Undue Burden and the Vote to Defund Planned Parenthood

Posted September 24, 2015 by Kate Black

Activists Hold Red Signs that Say Equality Now

As I write this, news has just broken that the President will veto the Stop Gap Spending Bill which is widely known as the effort to defund Planned Parenthood throughout the country. This news broke just hours before the Senate was scheduled to vote on the bill.

What other decisions regarding women’s healthcare access and bodily autonomy loom over the people of the United States? Next on the docket seems to be the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, under the guise of a bill written to “protect women and children” introduced in June of 2015. The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act attempts a federal ban on abortions performed after twenty weeks gestation, a ban which is already in place in ten states. This bill has already been approved by the house and is scheduled to be presented to the senate at some point this fall, perhaps even by the end of this month. Again, the attempt seems futile, as the bill will most likely fail in the senate, and will certainly be vetoed by President Obama if it reaches his desk.

I fully understand that an abortion performed at twenty weeks gestation is difficult for many people to comprehend. Fear mongering and inaccurate information provided by the Center for Medical Progress and various other anti-choice organizations has only aided in developing this belief amongst the masses. The fact is that a federal twenty week abortion ban will only deny healthcare to women already in the most dire of straits. According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, just 1.5% of abortions performed in the United States each year are administered past twenty weeks of pregnancy. The majority of these abortions are induced upon girls between the ages of ten and seventeen.[3]These abortions may be performed later in pregnancy than “normal” for several reasons. A woman (or girl) experiencing irregular menstrual periods may not realize that she is pregnant prior to later gestation. Variable-onset and late-onset fetal anomalies which are undetectable prior to twenty weeks, anomalies which result in drastically impaired viability or death of the fetus often drive women to seek abortion in order to avoid further fetal distress. Often, pregnancies experiencing these severe anomalies are intended, and legislated restricting a woman’s access to an abortion most certainly places an additional undue burden on her. Additionally, 25,000 women and girls in the United States become pregnant each year as a result of rape. Many existing abortion bans and the proposed Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act secure no exceptions in the case of rape, incest, or in the threat of the pregnant woman’s health or life.

When the monumental Roe v. Wade decision was made in 1973, the Supreme Court legalized all abortion until the point of fetal viability, without undue burden on the woman seeking an abortion. What, exactly, constitutes an undue burden on a woman simply attempting to access a safe medical procedure? Let me use my state of North Dakota as an example.

Currently, the Red River Women’s Clinic in downtown Fargo, North Dakota is the only clinic providing abortions to women in the state. Therefore, some women in the Western part of the state face a seven hour drive one way to the nearest provider, within their own state. The clinic also provides care to women from underserved areas in Manitoba, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana, sometimes requiring a drive of eleven hours each way. Once a woman arrives in Fargo, state provided “counseling” meant to discourage the woman from choosing abortion is mandated by the state, in addition to a twenty-four hour waiting period for the procedure after counseling is completed. A woman seeking an abortion in North Dakota may not use her own privately obtained health insurance, nor a plan provided under the Affordable Care Act, for coverage of her abortion procedure in the state, in any  case other than one which presents an immediate danger to her life. Medication abortions, typically available for use in the first nine weeks of pregnancy, using mifepristone and misoprostol , are not available in North Dakota, nor is telemedicine abortion using these medications.  A minor seeking an abortion must obtain permission from both parents.

This myriad of requirements and restrictions certainly places an undue burden on the women of my state, and on those who turn to North Dakota for abortion; the undue burden of blatant distrust and disdain from state elected officials who fail to represent their constituents and their access to a common, safe medical procedure. Politicians who place this burden on woman in North Dakota and throughout the United States do so with no regard for their well-being, only with a false concern for the well-being of a fetus. A woman is entitled to the same bodily autonomy as a man. She is not required to defend her choices regarding her own personal healthcare to distant elected officials. She need not face yet another undue burden.