On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court issued it momentous Roe v. Wade decision that legalizing a woman’s right to the privacy of an abortion. In his decision, Justice Harry Blackmun noted, “… throughout the 19th Century prevailing legal abortion practices were far freer than they are today, persuades us that the word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn ….” The Roe decision forced 46 states to liberalize their abortion laws.
The Court’s decision occurred two days after Richard Nixon was inaugurated to his second term as president. His landslide victory over Sen. George McGovern (D-SD) — who had been labeled the candidate of “acid, amnesty, and abortion” – was driven by the “Southern strategy” that reconfigured national politics. These two events helped foster the culture wars.
Now, nearly a half-century later, Donald Trump’s election enabled the forces of the Christian right to seize state power, including two seats on the Supreme Court. Their efforts, combined with conservative legislators in states throughout the country, are intended to finally end – or severely restrict – the Roe decision and a woman’s right to an abortion.
A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and arecent lower-court abortion decision in Mississippi may take some of most virulent wind out of the anti-abortion movement. Unfortunately, like the culture wars in general – and hardcore support for Trump in particular – reactionary rage has little to do with statistical facts let alone court decisions. These religious warriors, like fundamentalists the world over, blindly seek to impose their beliefs on everyone under their ostensible control.
On November 23rd, the CDC issued a report, “Abortion Surveillance — United States, 2015,” that found that in the decade from 2006 to 2015 the number of reported abortions decline by nearly one-quarter (24%) to 638,169 from 842,855 – and nearly one-third (32%) from the 1996 total of 934,549 reported abortions.
The study draws on data was from what it calls “participating areas,” including the 50 states, the District of Columbia and New York City. It notes that the rate of abortions per 1,000 for women ages 15 to 44 fell to 11.8 from 15.9 percent during the 2006-2015 decade and that decreases in abortion rates occurred across all age groups. It found that in 2015 abortion rates declined across all age groups. Over the decade the study covers, the greatest decline was seen among adolescents; the rate of abortions of girls aged 15-19 fell by more than one-half (54%). However, the majority of women who had abortions were in their 20s; nearly one-third (31.1%) were aged 20-24 and over one-quarter (27.6%) were aged 25-29.
The CDC study found that, in 2015, nearly two-thirds of all abortions occurred when the fetus was no later than at eight weeks of gestation and more than nine-out-of-10 (91%) abortions took place at 13 weeks or less of gestation. Equally revealing, the study found that nearly three-out-of-five (59%) of the women who had abortions in 2015 had previously given birth – and more than 14 percent were women who’d had three or more births.
Rachel Jones, principal research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute, attributed the sizable and sustained decline in abortions to proactive birth-planning practices. “Affordable access to the full range of contraception and family planning options is critical for people deciding if and when they’d like to become parents, develop their careers, plan for their futures, and manage their health,” she said. “For women who become but do not want to remain pregnant, access to safe, legal abortion services remains critical.”
The CDC report was issued three days after a federal judge in Mississippi blocked one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the country, concluding that Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban is “unequivocally” a violation of women’s constitutional rights.
The so called “Mississippi Gestational Age Act” was enacted in March and sought to prohibit abortions after 15 weeks of gestation — except in case in which the mother faced medical emergency or if the fetus suffered “a severe fetal abnormality” that would prevent it surviving outside of the womb. The law called for doctors found guilty of violating the act to have their licenses suspended or revoked and face a fine. Judge Carlton W. Reeves ruled: “The record is clear: States may not ban abortions prior to viability; 15 weeks [since a woman’s last menstrual period] is prior to viability,”
In May, Louisiana’s Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards signed a bill that would ban abortions after 15 weeks. However, because the Mississippi ban was found unconstitutional, it’s unlikely that the Louisiana bill will take effect.
We live in a perverse period, a sad, pathetic state of affairs. Faced with the CDC’s very good news about the significant decline in abortions, Pres. Trump failed to acknowledge it. Equally disappointing, but predictable, Focus on the Family, a leading organization of the religious right, reported the CDC findings but failed to acknowledge that something socially “good” had occurred. It dutifully reported the news, but then sought to debunk the findings as mere inadequate data.
After nearly a half-century of struggle, the anti-abortion movement has become a business. As of October 2018, Christian right lobbying organizations, led by the Susan B. Anthony List, raised $820,000; in 2017, these groups garnered $1,050,000. Waging the culture wars has become a profitable scam like private prisons and private military contractors.
In 1992 there was a revealing exchange about the culture wars:
There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself. – Pat Buchanan
I regret to inform Pat Buchanan that those wars are over and the left has won. – Irving Kristol
Over the last quarter-century, the religious right has socially lost the culture war but desperately fights on politically. The right has given up the fight against mainstream sexual commerce – e.g., sex toys, porn, adult (non-trafficked) prostitution – that has become a multi-billion-dollar business. The once-decisive battle over the Equal Rights Amendment has been superseded by women increasingly securing more rights (e.g., wages, credit, military service) – and many men sharing in housework and childcare.
Nevertheless, religious warriors have captured the Republican Party and are exploiting corrupt electoral schemes to maintain political power. The recent midterm elections suggest what might be coming in 2020 – an end to Trump’s presidency, Republican control of the Senate and this round of the culture wars. Hopefully, this will help protect a woman’s right to an abortion.