The Fight to Keep It Safe and Legal: A History of Abortion

By Amie Newman — May 20, 2016

Ready for a pop quiz on abortion law? How many abortion restrictions have gone into effect in the United States since Roe v. Wade affirmed a woman’s legal right to have an abortion a little more than forty year ago? Here are your choices:

A)   12

B)   120

C)   550

D)   None of these are even close. Over one thousand.

If you picked “D”, you’re right. Since 1973, states have enacted 1,074 laws to limit a woman’s ability to access safe and legal abortion. Poor women and women of color bear the brunt of those restrictions.

The passage of the Hyde Amendment in 1976 limited federal funds from being used to pay for abortion care for women. Since then, public funding abortion bans have expanded to deny access to tens of millions of women including Native Americans, federal employees and their dependents, federal prisoners, and military personnel and their dependents. Most prominently, when the Affordable Care Act became the law of the land in 2010, Hyde Amendment restrictions were extended to the health exchanges, leaving six in ten women without the option of selecting a plan (through the exchange) that covers abortion.

Anti-abortion rights activists continue to attempt to restrict abortion in any way they can. Louisiana will soon become the sixth state to criminalize D&E (dilation and extraction), a commonly used medical procedure for second trimester abortions. South Carolina passed a bill this week to ban abortions after 19 weeks, joining 16 other states that passed the same restriction. And just yesterday Oklahoma approved a bill that effectively bars physicians from providing abortion care, although it was quickly vetoed by the governor.

The right to abortion in the United States is not a story, then, we can tell just once and let stand. Shifts and changes in abortion policies and laws seem to happen as frequently as the tides flow, necessitating that the story of abortion become a living history. That’s why we recently revised and updated the OBOS article History of Abortion in the U.S. The article is one of the more popular ones on our website, with about 7500 people viewing it each month, and we want to make sure we have it right.

Our Bodies Ourselves  — a small nonprofit with a shoestring budget — is able to create up-to-date, high quality content only because so many fabulous and talented contributors donate their time and expertise. For this article, we want to give special shout outs to Marlene Gerber Fried, a professor of philosophy and faculty director of the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program; Carole Joffe, a professor at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco; and Laura Kaplan, author of “The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service” and a former Jane member. As activists, historians and scholars, their input makes this article an important and authentic documentation of the battle to keep abortion safe, legal, and accessible.

Check out the article here: The History of Abortion in the U.S., and let us know what you think!

One response to “The Fight to Keep It Safe and Legal: A History of Abortion”

  1. I am a history teacher and this is really one of the toughest “history” pieces I’ve read. I rarely comment on such things, but I am filled with sorrow looking at recent CDC statistics alongside these words.

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