Abortion 40 Years After Roe v. Wade

Four decades after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, it is still controversial.

Jan. 18, 2013— -- 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.

In 1992, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey upheld a central part of Roe v. Wade, saying that women were still allowed to make their own decisions, but it allowed for more government regulation and less privacy. As long as state restrictions did not create "undue burden" on a woman, they were permissible. Still, what exactly constitutes "undue burden" is debated.

"Before Casey, if a state tried to do something like make or have a 24-hour waiting period, the Supreme Court would likely have said -- and it did in some cases -- that's unduly interfering with her privacy," McClain said. "Casey basically says the woman is not isolated. The community has a profound interest in the fetus. As long as she gets to make the decision, the state can try to encourage her in favor of continuing the pregnancy."

McClain said that over the last 20 years, Casey has promoted the notion that women don't really understand what they're doing when they terminate their pregnancies. Therefore, if women understood abortions, they wouldn't go through with them.

"Forty years after Roe and 20 years after Casey, we're still at a point where women have a right to decide, but there's an awful lot of effort to get at a woman and tell her what to think about the pregnancy and what to do about the pregnancy … It's inconsistent with women's equality and autonomy and ability to make competent decisions."

Then, in 2007, the Supreme Court upheld a ban on "partial-birth abortions," which is not a medical term, but rather a procedure performed later in pregnancy that involves delivering the fetus and collapsing its skull. The ruling was particularly noteworthy because it did not include an exception that would make it legal to perform the procedure when a woman's health was in danger and there were no other medical options.

Supreme Court rulings aren't the only things that changed in the last four decades.

Rachel Jones, the Guttmacher Institute's lead abortion researcher, said abortion practices have generally changed with general trends in health care, which have seen less complicated procedures moving out of the hospital and into smaller clinics and practices, but the cost of the procedure has stayed down.

According to Guttmacher's most recent survey, a first trimester abortion cost $470 on average, Jones said.

"If you adjust for inflation, that isn't actually much of an increase over the last couple of decades," she said. "Interestingly, it's one of the only aspects of healthcare where we see that pattern, and it's because abortion providers pick up the slack."

In contrast, Americans United for Life president and CEO Charmaine Yoest said this week in a press release that the "big abortion industry" was "profit hungry." Yoest praised states with the most restrictions on abortion.

Sharing Abortion Stories

Women have started sharing their stories as part of Advocates for Youth's "1 in 3 Campaign," which comes from the Guttmacher finding that one in every three women will have an abortion in her lifetime.

Advocates for Youth, a more than 30-year-old nonprofit, was having a meeting about how to tackle abortion stigmas in 2011 when a few members told their abortion stories. Soon after, CEO Debra Hauser told her colleagues that, in fact, she had an abortion when she discovered she was pregnant shortly after her husband left her. At the time, she already had a six-month-old child.

"Once I started to tell my story, people in my life started to tell me theirs," Hauser said. "Abortion is part of women's lives throughout generations. The shame and stigma of that keeps us very isolated from each other. It really inhibits our ability to talk from the heart about why abortion access is important."

The campaign has attracted hundreds of stories, which are posted online in writing or on video. Loren Seigel, a 67-year-old lawyer based in New York, decided to tell her story last year. She said she had an abortion "in the days of 'Mad Men,'" when sexual liberation was encouraged but unwanted pregnancies were a woman's problem.

When Seigel became pregnant, her parents took her to a rabbi with connections in Puerto Rico, where women often traveled to obtain illegal abortions. The rabbi warned them that the locals knew white women traveling alone were looking for abortions, and if she didn't get in the pre-arranged taxi, a competing abortionist could snatch her up and perform an unsafe procedure.

Seigel said her mother volunteered to travel with her, but the rabbi refused to allow it. He said Siegel should have to take full responsibility for her choices.

So they went elsewhere and eventually found an illegal abortionist in midtown Manhattan, who did the procedure, but did not use anesthetics.

"It was traumatic, but I got through it," Seigel said.

During her follow-up visit, which was rare at the time, Siegel's doctor "lectured" her to tell the father of her baby, who was a coworker she'd only slept with one time.

When she saw him at work, she pulled him aside and told him about the abortion.

"He took a few steps backward and said, 'Can you tell me the name of your abortionist? I got my girlfriend pregnant,'" Siegel said in her video, calling it the punch line of her abortion story. "This one young man had impregnated two women within the space of two weeks."

Arrindell, who helped a near-stranger drink Turpentine when she was 19, also took part in the "1 in 3" campaign.

"In some ways, it feels wrong not to step forward with stories that can help," Arrindell said. "I think what telling these stories does is takes away the notion that there's a certain kind of woman that would have an abortion -- a class of women, a category of women, a group of women to whom this applies."