Since the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe V. Wade of 1973 where the highest court in the country ruled 7-2 that a right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, extended to a woman’s right to have an abortion – the rights granted under this decision have consistently been eroding with more legislation targeting a woman’s right to comprehensive reproductive health services, including but not limited to abortions. Additionally, legal scholars also note the 1973 Supreme Court decision also sought to ‘balance’ the woman’s right to privacy and abortion procedures with the state’s interest of “regulating abortions,” primarily through the guise of ‘protecting women’s health and protecting the potentiality of human life.’
Some scholars have questioned the value of constitutional rights if they can be indirectly denied. Since the 1973 ruling, many states have exercised their individual rights to ‘balance’ their interest, even if it is against the interest of the American women they call their constituents, partly through implementation of Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider (TRAP) laws. TRAP laws are unfortunately one tool in the toolbox of dozens that have been utilized by legislators in state and local governments that seek to repeal all of the protections granted to women under Roe V. Wade. This post explores the ‘undue burden’ placed upon women as a result of the attacks against their constitutional right to seek out and obtain comprehensive, quality, and low-cost reproductive health care, as granted by the U.S. Supreme Court. Three decades later, the country still grapples with the same powerful forces that seek to undue the protections set forth in the Constitution and pose impossible barriers to overcome when seeking access and treatment for family planning services such as contraception and abortion.
Health disparities in women who seek access to, and provision of, abortion are well documented. Racial minorities and women in low socio-economic groups have persistently and disproportionately experienced limited access to reproductive health services, including abortion and contraception, even as they statistically show higher rates of abortion than their white and higher SES counterparts. Additionally, Black, Hispanic and low income women are more likely to have a second-trimester abortion than their white and more affluent counterparts. Research has attempted to shed light on the disparity of women who lack access to reproductive health services while maintaining the highest known need for these services. And because federal policy discussions have focused primarily on preventing unintended pregnancies, the disparity of access to and provision of comprehensive, safe, low-cost, and local reproductive health care for low income women of color has largely been ignored.
Opponents who seek to regulate and relinquish a woman’s right to comprehensive, safe, affordable, and local reproductive health care services often cite cost as an issue and have previously helped to spearhead legislation such as the federal Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976, which prohibited the use of Medicaid funds to pay for abortions unless the pregnancy is a result of rape, incest, or the woman’s life is in imminent danger. These restrictions on public funding for reproductive health services are still as powerful as they are today, and gaining more traction as we see in the recent attacks of Planned Parenthood that has been under constant federal investigations for what opponents would say amounts to selling fetal tissue on the black market. Federal funding aside, from an economic perspective – studies suggest that costs associated with abortion are not inconsequential and the costs of the service increases with gestational age. Where the mean charge for a non-hospital abortion at 10 weeks gestation is $523; the mean for a non-hospital abortion at 20 weeks gestation is more than double at $1,339. Therefore, as more restrictions, waiting periods, and hindered access to reproductive health services are put in place in local and state locales, the wait time for women to receive comprehensive reproductive health services has increased, and as the gestational age increases, so does the cost burden to the woman seeking these services. The earlier an abortion is performed, the safer it is. For each week of gestation after 8 weeks, the risk of maternal mortality increases and most abortion-related mortalities could be eliminated if women had access to these services earlier in their pregnancies, with undue burden. Additionally, during periods where abortion funding was not available to the woman, one-third of all unintended pregnancies which would have been aborted were carried to term; and this is most pronounced among Black women and all women with lower levels of education. As a result, many women who carry unintended pregnancies to term are less likely to receive appropriate prenatal care and have poorer health outcomes.
Instead of creating policies that ensure people are given adequate and comprehensive reproductive health care, TRAP laws are designed to eliminate the already restrictive gauntlet of care that exists for women seeking reproductive health care services.