When anti-choice leaders push unconstitutional 20-week abortion bans, they ignore the woman standing at the center of the equation.
Days shy of 20 weeks pregnant, Whitney went in for a routine ultrasound and her world came to a standstill.
She could tell right away from the technician’s unsettling silence while zooming in and out on the screen that something was wrong. But it wouldn’t be until later in the day—after several urgent doctor appointments in two different towns—that Whitney and her husband, who also have a young son, would be given the devastating news. Due to severe abnormalities, the fetus was very unlikely to survive.
“We came home that night and I hugged my little boy so tightly, then I lay in bed touching my belly,” Whitney recalls.
Although still reeling from the news, Whitney and her family were forced to immediately start considering their course of action. In only four days, it would be illegal for Whitney to end her pregnancy in her home state of North Carolina, where an unconstitutional ban prohibits abortions after 20 weeks—unless the mother’s health is at risk.
“This is when the state laws surrounding abortion began to truly impact us,” says Whitney. “I honestly couldn’t believe I was having to hear or face this bureaucracy at a time like this. It was the most miserable three days of reading about the diagnosis and consulting with the doctor and the genetic counselor. I had so much trouble sorting out what would be the best decision for all of us.”
Currently 12 states have 20-week bans like North Carolina’s. And right now, anti-choice politicians across the country are working feverishly to increase this number, despite the fact that the U.S. Constitution protects a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy before viability.
On top of the state assaults, last week—on the first day of the new Congress—Reps. Trent Franks (R-AZ) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) reintroduced legislation in the House that aims to federally ban later abortion.
“Women do not need a new federal law criminalizing and controlling their health care decisions,” says Julie Gonen, director of federal policy and advocacy at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Not only do these restrictions violate the constitution, they deny women the dignity of making their own decisions by placing these personal, private matters in the hands of politicians. For a woman facing this situation, no one else has walked in her shoes, no one knows better than she does what’s right for her and her family.”
Whitney and her husband eventually opted to leave their young son with Whitney’s mom and drive five hours to Atlanta, where there was a clinic that specialized in abortion due to fetal anomalies up to 24 weeks. Once they decided to end the pregnancy, Whitney was shocked at the degree to which she was on her own to coordinate her care—scheduling her own appointment, arranging to have her medical records transferred.
“I felt like my OB/GYNs abandoned me at a time when I most needed them,” she says. “I was disappointed to learn that although doctors state they practice reproductive health care for women, they don’t truly do so if they are unable or unwilling to offer pregnancy termination when needed.”
While abortion later in pregnancy is very rare, the fact remains that for the individual women who face these circumstances, the ability to make these personal, private, complicated, and often very difficult decisions for themselves matters a great deal.
Restrictions that prevent doctors from working with women to provide the care they need jeopardize a woman’s health, future, and life—as well as the integrity of the medical system.
“Politicians who truly care about women’s health and well-being should focus on policies and laws that advance healthy pregnancies and address the very serious and real needs of women who seek later abortion services,” says Gonen. “The fact is that in the current climate, women who have made the decision to end a pregnancy face a catch-22 with restrictions, bans, and red tape making it nearly impossible to obtain abortion care earlier in pregnancy and illegal to get it later.”
The Center is currently working with policymakers and advocates around the country to craft and advance proactive measures such as Medicaid expansion, prenatal care for immigrant women, and public and private coverage for contraception. We also continue to promote the Women’s Health Protection Act, a piece of federal legislation that would put a firm stop to the crush of state-level attacks on women’s reproductive rights.