As US States Prepares for Abortion Ban, NY State Health Commissioner Shares Her Story
Pro-abortion demonstrators in the US

Americans are bracing for a firestorm over abortion rights as the US Supreme Court prepares to announce its decision soon in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case.

The court’s conservative majority is expected, based on a leaked draft of Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in early May, to strike down the case. If that happens, 26 of the country’s 50 states are likely to move quickly to ban abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based NGO that researches and advocates for reproductive rights.

Half of those 13 states — Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming — have laws in place to automatically end legal abortion services, the institute says, noting that more than half of all US women, or 58%, live in states hostile to abortion where the ban would likely take hold.

In contrast, 16 states and the District of Columbia have laws that protect the right to abortion. They already are preparing for a huge jump in demand for abortion services from women who live in states where the bans would likely be enforced.

58% of U.S. women of reproductive age—40 million women—live in states hostile to abortion rights
Last month, New York State Governor Kathy Hochul announced a $35 million investment to directly support abortion providers in anticipation of Roe v. Wade being overturned. 

“New York has always been at the forefront of the fight for abortion rights, and as the first female governor of New York, I will not let us go backwards,” said Hochul. “This landmark funding will get resources into the hands of clinics who need our help, safeguarding access to abortion in our state and setting an example for the rest of the nation to follow.”   

‘I would not be health commissioner’

This week, New York State Health Commissioner Dr Mary Bassett revealed in Elle magazine that she had an abortion as a medical student.

“How could a first-year intern who was expected to work 36-hour shifts also carry and care for a child? She—I—could not,” wrote Bassett, in a rare public acknowledgement by a high-ranking public official in the US. She later gave birth to two children.

“Had it not been for the abortion I received before I began my internship, I would not be New York’s health commissioner today. More importantly, I would not be the committed mother that I have been able to be to my two adult daughters for over 34 years,” added Bassett, in the article published on Tuesday.

Basset said taking away the right to abortion will not stop abortions, it will only make them “more desperate, deadly, and dangerous,” especially for people who are poor and “communities of color.”

Abortion pills to overcome ban?

Abortion advocates believe medical abortions performed using pills are the best solution for women living in states where bans are introduced. In 2020, so-called medication abortion accounted for 54% of all US abortions, outstripping surgical abortions for the first time.

In a letter to the heads of the US Congress, Hochul appealed for greater financial support for telehealth services and to “ensure the US Postal Service’s ability to ship abortion medication to all states”.

European sanction for US anti-abortion move

Earlier in the month, the European Parliament voted 364-154 to pass a resolution that “strongly condemns the backsliding in women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) taking place globally, including in the US and in some EU member states”.

The resolution, which passed on June 9 with 37 abstentions, says SRHR are fundamental human rights that “should be protected and enhanced and cannot in any way be watered down or withdrawn.” It also cites deep concerns over how bans on abortions “will contribute to the trauma of rape and incest victims.”

Because of those concerns, European lawmakers urged the US government to “fully decriminalise abortion” and to ensure adequate protections exist for “the right to terminate a pregnancy,” including adequate funding needed in the US and globally.

“In countries heavily dependent on US aid for public health programmes, [Roe’s] overturning could have an impact on those governments’ commitment to abortion provision and other reproductive rights,” it said.

At 14, Sierre Leone’s Dankay Kanu (on right) was impregnated by an older man who refused to wear a condom then denied paternity.  She is portrayed here with a mentor from 2YoungLives, a programme that helps pregnant girls and teenage mothers in Sierra Leone.

‘Crisis of unintended pregnancies’ – UNFPA

Earlier in the year, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which coordinates the UN’s work on sexual and reproductive health agency, reported nearly half of all the 121 million a year in pregnancies worldwide between 2015 and 2019 were unintended. 

“Over 60% of unintended pregnancies end in abortion and an estimated 45% of all abortions are unsafe, causing 5 – 13% of all maternal deaths, thereby having a major impact on the world’s ability to reach the Sustainable Development Goals,” according to the UNFPA.

UNFPA Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem said the staggering number of unintended pregnancies represents a global failure to uphold women and girls’ basic human rights.

“For the women affected, the most life-altering reproductive choice — whether or not to become pregnant — is no choice at all,” she said. “By putting the power to make this most fundamental decision squarely in the hands of women and girls, societies can ensure that motherhood is an aspiration and not an inevitability.”

Image Credits: Gayatri Malhotra/ Unsplash, Michael Duff/ UNFPA.

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