Myths about Roe v. Wade

Hobby Lobby Day!

SCOTUS

As both an active member of the pro-life movement and a law student, I am frequently confronted with the fact that the vast majority of activists on both sides of the abortion debate have many misconceptions about what Roe v. Wade actually says about the legality of abortion. Most of this arises from the fact that they have not read the case themselves, or if they did read it, they were unable to understand it due to a lack of legal training. My goal is to attempt to clear up four of the most common myths surroundingRoe v. Wade, and the legal state of abortion in general, so that our conversations about the issue will be more informed going forward.

Myth #1: Abortion is a “Fundamental Right”

Many abortion supporters, including elected officials and leaders of pro-abortion organizations, will tell you that the Supreme Court declared abortion a fundamental right in Roe v. Wade, but this simply is not true. In fact, no majority opinion by the Supreme Court has ever declared abortion a fundamental right.

In Constitutional Law, there are three levels of “judicial scrutiny” the Court will use when deciding cases, these levels are: (1) Strict Scrutiny, (2) Intermediate Scrutiny, and (3) Rational Basis Scrutiny. When a fundamental right is at issue in a case, the Court must use the highest level of scrutiny, Strict Scrutiny. Under Strict Scrutiny, the Court presumes the policy to be invalid unless the government can demonstrate a compelling interest to justify the policy being challenged.

While much of the language used in Roe seemed to imply Strict Scrutiny, the Court did not actually declare the right fundamental, and subsequent cases prove this. Indeed, many of the abortion cases that the Court heard between Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey dealt with overturning this presumption by the lower courts, though often with contradictory results.

For example, the Court struck down all abortion regulations inPlanned Parenthood v. Danforth (1976), City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, Inc. (1983), and Thornburg v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (1986), but upheld similar and further regulations in Harris v. McRae (1980), Rust v. Sullivan(1991), Connecticut v. Menillo (1975), and Bellotti v. Baird (1976).[1]

In these sometimes contradictory rulings, the Court seemed unsure of how to apply its own rule from Roe. For example, while Thornburgcalled abortion a “fundamental right,” the Court did not apply Strict Scrutiny.[2] Likewise in Bellotti and Harris, the Court referred only to an “undue burden” or “unduly burdensome” analysis, again ignoring the usual standard of review for “fundamental rights”.[3]

Finally, in 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Court clearly ruled that abortion is not a fundamental right by adopting an Intermediate Scrutiny approach known as “Undue Burden.” Instead of the government having to prove a “compelling interest”, the burden of proof was now placed on those challenging the law, who must prove that the law places an “Undue Burden” on a woman seeking an abortion. Since then, the “Undue Burden” standard has been used in every case dealing with abortion to be heard before the US Supreme Court, clearly showing that abortion is not a fundamental right.

Myth #2: Roe legalized abortion only in the first three months.

This myth was actually repeated by my Constitutional Law professor last year, until I corrected him, and is so pervasive that the vast majority of Americans genuinely believe that it is true. In fact, when polling is done regarding public opinions about Roe,many of the pollsters frame their question in these terms: “In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that states laws which made it illegal for a woman to have an abortion up to three months of pregnancy were unconstitutional, and that the decision on whether a woman should have an abortion up to three months of pregnancy should be left to the woman and her doctor to decide. In general, do you favor or oppose this part of the U.S. Supreme Court decision making abortions up to three months of pregnancy legal?”[4]

The actual ruling in Roe split the ability of governments to regulate abortion into three categories, based on the medical classification of trimesters. Under this trimester framework, the Court banned any regulations during the first trimester, allowed minimal regulations related to maternal health in the second trimester, and allowed most regulations in the third trimester.[5] In short, the Court actually legalized all abortions prior to viability,which it placed at about 28 weeks, which is about seven months, not three months.[6]

However, in both Roe and the companion case Doe, the Court ruled that even after the child is viable, there must be a “health exception” that allows the mother to abort for almost any reason:[7]

“All factors-physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age-relevant to the well-being of the patient…”

“Maternity, or additional offspring, may force upon the woman a distressful life and future. Psychological harm may be imminent. Mental and physical health may be taxed by child care. There is also the distress, for all concerned, associated with the unwanted child, and there is the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable, psychologically and otherwise, to care for it. In other cases … the additional difficulties and continuing stigma of unwed motherhood may be involved. All these are factors the woman and her responsible physician necessarily will consider in consultation.”

Under these factors, pro-life legal scholars have pointed out that since the abortionist is the one who determines whether a woman’s health is at risk, the “definition of a woman’s health is so broad that there would never be a time when a woman could not find an abortionist willing to perform an abortion.”[8]

Myth #3: Overturning Roe will put women in jail.

Another common myth is that women would be thrown in jail for getting an abortion if Roe was overturned. However, Roe’s core holding is that abortion cannot be banned by the state, so overturning it would not result in a nation-wide ban on abortion; it would merely return the issue for the states to decide for themselves. In order for a nation-wide ban to occur, the Court would have to go a step further than just overturning Roe, and hold that the preborn are “persons” under the 14th Amendment, and therefore abortion is a violation of the Due Process Clause. Unless the Supreme Court did this in addition to overturning Roe, abortion would remain legal unless a state chose to expressly ban it.

While it is true that some states, like my home state of Louisiana, have trigger laws that would automatically ban abortion if Roe is overturned, most of them do not. The reality of a post-Roe America would most likely mirror the level of regulations that exist in the present day- conservative states with many current regulations might chose to ban abortion, more liberal states would leave their regulations the same and still allow abortions to continue as before.

Even in those states that would chose to  ban abortion, it would be very unlikely that women would be sent to jail for getting an abortion. Looking back pre-Roe, when most states banned abortion, there are only two known cases in which a woman was charged in any State with participating in her own abortion- one in Pennsylvania in 1911, and one in Texas in 1922. There is no documented case since 1922 in which a woman has been charged in an abortion in the United States.

In reality, the woman was typically treated as a second victim of abortion, the real target of these laws, and of the criminal prosecution that resulted from them, was the abortionist. Prosecuting a woman as an accomplice to the abortionist raised serious evidentiary problems that made it counterproductive- the testimony of an accomplice alone is not enough to meet the burden of proof in a criminal case, and the accomplice’s testimony must be corroborated by another source. It was difficult to prosecute abortionists under this requirement, and in order to convince women to testify against the abortionist, prosecutors had to promise them that they would not be charged for admitting to an abortion.[9]

Myth #4: Abortion bans were created to protect women because abortion was dangerous.

In their oral arguments before the Court, Roe’s lawyers argued that most state laws against abortion were implemented solely to protect the woman from a dangerous procedure; but this could not be further from the truth.  In fact, in the opinion Justice Blackmun wrote in Roe, he acknowledged that it was the attitude of the medical profession that played a significant role in the enactment of the stringent criminal abortion legislation of the late 1800s, and even quoted the American Medical Association’s 1857 report on abortion, in which the AMA called abortion an ”unwarrantable destruction of human life,” and called to upon state legislatures to revise their abortion laws and encouraged state medical societies to press the subject.[10] The result of this, which has been called “The Physician’s Crusade against Abortion”, was the implementation of many of the same abortion bans that were struck down by Roe nearly a hundred years later.

 Footnotes

[1] Planned Parenthood v. Danforth, 428 U.S. 52 (1976); City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, Inc., 462 U.S. 416 (1983);Thornburg v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 476 U.S. 747 (1986); Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S. 297 (1980); Rust v. Sullivan, 500 U.S. 173 (1991); Connecticut v. Menillo, 423 U.S. 9, 10 (1975); Bellotti v. Baird, 428 U.S. 132 (1976).

[2] Thornburg, 476 U.S. at 772.

[3] Bellotti, 443 U.S. at 640; Harris, 448 U.S. at 235.

[4] Harris Polling Question from The Wall Street Journal http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB114668092648642849

[5] Roe, 410 U.S. 154-6

[6] Id., at 160.

[7] Doe, 410 U.S. at 180; Roe, 410 U.S. at 149.

[8] Clarke Forsythe et al., Constitutional Law & Abortion Primer, 10 (William L. Saunders ed., Americans United for Life 2011) available at: http://www.aul.org/primer/.

[9] Forsythe, Clark, Why the States Did Not Prosecute Women for Abortion Before Roe v. Wade. http://www.aul.org/2010/04/why-the-states-did-not-prosecute-women-for-abortion-before-roe-v-wade/

[10] Roe, at 141-2.

****I’ve done a shorter version of this post as part of my series about the Viability of Roe, but I wanted to update it and expand it for a full length article for Live Action. You can also read it here on their site.*****

PRO-LIFE VICTORY IN LOUISIANA!

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Today was an amazing day! I am so proud to have been a part of this amazing moment in Louisiana history!

The House of Representatives voted to send HB 388 to Governor Bobby Jindal for signature! The vote was a bipartisan 88-5! When Rep. Katrina Jackson called for cosponsors to come stand with her, the response was overwhelming, with almost the entire house floor empty! Tears came to my eyes as she urged for final passage of the Unsafe Abortion Protection Act!

I was honored & humbled to have been recognized on the floor for my efforts to get this bill passed by Reps Jackson & Hoffman! I was also thankful to be awarded some delicious Pro-life brownies by Rep. Burns after passage! All in all one of the best days of my life! 

I also testified on HB 305 & HB 1262 (formerly HB 727) this morning!

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HB 388, HB 305, and HB 1262 are the work of the amazing Bioethics Defense Fund! It’s been an honor to work with them on these important pieces of legislation! Learn more about this great pro-life group and their groundbreaking work at their website: http://www.bdfund.org/

Protect LA Women

hb388 senate Health and Welfare

BDF Attorney and HB388 drafter, Dorinda Bordlee, State Senator Elbert Guillory, and Me on the Senate Floor just before HB388 was passed

BDF Attorney and HB388 drafter, Dorinda Bordlee, State Senator Elbert Guillory, and Me on the Senate Floor just before HB388 was passed

Testimony today on HB388 in the Senate Health & Welfare Committee:

My name is Deanna, and I am here to speak in support of HB388. I am a resident of Baton Rouge, a law student at LSU, and I am here today on behalf of Law Students for Life of America- a national organization of future lawyers dedicated to protecting life.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the Committee, you will hear today that these regulations are medically unnecessary, but this simply isn’t true. The proposed regulations are common sense regulations that would protect the health of women who undergo abortion procedures in Louisiana. These regulations are needed in Louisiana- and this need is evidenced by the history of violations and complaints against Louisiana’s abortion clinics.
Causeway Medical Clinic, in Metairie, has been cited for violations 14 times since 2007. These violations include failing to determine viability of the child, not monitoring patient’s vital signs during the abortion procedure, unsanitary conditions, expired medications and supplies being used, and failing to ensure parental consent for a minor’s abortion.
Bossier City Medical Clinic in Bossier City has been cited for violations 8 times since 2004, including failing to obtain a Controlled Dangerous Substances license and DEA registration, not monitoring patient’s vital signs after being given narcotics, and unsanitary conditions.
Women’s Health Care Center in New Orleans has been cited for violations 12 times since 2004, including failing to report abortions as required by law, failure to ensure informed consent, missing and incorrect records, and failing to inspect equipment annually.
Hope Medical Clinic, in Shreveport, has been cited 13 times since 2004, including reusing single use equipment, allowing noncertified individuals to administer narcotics, failure to monitor patient’s vital signs after being given narcotics, failing to meet reporting requirements under the law, improper storage of narcotics, failure to maintain sterile environment, and failure to ensure informed consent.
The Delta Clinic, in Baton Rouge, has a history of botched abortions, unsanitary conditions, and has been cited for violations 18 times since 2006. Additionally, the Delta Clinic previously employed a woman by the name of Eileen O’Neill, who after leaving the Delta Clinic, surrendered her medical license due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Ms. O’Neill went on to practice medicine without a license, in the Philadelphia abortion clinic of Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted of murdering innocent children who were born as a result of botched abortions, and causing the death of and countless injuries to, the women who visited his clinic.
The women of Louisiana deserve to be protected when they walk into an abortion clinic, and this regulation would do much to assure their safety.
From a legal standpoint, this regulation will not violate the standards set up by the Supreme Court. In the landmark case, Planned Parenthood v Casey, the Supreme Court noted that “not all burdens on the right to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy will be undue,” and acknowledged that a state’s interests in protecting unborn life, in preserving the integrity of the medical profession, preventing the coarsening of society’s moral sense, and promoting respect for human life more generally, are strong enough to warrant restrictions prior to viability, even if those regulations might make abortion more difficult or expensive to obtain. The 5th Circ. Recently upheld similar regulations in TX.
Requiring doctors to obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals would serve to protect the health and safety of Louisiana women, and since they do not violate the principles the Supreme Court follows in determining whether an abortion regulation is an “undue burden”, I ask you to support this bill.

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HB 388, HB 305, and HB 1262 are the work of the amazing Bioethics Defense Fund! It’s been an honor to work with them on these important pieces of legislation! Learn more about this great pro-life group and their groundbreaking work at their website: http://www.bdfund.org/

Abortion and Mental Health: HB 727

StBlogostine's Pic of IRMA women-men 2011 MFLDue to some unforeseen transportation issues, I was unable to make it to the Capitol in time to testify on HB 727. But I still think its important to educate people on why this bill is neccessary, so I’m going to share the testimony I had planned, which I will save for the Senate Committee. So here goes…

 

Dr. Mary Calderone, the former medical director of Planned Parenthood, once admitted: “…in almost every case, abortion, whether legal or illegal, is a traumatic experience that may have severe consequences later on.”[1] And she was correct- in addition to the many other health risks associated with induced abortion, there is a documented risk of increased mental health issues such as depression, drug abuse, and suicide. My name is Deanna, I am a law student at LSU, and I’m here today on behalf of Law Students for Life of America, in support of this bill, because Louisiana women deserve to receive informed consent about the mental health risks associated with abortion.

In his book Abuse of Discretion, attorney Clarke Forsythe points to the fact that there have been more than one hundred peer-reviewed studies, published in international medical journals, suggesting an association between abortion and adverse mental health outcomes.[2] Among these studies are:

  • A 2000 study in the American Journal of Drug & Alcohol Abuse finding a “five-fold increased incidence of abuse of alcohol and drugs in those who had aborted compared to those who carried to term.
  • A 2004 study in American Journal of Drug & Alcohol Abuse that found that women who had abortions had a higher rate of subsequent substance abuse than women who had never been pregnant or women who gave birth after unexpected pregnancies.
  • A 2003 Obb-stet-trick-cal & Gynecological Survey found that “induced abortion increased…[the incidence of] mood disorders substantial enough to provoke attempts of self-harm.”
  • A study in the Medical Science Monitor found that women with a history of abortion have a significantly higher risk of experiencing clinical depression than women who carry their children to term. This study was reinforced by a 2005 study in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders.
  • A 2006 study in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry that concluded “young women who aborted were at a higher risk for various mental health problems compared to women who carried to term…” including:

o   42% reported major depression

o   39% suffered from anxiety disorders, and

o   27% reported suicidal ideation.

  • 2010 study in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry found that “abortion was associated with an increased likelihood of several mental disorders- mood disorders… substance use disorders…as well as suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.”
  • a 2011 study in the British Journal of Psychiatry, which is a publication of Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists, showed a moderate to high increased risk of mental health problems after abortion, specifically:

o   34% higher risk of anxiety

o    30% higher risk of depression

o   110% higher rate of alcohol use

o   220% higher marijuana use

o   155% higher risk of suicidal behavior.

In addition to the studies cited by Forscythe, I’ve provided you with a list of publications dealing with the mental health risks of abortion; this list was compiled by the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

In upholding informed consent in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court stated that “In attempting to ensure that a woman apprehend the full consequences of her decision, the State furthers the legitimate purpose of reducing the risk that a woman may elect an abortion, only to discover later, with devastating psychological consequences, that her decision was not fully informed.”[3] The proposed legislation would uphold the Court’s standard on informed consent, and should be passed to protect Louisiana women.

 

 

 

[1] Calderone, Illegal Abortion as a Public Health Problem, at 951

[2] Forsythe, Clarke D. (2013-09-24). Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade

[3] Planned Parenthood v. Casey 505 U.S. 833, 882 (1992)

 

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HB 388, HB 305, and HB 1262 are the work of the amazing Bioethics Defense Fund! It’s been an honor to work with them on these important pieces of legislation! Learn more about this great pro-life group and their groundbreaking work at their website: http://www.bdfund.org/