion providers, and that laws like HB2 in Texas presented a substantial obstacle and undue burden on women. (Check out the documentary TRAPPED, airing on PBS Independent Lens, to learn the story of these laws, Whole Woman’s Health, and the brave women and men who made today’s decision possible.) In short, they threaten women’s health and replace her ethical decision-making process with their own. Nothing other than sexism and misogynistic mistrust of women explains them.
Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the majority, which found Texas’ recent attempts to regulate clinics to be unconstitutional:
“We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes. Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, Casey, supra, at 878 (plurality opinion), and each violates the Federal Constitution.”
The opinion reveals that in no way were the Texas regulations actually protecting women’s health:
“We have found nothing in Texas’ record evidence that shows that […] the new law advanced Texas’ legitimate interest in protecting women’s health. We add that, when directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case. … At the same time, the record evidence indicates that the […] requirement places a ‘substantial obstacle in the path of a woman’s choice.’”
The Court also found that the Texas laws themselves led to lower quality of healthcare for women:
“More fundamentally, in the face of no threat to women’s health, Texas seeks to force women to travel long distances to get abortions in crammed-to-capacity superfacilities. Patients seeking these services are less likely to get the kind of individualized attention, serious conversation, and emotional support that doctors at less taxed facilities may have offered.”
Dr. Willie Parker, featured in TRAPPED and current chair of the Physicians for Reproductive Health Board, issued a statement that says in part:
“Politicians can no longer use ideologically driven laws with no medical basis to threaten women’s health by restricting access to safe, legal abortion care. … This ruling affirms that a woman’s right to dignified and compassionate abortion care should not depend on where she lives or on the interference of politicians. Every woman should be free to make medical decisions based on her doctor’s advice and what is right for herself and her family.”
“We are very pleased with today’s decision. It is a vitally important judicial affirmation of a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices and to access abortion care. [This is because] At RCRC, we believe the decision to become a parent or become a parent again, when and under what circumstances are deeply personal decisions best left to a woman to discern for herself, in consultation with her family, her faith and others she might bring into the conversation.”
As I have said and written in the past: Trust Women. God Does.
And Planned Parenthood Would Serve Mary (yes, THAT Mary).
Yes, reader. Abortion is an ethical issue. And today, the Supreme Court has ruled that there are limits to what obstacles the state can put in a woman’s way as she seeks healthcare and makes the best decision for herself and her family.