America’s Not-So Civil War

untitledDuring his 2018 confirmation process, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh described Roe v. Wade, the 1973 high court decision legalizing abortion in the United States, as “settled law.”

At the risk of disagreeing with one of the Supremes, nothing appears very settled at this moment. Legislatures in Georgia, Mississippi and Missouri have placed more restrictions on those seeking to terminate a pregnancy, banning abortions in situations where there is a fetal heartbeat (eight weeks).

A new Alabama law outlaws abortions in all circumstances except when the mother’s life is at risk or the fetus cannot survive. The Texas Legislature has taken a more circuitous route to limit abortions.

Senate Bill 22, passed late last week, prohibits state agencies, cities and counties to pay or give anything of value to any entity that performs abortions. The obvious target is Planned Parenthood, which provides gynecological services, mammograms and birth control education and aids in addition to abortions.

Anti-abortion activists believe the government money, while not directly used for abortions, helps Planned Parenthood promote itself and keep the doors open. “This bill just prevents taxpayer dollars from being used to support or prop up abortion providers,” said State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, the bill’s author.

Some disagree. “It’s sacrificing women and their health to achieve a political agenda by shutting down Planned Parenthood,” State Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, told reporters.

I confess to being more than a little surprised by these efforts to redefine Roe v. Wade. Like Justice Kavanaugh, I thought this issue “settled,” and we were well on our way to the Clintons’ goal of abortions being “safe, legal and rare.”

If nothing else, the emergency contraception pill should have removed much abortion demand. Two of the most popular “morning after” pills, Plan B and Take Action, are available over the counter without a doctor’s prescription in Marshall.

They cost, however, about $35 – $50. How likely is it that a woman following a rare fling that ended in unprotected sex will drive to Marshall three to five days later and spend $50 on the chance she might become pregnant?

A woman might be able to get a Plan B pill for free or at a reduced cost from Planned Parenthood in Tyler, if she can get there, and if SB 22 hasn’t closed that door on her. Of course, birth control pills cost less per pill, and should be considered along with other birth control options, if people in a relationship wish to avoid pregnancy.

None of the birth control choices are foolproof. If a woman opts for abortion, for whatever reason, she must travel to Dallas or Shreveport. The cost will probably be about $500, according to Jane’s Due Process, a non-profit organization that helps provide legal representation for pregnant minors in Texas. The longer she waits, the more expensive it becomes.

After the 1973 Supreme Court ruled that “the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a fundamental ‘right to privacy’ that protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose whether or not to have an abortion,” some state laws were needed to regulate cleanliness, access and protect the health of the mother.

This current round of laws goes well past common-sense precautions. Legislators in Alabama know their new law violates Roe v. Wade. They welcome it. They want to see the law challenged in federal court.

Following a loss in the trial court, they plan to appeal to the Supreme Court, where they hope a fresh look at Roe will occur by a Republican-packed court. In the last 46 years, our country has been all over the emotional and political map on abortion.

The Republican Party in Texas went from a figment of Phil Gramm’s imagination to the dominant force in the Lone Star State on the strength of opposition to abortion. Many see abortion as murdering unprotected babies.  Others believe a woman has the right to do what she wants with her body, and it is not a baby inside her yet. It’s hard to find a middle ground here.

I don’t want to get all “Handmaid’s Tale” on you, but the declining birthrate for four consecutive years in the United States could shape attitudes for some opposing abortion.  In 2017, the birth rate fell 2 percent. According to a report in the New York Times, American women following World War II had more than three births each. Today the average is 1.8 births.

At the same time, American women are also having fewer abortions. The abortion rate for 2015 was 11.8 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years, and the abortion ratio was 188 abortions per 1,000 live births, according to a report by the Center for Disease Control. From 2006 to 2015, the number, rate and ratio of reported abortions decreased 24%, 26% and 19% respectively.

The Guttmacher Institute, which studies these issues, had a shocking piece of news for Republican legislators. The declining abortion rate has less to do with new limits on abortion and more with improved access to contraceptives.

It’s pretty obvious that if these states were serious about reducing abortions they should make contraceptives more available and at a lower cost rather than passing useless laws pandering to a vocal section of their base.

Actually, the Guttmacher finding may not come as that great of a shock to members of the Alabama, Mississippi and Missouri legislatures. What they really want is a smack-down cage fight before the Republican-packed Supreme Court.

This political brain trust might benefit from listening to Luke Combs’ hit, “Be Careful What You Wish For.”

In 2012, Republicans were frustrated in their attempt to have the Supreme Court overturn Obamacare. As Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in support of the majority, “some decisions are entrusted to our nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them.

”Ten years ago, when Sen. Lindsey Graham grilled Justice Sonia Sotomayor on the subject of Roe v. Wade, Sotomayor used one of the few scraps of Latin I still remember.

“All precedent of the Supreme Court I consider settled law, subject to the deference the doctrine of stare decisis would counsel,” she said.

Stare decisis means “the decision stands,” and the last time I looked, the 14th Amendment is still in the Constitution. This issue may be more settled than abortion opponents think.

 

 

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