Category Archives: Abortion Law

Partial-Birth Abortion Ban – est. 2003

Photo: President George W. Bush Jr. singing the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban

Passed by President George W. Bush Jr., the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban became was passed in Congress and made law in 2003. This law banned all partial-birth abortions, a method of abortion usually used in the second trimester (15-26 weeks).

The method is commonly known as ‘intact dilation and extraction’ or ‘intact D&X’. It is where the head of the fetus is reduced in diameter to allow for easier passage to be removed from the uterus/vagina.

The term ‘partial-birth’ is not recognized in the medical field or American Medical Association; it is usually used politically.

The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban was previously passed through Congress in 1995, and again in 1997, but both instances were vetoed by former Democratic President Bill Clinton.

There were several provisions to the ban since 2003, and they include the following:

  1. A moral, medical, and ethical consensus exists that the practice of performing partial-birth abortion…is a gruesome and inhumane procedure that is never medically necessary and should be prohibited.
  2. Rather than being an abortion procedure that is embraced by the medical community, particularly among physicians who routinely perform other abortion procedures, partial-birth abortion remains a disfavored procedure that is not only unnecessary to preserve the health of the mother, but in fact poses serious risks to the long-term health of women and in some circumstances, their lives. As a result, at least 27 States banned the procedure as did the United States Congress which voted to ban the procedure during the 104th, 105th, and 106th Congresses.

In 2007 the law was challenged in the Supreme Court in the case of Gonzales v. Carhart and was upheld. President George Bush Jr. sent out an official statement in response to the Court ruling. In the statement he commented on the “compassion and humanity of America” saying that, “Today’s decision affirms that the Constitution does not stand in the way of the people’s representatives enacting laws reflecting the compassion and humanity of America.  The partial-birth abortion ban, which an overwhelming bipartisan majority in Congress passed and I signed into law, represents a commitment to building a culture of life in America.” (Bush)

Shortly after the law passed, the majority of public opinion of Americans seemed to have agreed with the decision. A Rasmussen Reports poll 4 days after the court’s decision found that 40% of respondents “knew the ruling allowed states to place some restrictions on specific abortion procedures.” Of those who knew of the decision, 56% agreed with the decision and 32% were opposed. (Rasmussen Reports)

However, in 2004, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban was declared unconstitutional in the U.S. Courts of California, Nebraska, and New York.

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Roe v. Wade (410 U.S. 113 (1973))

Photo of Norma McCorvey, a.k.a. Jane Roe.

Photo: Norma McCorvey (left) and lawyer (right) advocating

The famous Roe V. Wade case of 1973. The court decision that stuck down all state laws restricting abortion during a woman’s first trimester of pregnancy. Never once has a case been decided so much on religion, beliefs, ethics, and morality. It challenged a woman’s right to privacy and abortion laws across the United States.

At the time, two graduates of the University of Texas, Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, brought on a case on behalf of Norma McCorvey (under alias as Jane Roe), a pregnant, unmarried woman arguing that the Texas law criminalizing most abortions unconstitutional. At the time, the Texas law had a restriction on all abortions other than those to save the life of the mother. The lawsuit was filed against the Dallas Country District Attorney, Henry Wade, and he appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 7-2 decision, the Court ruled Texas law unconstitutional, and in violation of the 9th and 14th amendments in the Bill of Rights, those amendments protecting privacy of an individual.

And so Norma McCorvey won her case, but it was too late to go through with the abortion, for she was too far along in her pregnancy when the case was finally decided.

Up until this case, there were laws restricting abortion in almost every state and was greatly limited by law in several others. State laws limiting access during the second trimester were only upheld only when to preserve the health of the mother. Roe v. Wade is known for the legalization of abortion in the United States.

The Supreme Court found that a woman’s right to privacy deserves the highest level of protection and care, thanks to Roe v. Wade. The Court also, however, recognizes that the right to privacy is not absolute and assured and that each state has its own protection guarding maternal health.

The Roe v. Wade case may be the most famous and important reproductive rights case, and especially when studying abortion legal history. As one of the most debated cases in U.S. legal history, much criticism comes out of it. Tulane Law School Student Alex McBride suggests that, “To the political Right, critics accuse the Court in Roe of legalizing the murder of human life with flimsy constitutional justifications. To the Left, critics maintain that Roe was poorly reasoned and caused an unnecessary political backlash against abortion rights.” (McBride) To this day, many believe that this was a classic example of pure protection of an individual’s most basic human rights – that of privacy.

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NARAL Pro-Choice America: Heroes & Scandals

The organization has had several names throughout its existence. In its establishment in 1969, it was first known as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, then the National Abortion Rights Action League, and later the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. It is, and always has been, an organization that engages in political action to oppose restrictions on abortion and expand access to abortion itself.

The original NARAL program directed the following parts:

  1. Assist in the formation in all states of direct political action groups dedicated to the purpose of NARAL;
  2. Serve as a cleaning house for activities related to NARAL’s purpose;
  3. Create new materials for mass distribution which tell the repeal story dramatically and succinctly;
  4. Train field workers to organize and stimulate legislative action;
  5. Suggest direct action projects;
  6. Raise funds for the above activities.

Among those who founded the NARAL were abortionists Lawrence Lader and Dr. Bernard Nathanson.

Lawrence Lader was a long time reproductive rights activist, and served as a hero in the pro-choice abortion world for nearly 4 decades up until his death in 2006. He did what he could to get involved with the laws and helped repeal New York State’s law of abortion restrictions in 1970. He also attempted to sue the Internal Revenue Service to end the Roman Catholic Church’s tax exemptions, implying that its opposition against abortion had now become a political matter. He first got involved in the abortion world while writing a biography of Margaret Sanger, going over abortion laws and techniques at the time. Then by the 1950s, he thought, techniques and procedures were now much safer and more commonly used, acknowledging that it was, however, still taboo to discuss.

Dr. Bernard Nathanson was another co-founder of the NARAL and was, at one point, the director of the largest abortion clinic in the western hemisphere. He had gone through a shift on his stance – and also got involved in the law in a different way than Lader. Nathanson, at first, was a firm believer in pro-choice abortion rights and over time began to lean the other way with his views. He openly admitted to a scandal against the NARAL, misinforming the public that abortion does not murder another human being. In a statement in 2008, he admitted that, “This was the greatest mistake of my life…legal abortion was the greatest mistake this nation has ever conceived.” (Nathanson)

The link below is a short video of a statement by Dr. Nathanson:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xfEoqGeliA

This scandal was not taken lightly and NARAL then faced much digression. For an organization to knowingly misinform the public, and for a founder and director of an abortion clinic to shift his views so suddenly made the pro-choice world appear suspicious.

NARAL, however, never did shut down, and it never went through any trial or courts for that scandal. It is still in existence today, assisting millions of individuals facing abortion restrictions.

For more information regarding NARAL, click on this link to their homepage:
http://www.naral.org/

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Griswold v. Connecticut (381 U.S. 479 (1965))

Photo of a man protesting outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in New Haven, Connecticut.

Photo: man protesting outside of Planned Parenthood clinic in New Haven, CT

The 60s decade in the 20th century America was a time of challenging law and challenging the importance of morality. It was a time of change, protest, and hope. The Griswold v. Connecticut case of 1965 was a landmark case, challenging Connecticut’s law of informative contraception.

Estelle Griswold was the Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, who gave a young married couple advice and information on contraception. Both she and her colleague, Dr. C. Lee Buxton, were charged and found guilty as accessories to illegally providing conception and were fined $100 each. The two took the case to the Supreme Court and challenged Connecticut’s law, arguing that it goes against the law of ‘right to marital privacy.’ With a trial the grand jury’s 7-2 voted Connecticut’s law invalid; Griswold and Buxton won their case.

Justice William O. Douglass of the Supreme Court found that Connecticut’s law could not prove it absolutely necessary to restrict the married couple’s rights of privacy. The married couple’s use of contraception constitutes a fundamental right, and it was Connecticut’s job to prove to the Court that its law was absolutely necessary to overcome that right, in order to win the case – which it failed to do.

This was the first case in which the fundamental idea of privacy became the center of conversation. It was here where we see law and legalities meddling into private laws with even married couples. According to Justice John Marshall Harlan II, this is only a fundamental idea because marriage and marital privacy has always been protected in American society (Harlan).

Dr. Buxton, a medical professional and professor at Yale Medical School, and Griswold were charged and arrested for providing information. Connecticut’s law at the time prohibited contraception, and so the two were convicted as being accessories to it. This went against the constitutionally protected law of right to marital privacy, and so the case was settled – birth control, from then on, could not be denied from married couples.

The 1965 case of Griswold v. Connecticut served as a model for future cases in reproductive rights. It inspired later decisions in cases such as Eisenstadt v. Baird, Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, and several others in the United States.

“Since 1965, there has been a dramatic decline in unwanted births, the result of pregnancies that women wanted neither at the time they were conceived nor at any future time.” Thanks to the Griswold v. Connecticut case, the public began to realize the importance of privacy in reproductive rights within married couples. This justice grew outside of marital status in future cases to come.

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Margaret Sanger & the 1920s Birth Control Movement

Photo: Margaret Sanger

In 1921, Margaret Sanger founded the American Birth Control League, now known as Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She is also known as the founder of modern day birth control and lead several roles in the 1920’s Birth Control and Reproductive Rights Movements.

The American Birth Control League held the following main principles:

We hold that children should be:

  1. Conceived in love;
  2. Born the mother’s conscious desire;
  3. And only begotten under conditions which render possible the heritage of health

Therefore we hold that every woman must possess the power and freedom to prevent conception except when these conditions can be satisfied.

This notable woman sacrificed a lot to stand up for women and what she believed in. In 1913 she wrote a column on sexual education in the local newspaper titled What Every Mother Should Know and What Every Girl Should Know, considered both an advice and informative column. Because of the Comstock laws established in 1873, she was jailed for her writings and beliefs and the story went viral, as did her popularity.

Considering the 1920s as a time of economic growth and success, there also laid the fact that the country had just recently came out of World War I. While the nation was still in the process of healing from war, there was a great amount of disapproval for many women’s rights movements in these years. Although Sanger and many other reproductive and women’s rights activists faced that amount of scorn, it was their famous courage and ambition that kept them and their supporters moving forward.

Sanger had her own beliefs and views about abortion in America that can be a bit complex. While she acknowledged it justifiable in certain cases, she also believed it should be a last resort and should be avoided as much as possible. Her main views and legacy at the time were directed towards contraception, not so much abortion. In one of her books Women and the New Race, she wrote, “while there are cases where even the law recognizes an abortion as justifiable if recommended by a physician, I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization.” (Sanger)

And so although her view on abortion varied by situation, her push for the importance of contraception and sexual health gave birth to future reproductive justice ideas. Although the nation had just come out of the first Great War, she continued to advocate for women, contraception, and the rights of knowledge regarding the subject.

Sources:

  • “Birth control: What it is, How it works, What it will do”, The Proceedings of the First American Birth Control Conference, November 11, 12, 1921, pp. 207–8.
  • Margaret Sanger (1920). “Contraceptives or Abortion?”. Woman and the New Race.
    http://www.bartleby.com/1013/10.html

The Comstock Act – est. 1873

Photo: Anthony Comstock

The post-Civil War era was a time of emancipation, freedom, industry, and new inventions and ideas. One of those being the camera, and another being the newly popular form of pornography. This, along with increased uses of contraception, birthed the Comstock Act of 1873, when Anthony Comstock found these two ideas purely evil ones.

This Act in the United States took on a new degree and area of the ‘abortion problem’ across the country. This meant that now, men and women had less access to information regarding abortion and contraception. Before 1873 there was only discouragement of the abortion itself, but to discourage access to information alongside it took on a new dimension.

The Comstock Act itself prohibits the possession or mailing of ‘obscene’ materials, while at the same time it never defined exactly what was considered obscene. It was an attempt to regulate what had been networking throughout the U.S. Postal Service mailing route, by a 29-year-old man who had not been impressed by the latest that American society had to offer. As a U.S. Postal Service inspector, he felt that it as his job to regulate such.
Later in the Roth v. United States case in 1957, the term ‘obscene’ is more defined:
“Obscene material is material which deals with sex in a manner appealing to prurient interest – i.e., material having a tendency to excite lustful thoughts…
The standard for judging obscenity, adequate to withstand the charge of constitutional infirmity, is whether, to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material, taken as a whole, appeals to prurient interest.” (Epstein and Walk, 346)
Anyone who was convicted of violating any of the Comstock laws would receive up to five years of imprisonment with hard labor and a fine of up to $2000.

The Comstock Act lived nearly 100 years until it was finally determined inapplicable to certain unlawful situations. However, still even today there are lingerings of it. Pornography continues to be limited in various ways. Contraception and abortion are far from becoming accepted and fully legalized across the country. We especially see problem and controversy in the abortion industry as of yet, and information regarding such topics still continues to be limited and restricted in certain areas of the nation.

It is not difficult to determine what the Comstock Act did to American society in the late 19th century. This not only put another level of law onto the abortion and contraception issue, but also struck fear and stressed ignorance among the public. Thousands of cases and violation of the Comstock Act sprouted throughout the decades until the Roe v. Wade case ruled it only applicable to ‘unlawful’ abortions in 1973.

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Dr. Horatio R. Storer (1830-1922)

Photo: Dr. Horatio Storer

Dr. Horatio Robinson Storer is not one that is of regular familiarity. He was an American physician and founder of modern gynecology, and is also known to have had a major role in the Physicians’ Crusade Against Abortion. As a student of Harvard Medical School, he was especially interested in female genitalia and gynecological studies, which was of high suspicion at the time. Not only was it unacceptable to have a specialization in practice in general at such an early stage in study, but to have one of women and gynecology was simply unheard of.
In 1865, Storer won an AMA prize for his essay aimed at informing women about the moral and physical problems of induced abortion. This was published as Why Not? A Book for Every Woman. It was widely sold and many physicians distributed it to patients who requested abortion.” Dr. Storer also published the first journal of gynecology in 1869, the Journal of the Gynaecological Society of Boston.
It was Dr. Storer who began associating gynecology with mental illness. One of his most notable books, The Causation, Course, and Treatment of Reflex Insanity in Women, deals with the notion that In 1869, he was the first doctor to ever remove a pregnant uterus completely out of a woman’s body, as the use of hysterectomies began to be a form of treatment.
The Physicians’ Crusade Against Abortion was a movement founded by the American Medical Association, when Dr. Storer persuaded them to form a committee on criminal abortion. This movement began in Massachusetts and gained national attention, persuading the public to become educated with the pro-life views of the time. It was all in efforts to strengthen laws against elective abortions, pressuring legislatures of the states and territories in the United States. It was, in his mind, essential to attempt the illegalization of all forms of abortion.
Although the legacy that Dr. Horatio Storer left behind is great, he is more likely than not unheard of. Dr. Storer is the founder of modern gynecology practice and was a pioneer in the great Physicians’ Crusade Against Abortion in the 1850s. It is unclear as to why Storer was so against the abortion practice; like many of his time it could have been religiously related. It could have also been his great concern and love for the female anatomy. As the author of various informative books on women and women’s health, he was a man of great curiosity and attempted to educate people in the particular study.

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