Abortion 40 Years After Roe v. Wade

PHOTO: Pro and anti abortion demonstrators
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Deborah Arrindell was a freshman in college when a friend asked her to watch over an upperclassman girl, whose doctor packed her vagina with gauze and sent her home with orders to drink hot turpentine tea to stop her unwanted pregnancy. They were the only two people in the University of Oklahoma dormitory that weekend, and when Arrindell realized that the hot turpentine fumes were making the pregnant girl throw up, she mixed the toxic oil with Tang instead.

It was 1971, two years before Roe v. Wade made abortions legal, and safer, in the United States.

"Can you just imagine being 19 years old, and someone that you barely know is crying and sitting on a toilet with bloody gauze between her legs?" Arrindell, now 61, said. "The idea that anybody would want to return to that is really chilling."

The 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which was handed down on Jan 22, 1973, comes as states have added more and more restrictions -- 43 state laws passed last year and 92 passed in 2011, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a group that does extensive research on abortion. Just three weeks ago, Texas defunded all Planned Parenthood clinics in the state – many of which do not perform abortions -- for being affiliated with an organization that advocates them.

"I actually do find it surprising," Arrindell said of the continued polarization surrounding abortion. "I think we know enough about women in back-alley abortions -- clothes hangers, pushed down the stairs, what people ate or drank.

"We think it's taken care of and then we have to go back and have these conversations again," she said.

Arrindell said the girl survived the abortion, but they never spoke of it again.

One in three women will undergo an abortion by the time she is 45 years old, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Almost half of them are married or living with their significant other, and 73 percent of them are affiliated with a religion.

Abortion Restrictions and Opposition Today

Americans United for Life released its annual "Life List" this week, celebrating states with the most restrictions on abortion as being the most protective of human life. The nonprofit named Louisiana as America's "most protected" state and Washington as its "least protected."

A law passed last summer in Louisiana now requires women to wait 24 hours between the time they undergo mandatory ultrasounds and the time they can have abortion procedures. This law also requires that the fetal heartbeat be made audible unless the woman specifically requests otherwise. Unless the woman is a victim of rape, and has reported it, she must listen to a description of the ultrasound.

Organizations like Americans United for Life are not alone in their mission "to defend human life from conception to natural death." Twenty-nine percent of registered voters would like the Supreme Court to completely overturn Roe v. Wade, according to a Pew Research Center survey released Jan 16. But the number is shrinking. In 1992, 34 percent of people opposed legal abortion.

Dr. John Coppes, a physician in Minnesota who preferred not to say where he works because his views are his own, said he personally can't bring himself to perform abortions because of his faith. However, he said he would never try to impose that view on a patient or on other doctors.

Coppes said he performed abortions during his residency, but he did not feel right about them. When he became a Christian later on, he said, he decided that life is sacred, so he could not perform abortions or make referrals for them.

"All you have to do is an ultrasound at five and six weeks and see a heart beating," he said. "You can see there's somebody in there who has a higher value."

He said he doesn't want to speak for or antagonize anyone else, adding that just because abortion is wrong for him, doesn't mean he expects everyone to agree with him. He said he would prefer if women didn't get abortions, but he would never stand outside a clinic and yell at them.

"That's not how you do it," he said. "You do it through love. You try to help her. You try to help the child. You don't yell and scream."

But there's a fine line between protecting the unborn and taking away women's rights, said the authors of a paper published in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law this month. The paper, "Arrests of and Forced Interventions on Pregnant Women in the United States," found 413 cases from 1973 through 2005 in which a fetus was legally regarded as separate from the mother at the expense of the mother's "liberty."

They found that a 26-year-old Louisiana woman spent almost a year behind bars for second-degree murder of her fetus. She was released when doctors were able to prove that the fetus was no more than 15 weeks old, and that she miscarried because her doctor gave her a birth control injection 12 weeks prior to the miscarriage, according to a paper published Jan. 15 in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law.

A Brief History of Roe v. Wade

Norma McCorvey was 21 when she was denied an abortion under Texas law in 1971 after becoming pregnant with her third child. She took on the pseudonym "Jane Roe" to bring a case against Texas to have its abortion law overturned on the grounds that it violated her constitutional right to privacy. In 1973 two years after McCorvey's baby was born and adopted, the United States Supreme Court ruled that abortion should be safe and legal for women up to at least the first trimester. The decision was known as Roe v. Wade.

Although the court ruled that a woman's right to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy was a fundamental one, the court did not center on a woman's right to chose; instead, the decision principally addressed privacy and the idea that abortion was a doctor-patient decision, said Linda McClain, a professor at Boston University School of Law who co-authored a new book discussing abortion rights, called "Ordered Liberty."

"When I teach about Roe, I think I point out how back in 1973, this decision was really framed as the physician [deciding] with the woman in the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship," McClain said.

(Arrindell said she remembers when the Roe v. Wade decision was made, but it wasn't something people she knew talked about. "I think all of us were happy and quietly relieved," she said, adding that abortion "remained a taboo conversation topic even after it was legalized.")

But, legally, things have changed since 1973. New precedents emerged from court rulings in 1992 and 2007 that altered Roe v. Wade's initial meaning, and brought it out of the doctor's office and into state legislatures.

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