With only 1 week left in its current term, the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to decide on a highly controversial abortion case. Known as Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, it is poised to result in “one of the most important rulings on women’s rights in many decades”.
The case revolves around a Texas law (HB2), approved by the Republican-majority state legislature in October 2013. The law requires all abortion providers to adhere to a “long list of conditions in order to keep their practice open”. In particular, they must: 1) offer comparable facilities as ambulatory surgical centers and 2) have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.
Proponents argue that the law is designed to improve the standard of care and safety for women undergoing abortions. In the words of Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, “The common-sense measures Texas has put in place…protect the health of Texas women”. They ensure that women are not subject to “substandard conditions at abortion facilities”.
Others, however, are calling the law a TRAP…..a “Targeted Regulation on Abortion Providers”. They maintain that such laws primarily aim to make it “almost impossible for [abortion] providers to stay open”. As proof, they note that over 160 American clinics have closed since 2011. Texas now has only 19 clinics, while some states (Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming) have only 1. This means that some American women must wait longer, pay more, or travel 400+ miles for necessary care.
In these ways, TRAP laws endanger women’s constitutional rights. In 1973, the famous Roe v. Wade case declared abortions legal across the U.S. Later, in 1992, another Supreme Court ruling concluded that state regulations of abortion providers must not cause an undue burden to the woman.
But more importantly, TRAP laws may endanger lives. Rather than elevating the standard of care, they may drive women to perform their own abortions or endure high-risk pregnancies. Incidentally, many states with TRAP laws are also at risk of Zika, a virus that can cause severe birth defects.
Now, it is up to the Supreme Court to choose–essentially, on women’s right to choose. Following oral arguments on March 2, the eight remaining justices seemed “split along ideological lines”. A split decision would uphold the opinion of the Fifth Circuit, which ruled in favor of the abortion clinic conditions. However, it would not set a nationwide legal precedent. The justices could also defer the decision to the next term.
Want to learn more about women’s reproductive rights? Contact the Center for Reproductive Rights, URGE, Planned Parenthood or our partners, NARAL South Dakota and A Women’s Pregnancy Center.
There is something else to celebrate this holiday season! According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the rate of teenage births in the United States has reached a historic low, dropping to 29.4 births per 1,000 females aged 15-19. This compares to a rate of 31.3 in 2011 and 61.8 in 1991.
To account for the decline, experts point primarily to “a mix of greater access to birth control and better sex education.” Over the last few years, the FDA has made birth control available over-the-counter to girls as young as 15. The Affordable Care Act has mandated insurance companies to cover contraception in health plans. And the Obama administration has disbursed $155 million in teenage pregnancy prevention grants to states, school districts, and non-profit organizations.
A number of economic and cultural factors may have also played a role. The recession, and resulting decline in youth employment, may have reduced teenagers’ confidence in their ability to support a child. Changing norms may have altered teenagers’ perceptions of the appropriate age for childbirth. Finally, popular TV shows like “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” may have enhanced teenagers’ “understanding of the challenges of [pregnancy] and parenting, and how to avoid it”.
Whatever the reason, the decline in teen births is a societal victory. After all, studies suggest that teenage mothers are at a higher risk of leaving school and facing un- or under-employment. They also often suffer from social isolation, abuse, stress, and depression. The children of teenage mothers also pay a price. In general, they experience weaker intellectual development and more behavioral problems than their counterparts.
But don’t crack open a bottle of champagne just yet. The teen birth rate in the US remains higher than in many other developed countries. Canada, Germany, France, and the Netherlands, for example, all enjoy lower rates. Furthermore, US rates vary considerably by race and geography. While the rate for white females is 20.5, the rates for black and Hispanic females are 43.9 and 46.3, respectively. The rates are also lowest in New England (under 17.0) and highest in the south (above 50.0 in Arkansas and Mississippi).
Therefore, support for teenage mothers in the US is still needed. To help, please donate to A Young Mother’s DREAM, The Brooklyn Young Mothers Collective, or our partners, A Women’s Pregnancy Center and Advocates for Adolescent Mothers.
Flickr Photo Credit: Joshua Rappeneker