Declining Abortion Rights in the United States

By: Savannah Valentine

April 14, 2022

In many ways, the United States has been one of the more progressive countries in terms of abortion rights. For example, several European countries restrict requested abortions to the first trimester, requiring some demonstrated need for an abortion after that time, while the United States has generally has no such restriction. Additionally, the United States is one of only a handful of countries that allow abortion after 20 weeks.

While the United States has made substantial progress toward more abortion rights for women, these abortion policies are quickly backsliding. The Supreme Court’s narrowing of the holding in Roe v. Wade over time has given states the opportunity to pass Targeted Regulation of Abortion laws (“TRAP” laws). Such legislation heavily regulates physicians and abortion clinics, making it extremely difficult to access abortion. For example, several states require waiting periods up to seventy-two hours even for pre-viability abortions, which in practice takes on average eight days because women are working, have to travel, or have other obligations. Other common tactics are imposing zoning regulations on clinics, such as mandating they are not too close to a school, or even going so far as to require the clinic hallways be a certain width. More recently, some states have pushed through legislation that bans abortions after 15 or even six weeks. The states hope that this direct challenge to Roe v. Wade will result in the Supreme Court overturning the landmark opinion that protects women’s right to choose. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, then 21 states would waste no time in severely restricting or altogether banning abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Other countries, on the other hand, are pushing forward for more abortion access, not backtracking. Since 1994, just three countries have restricted abortion laws while 59 expanded abortion access. In 66 countries (where about 25% of women live), abortion is only allowable if the woman’s life is in danger. In 63 countries (where roughly 35% of women live), abortion is legal in a variety of circumstances, including the women’s mental and physical health and her economic situation. And in 74 countries (home to 38% of women), abortion is legal for any reason up to a certain threshold, but even then most of the countries in this category still allow abortions past that cutoff if the woman has a demonstrative reason (like her mental or physical health) why she cannot continue the pregnancy.

Thus, in moving toward either hard cutoffs or outright bans, the United States is quickly moving into a category of countries with the most restrictive abortion rights in the world. This move has consequences. Because a handful of states in the United States are set to legally protect abortion rights, abortion tourism will become the norm. And the time and expense it takes to travel to receive abortion access will be open only to women who are able to take time off of work and pay for a flight and hotel room. Low-income women, then, will be forced to carry on with their unwanted pregnancy simply because of their economic status. Further, and even more worrying, data shows that restricting access to abortion does not necessarily result in less abortions—only less safe, physician-supervised abortions. In fact, abortion rates in countries where the procedure is illegal are about the same as in countries where abortion is legal.

As the United States continues with abortion-restricting legislation, organizations like Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights must keep lobbying and advocating on behalf of women in the hopes that we can undo this damage. In the meantime, it is important to support groups like the Haven Coalition that help low-income women travel to another state to get access to abortion.

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