- The “fetal heartbeat” bill has been gaining steam since 2019, and is behind increasing abortion restrictions many states are pursuing.
- Evidence suggests that a woman’s mental health is more adversely affected by denial or lack of access to an abortion than getting the procedure.
- The debate between Pro-Life and Pro-Choice needs to be humanized and not politicized.
- Abortion restrictions violate a woman’s constitutional rights, and should be regarded as part of her overall health care options.
Abortion bills have taken a front seat in 2021 legislation, mainly focused on restricting or even repealing current and long-standing laws surrounding the polarizing issue. But, once again, lawmakers are taking steps to strip a woman of her right to decide, giving more power to the government to make that choice for her.
Viewpoints on both sides of Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice are defensible, but what often gets overlooked while hotly debating the issue are the mothers and children impacted by the aftermath of these laws and the long-term effect either decision has on both the mother and their unborn child.
THE “FETAL HEARTBEAT” BILL
2021 has been a record-setting year for abortion restrictions, with many states create and sign bills that drastically debilitate women’s ability to choose. A bill commonly known as the “fetal heartbeat” law was just passed in Idaho and Texas, and many other “Bible Belt” states already have something similar in place or are looking to follow suit.
This law bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat has been detected, usually at six weeks. Unfortunately, many women have no clue they are pregnant at this stage, so if upheld, it could effectively end the debate of choice before it begins.
Many see this as a direct violation of a woman’s constitutional rights. In addition, these restrictions fly in the face of the long-standing federal precedent of Roe v. Wade, which says abortion is legal until the fetus is viable outside of the womb, usually around 24 weeks.
Those opposed to the bill claim the term “fetal heartbeat” is a misleading political manipulation, as the heart has yet to form at six weeks and is electrical activity coming from a 4-millimeter wide growth called the ‘fetal pole’.
Despite these wide spread attempts by state lawmakers to restrict abortion rights, NARAL, an organization that has lead the fight for reproductive freedom for over 50 years, says 7 of 10 Americans believe people have the right to choose, free from political interference.
There are some bills out there looking to expand and protect reproductive health care options. For example, the Abortion is Health Care Act, filed by Texas State Rep. Donna Howard, would remove medically unnecessary abortion restrictions that “…disproportionality impact vulnerable and marginalized communities.”
HOW DOES ABORTION AFFECT A WOMAN’S MENTAL HEALTH?
There are several reasons a woman might seek an abortion, including abuse or instability in their relationship, financial, emotional, or physical unpreparedness, health-related concerns, pregnancy as a result of rape or incest, or needing to focus on their other children.
Most women faced with the decision don’t make it lightly, and it may shock you to learn that half of all recorded abortions are performed on women that are already mothers. Another surprising statistic-half of unplanned pregnancies occur while women are on birth control.
There is conflicting information available that examines the impact abortion has on a woman’s mental health and overall well-being. The outcome often depends on the support a woman receives from her community. Some studies show a higher occurrence of mental health disorders related to abortion. In contrast, others report that unwanted pregnancies more negatively impact the mother. She will experience the same negative mental health changes whether she goes through with the birth or has an abortion.
According to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), though many women experienced grief, sadness, anxiety, and depression post-abortion, they did not attribute these struggles to the procedure itself. Instead, the cause of the mental health issue is related to the reason for pursuing abortion in the first place.
The APA also says that women denied an abortion are more likely to experience higher levels of anxiety, lower life satisfaction, and lower self-esteem than women who received an abortion.
An insightful article by Parents examines some real-life abortion stories and humanizes the statistics and debate.
WHEN PRO-LIFE PREVAILS
Even though a woman’s legal right to abortion has been established since 1973, many barriers like insurance coverage and cost, access to an abortion provider, restrictive laws that require multiple trips and travel, stigma, discrimination, and even threat of violence or harm often prevent abortion as an option.
If a woman has a child, and she did not want or cannot effectively care for, what happens to that child? What happens to the mother? In the same APA article referenced above, they state that “Unwanted pregnancy has been associated with deficits to the subsequent child’s cognitive, emotional and social processes. As a result, these children are more likely to experience negative long-term outcomes in adulthood.”
Other studies report that abortion restrictions preventing it as an option result in higher maternal and infant mortality rates and show that the more abortion restrictions a state has worsened women and children’s health outcomes.
The other side of following through with an unwanted pregnancy is that if a mother or other family member is unable to care for her child, they will enter the overburdened child welfare (or foster care) system and join a reported 400,000+ children, many of which move among multiple homes before “aging out” or being adopted.
Another option is adoption. It is beautiful and the right choice for many expecting mothers that do not wish to keep their baby. According to the Adoption Network, around 135,000 children are adopted in the United States each year, with approximately 59% from the child welfare system, 26% from other countries and 15% are voluntarily relinquished American babies given up for adoption at birth.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Before Roe v. Wade, many women sought illegal abortions, often resulting in severe complications and even death. This issue goes beyond the political arena and shouldn’t be used as a political tool, and by doing so, we endanger and limit a woman’s right to privacy, health care, support, and options. Furthermore, making legal and safe abortion hard to obtain or illegal could increase unsafe abortions with unintended and devastating side effects.
One in 4 women will undergo an abortion in their lifetime, so there is a chance you know someone who’s had one. Lead with compassion and grace. We can’t imagine the emotional turmoil most women experience when faced with this decision, and who are we to judge?
According to The Center for American Progress, the legal right for abortion is a “…public health, economic, and human rights imperative to ensure that people have not only the right but also meaningful access to abortion care, free from discrimination or fear of violence. Federal and state lawmakers have the ability and obligation to implement systemic changes that remove barriers to health care. Abortion is health care, and policies related to civil and human rights, insurance coverage, health care delivery, and criminalization must treat abortion equally to other services. Lawmakers should support this right regardless of and without question as to the reason why the person is seeking care.”
It’s easy to dismissively say, “why didn’t she use birth control,” or “just give the baby up for adoption.” Still, for many women who find themselves faced with this difficult choice, they need the support of society, our laws, and their loved ones to get through it and make the choice that’s right for them. Do we want to sacrifice a woman’s rights and health for government control and political agendas?
Samantha DeTurk is a health and science writer for ThinkCivics. Sam graduated cum laude from BSU with a major in Theatre and a minor in Telecommunications and spent her first 5 years post-grad working in the radio industry before joining corporate America as a business consultant for a Fortune 300 HCM leader. When she’s not writing or cooking delicious WFPB cuisine, Sam loves singing, acting, spending time at the lake with her husband and ornery kitty Jasper, and (badly) learning to play her ukulele, The UkuBaby.