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In a recent interview on Fox News, presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said, “I believe that the decision over abortion belongs to a woman and her physician, not the federal government, not the state government.”
Abortion may be more common than often understood. Nearly one in four women in the United States (23.7 percent) will have an abortion by age 45, according to a 2017 analysis by Guttmacher Institute researchers Rachel Jones and Jenna Jerman, published in the American Journal of Public Health. By age 20, 4.6 percent of women will have had an abortion, and 19 percent will have done so by age 30.
Abortion can be traced back to the 1840s when it first surfaced as a legal issue, but it wasn’t until the famous Roe v. Wade landmark decision by the Supreme Court that things were “officially” settled. Despite referring to abortion, Roe v. Wade was also used by people to fight for the right to privacy or the ninth amendment reservation of rights to the people.
As Mary Ziegler, a professor at Florida State University College of Law, wrote in a Washington Post article, “After the Supreme Court issued its decision [Roe v. Wade], social movements working on issues unrelated to abortion immediately moved to wield Roe as a weapon.”
Then, the scope Roe v. Wade gradually narrowed and became purely pro-life vs pro-choice, sparking the violent abortion debate. Like many other major political issues, abortion is not only a legal issue but a moral one too. Should the government be allowed to regulated whether or not a woman can receive an abortion? And, is an unborn fetus considered a living human being?
These issues don’t have a black and white answer and require reading between the lines of legal documents.
As Darrel West, author of Divided Politics, Divided Nation: Hyperconflict in the Trump Era puts it, “Abortion is a big part of political polarization because it involves life and death matters. It is hard for either side to understand the perspective of others or to compromise on key moral principals. In that situation, tensions intensify and people start to see opponents as enemies.”
Republicans have been known to call Democrats, “baby killer,” just as how Democrats have claimed that Republicans don’t support women’s rights.
But the lines of pro-life vs. pro-choice haven’t always been so divided and political.
According to Vox, back in the 1970s, it was normal for Republicans to be pro-choice — and Democrats to be pro-life. Further, abortion wasn’t such a national political issue, nor a major controversy. Abortion was more of a personal issue, one not represented by one’s political party.
When Richard Nixon ran for president though, he took a pro-choice stance, in order to, “appeal to Catholic voters and other social conservatives.”
Soon after, Ronald Reagan was elected president and promised to nominate Supreme Court judges that would overturn Roe vs. Wade. Gradually, Republicans shifted more and more pro-life, partly in order to please the large (and growing) number of Catholics and garner more votes.
In 1989, Webster v. Reproductive Health Services was argued out on the Supreme Court. In the end, the court ruled that placing restrictions on abortion was allowed, and, “the state could allocate resources in favor of childbirth over abortion if it so chose.”
As Republicans became pro-lifers, Democrats followed suit and shifted towards pro-choice. As Democrats started supporting LGBTQ+ and women’s rights, they expressed support for, “a […] safe and legal abortion’ and enumerates no limits on that right,” as a right that women should natively have.
According to Wikipedia, “many Democrats believe all women should have the ability to choose to abort without governmental interference.”
On the other hand, Republicans became increasingly opposed to Roe v. Wade and vowed to overturn it. They also opposed research that involves the destruction of human embryos.
Soon, a partisan line was drawn, and Republican-controlled states started making it harder for people to get abortions, by reducing the number of clinics and delaying the process, while Democratic-controlled states started building more clinics and expediating the process. States were all required to have abortion clinics though, under Roe v. Wade.
Now, sides have been chosen, and one’s stance on abortion is usually linked to one’s party. As with anything in politics these days, the abortion debate has been full of violent and non-violent protests, arguments, or even satirical bills, like the “Man’s Right to Know.”
Others say that dismantling abortion rights has already started — on a state level, like the NYTimes Editorial Board.
In particular, Alabama–under control of a Republican-led state legislature and GOP governor–just passed into law what is seen as perhaps the most stringent abortion law in the nation. It bans all abortions, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Physicians who provide abortions could go to prison for 99 years.
Although the law clearly flies in the face of Roe v Wade, that is the point. Conservatives are so confident of a solid conservative majority on the US Supreme Court, they want to send the high court a law that the court’s conservatives could use to overturn Roe v Wade.
NOTE: This article was updated with the Guttmacher study and Alabama law.
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