“There is a great debate about when life begins,” Bettina Aptheker said.
Known by thousands for her retired Introduction to Feminist Studies course, UC Santa Cruz’s feminist studies professor Bettina Aptheker is a long-standing proponent of reproductive rights.
“A doctor will tell you life begins when the fetus is viable, when it can survive outside the womb,” Aptheker continued.
Although the time comes at a slightly different time for each child, the Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark decision Roe v. Wade declares women have the right to terminate their pregnancies until the fetus is viable. According to the Guttmacher Institute, an organization that conducts sexual and reproductive health research, a fetus becomes viable around 27 weeks.
In 1973, Roe v. Wade defined “viable” as being “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid,” while noting it “is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks.”
Many anti-abortion advocates maintain that life begins at conception, the moment a sperm fertilizes an egg. A physician might say the same thing.
The Association of Pro-Life Physicians is an organization based in Zanesville, Ohio that provides a listing of physicians who will neither perform abortions nor refer them.
“Life begins at fertilization, when a sperm unites with an oocyte,” according to the association’s website. “In time, we will re-stigmatize the abortionists in our communities and lives will be saved.”
In the past decade, more restrictions on abortion laws have been reappearing on state ballots: mandatory counseling sessions and wait periods; 20-week limits on time to get an abortion; and parental letters of consent for minors.
“Trigger laws” in place in several states, including Louisiana and Mississippi, would outlaw abortion automatically if Roe v. Wade were overturned. Some states, like California and New York, have enacted “trigger laws” that would preserve women’s right to abortion.
Republican leaders across the country are pushing to reduce the amount of time women are eligible for abortion to 20 weeks or less. In the last decade, over 350 laws have been passed making abortion services less accessible and more invasive.
In 2010, Nebraska passed the first law to prohibit women from getting abortions 20 weeks after conception. Several states have followed suit since then, including Kansas, where Gov. Sam Brownback signed a law disallowing abortion 21 weeks after conception.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 16 states have laws in effect prohibiting “partial-birth” abortion. The term, generally used in political discourse, refers to a method of late-term abortion that ends a pregnancy and results in the death and intact removal of a fetus, medically known as intact dilation and extraction (IDX). The term is not recognized by the American Medical Association or the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Only four of these laws apply exclusively to post-viability abortions.
On May 9, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” in a 251-175 vote. More than its name suggests, if passed in the Senate this coming year the act would cease federal funding to federally subsidize insurance plans that include abortion services.
Among those who would be affected by the proposed policy are women on Medicaid, women in federal prisons, and women serving in the armed forces. Their insurance plans would need to be reshaped to exclude abortion services.
Planned Parenthood, a nationwide health service organization, provides comprehensive health care services to millions of people. In 2009, Planned Parenthood received $363.2 million in grants and contracts from the state and federal government.
Lupe Rodriguez, Mar Monte Planned Parenthood public affairs director, said H.R. 3 misinforms the public regarding where funding for abortions currently comes from.
“One of the misleading aspects of the law is it implies there is currently government funding for abortion services,” Rodriguez said. “There isn’t.”
In California, Planned Parenthood funding would not be affected by H.R. 3. However, many patients with federally subsidized health care plans and low-income families that may not have health insurance altogether would feel its impact.
Additionally, anti-preventative health care bills have been proposed federally, and in several states. These bills seek to slash the Title X funding Planned Parenthood and other health care providers depend on across the country. Title X, the Public Health Service Act, is the only Federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The Hyde Amendment passed in 1976 restricts government funding for abortions. H.R. 3 takes the Hyde Amendment a step further by disallowing the funding of abortion coverage except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is in immediate danger.
UCSC Professor Aptheker pointed out what she perceived to be the historical hypocrisy of refusing to fund self-selected abortions in light of the U.S.’s history of sterilizing Native American women.
“Under the Hyde Amendment, no tax funds are allocated to abortion,” Aptheker said. “The government has, however, used funds for sterilization. In the 1970s, Native American women were sterilized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The federal government funded that, but not abortion.”
To be covered for abortion services under H.R. 3, women would need to purchase a separate insurance plan for it. In the last decade, unintended pregnancy increased by 29 percent among poor women while decreasing 20 percent among higher-income women, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
The majority of women who get abortions already have children, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
UCSC graduate Emily Steiner found an internship last year with the Walnut Avenue Women’s Center through the feminist studies department. She counseled women in a weekly group for women with or expecting children. She also completed a major in sociology.
“H.R. 3 targets women who are impoverished and minority groups,” Steiner said. “It could also make it harder for girls who are scared to go to their parents because they don’t have insurance and can’t afford it.”
On the outset, poor women and women of color would be most impacted by the bill. Medicaid health care is reserved for the poorest people in the country. To qualify, a woman must have an income below the “very low” eligibility ceiling set by her state. Nationally, the average qualifying salary is $11,160 per year for a family of three.
Women in their twenties account for more than half of all abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute. As affordable options to terminate pregnancy dwindle, many women seek unsafe abortions.
“These policies are forcing women to seek illegal abortions, which can be very dangerous and exorbitantly expensive,” Aptheker said.
If H.R. 3 passes the Senate vote, it could severely limit the access women have to abortion services by raising the cost to unaffordable levels.
While the government does not directly fund abortions, it funds some insurance plans that include abortion services. Republicans in the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to prohibit the federal government from funding these services.
“We have a very conservative House now,” said Louis La Fortune, a Free Radio Santa Cruz DJ. “Congress has continually attacked abortion rights since Roe v. Wade.”
La Fortune hosts a political show at a secret location in Santa Cruz. Every wall in the broadcast studio covered in graffiti and art, La Fortune’s humanitarian-centered program flows through the airwaves and aims to liberate.
Self-determination is an issue that has been at the heart of the abortion debate for decades.
“[Congress] wants to take away a person’s control over their own life,” La Fortune said. “It’s tragic that they’re going after women.”
Satirical newspaper The Onion reported on May 18 that Planned Parenthood opened a 900,000 square foot abortion facility in Topeka, Kansas. The “abortionplex” story was a jab at the assumptions behind HR 3 and similar policies.
The services listed include valet parking and a food court. The outrageous headline “Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Dollar Abortionplex” appeared all over Facebook with disgusted reactions to the article, which was thought by many to be factual.
“My heart and soul weeps for these deceived people,” said one posting responding to The Onion’s article.
The Tumblr site “Literally Unbelievable” documented outbursts of rage against Planned Parenthood and the “abortionplex.”
“Some anti-choice people don’t want to hear the real facts,” UCSC Health Center pharmacist Diane Lamotte said.
Lamotte said reactions to The Onion article may represent the tendency for some in opposition to abortion to misinterpret or ignore the truth about what Planned Parenthood does.
“I love The Onion,” Lamotte said. “And I love that they take on the absurd and point it out for what it is. One Arizona Congressman said over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does is abortions, when it’s really in the 3 percent area.”
Ninety-seven percent of services Planned Parenthood offers are preventative health care. Lupe Rodriguez, director of public affairs at Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, said the popular perception of their organization is skewed.
“It’s not very widely known that we provide general health care,” Rodriguez said. “Our focus is on comprehensive services.”
Pro-life activists like projects manager Corrina Gurra of the Pro-Life Action League are set on preserving the fetus by supporting legislation that restricts abortion.
“We’re going to stand behind laws that we think will save lives,” Gurra said.
The League, based in Chicago, Illinois is one of thousands of organizations dedicated to teaching Americans about the graphic details of abortion procedures.
“We are an activist organization,” Gurra said. “Tomorrow we have what we call a ‘Face the Truth’ and going out to the suburbs and in the busy streets. We go out twice a month to show pictures of aborted fetuses.”
While the Pro-Life Action League is not directly involved in policy-making, there are several organizations that lobby for restricting abortion rights. The National Right To Life Political Action Committee is the largest of them.
Rodriguez said Planned Parenthood has been responding to political attacks by activating supporters and encouraging them to speak out against restrictive policies.
“We are helping Planned Parenthood affiliates in other states,” Rodriguez said. “Our volunteers call constituents in other states and ask them to contact their legislators.”
Women are being arrested across the country under the suspicion of causing or attempting to cause their own abortions. Jennie McCormack, a 32-year-old mother of three from eastern Idaho, stands accused of performing a self-induced pill abortion after the 20-week limit. She was arrested and could face up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine, according to Reuters.
Younger women have tried to end their pregnancies on their own rather than confront their parents about it. Steiner said she had friends in high school who attempted to end their pregnancies.
“When I was in high school, I had friends that were too scared to get an abortion and tried to terminate on their own,” Steiner said. “One abused alcohol during her pregnancy; one hit herself against the back of her sofa.”
In California, voters have repeatedly struck down a parental notification letter requiring women under the age of 18 to obtain permission from their parents before getting abortions.
“California has not been nearly as affected by these draconian laws as other states,” Lamotte said. “But I have been involved in three campaigns against parental notification letters in the past two decades.”
Anti-abortion advocates assert that young women need guidance from their parents to make informed decisions about their pregnancies. However, advocates like Lamotte question the ethic and effectiveness of the proposed law.
“We can’t legislate family dynamics,” Lamotte said. “Some families are very dysfunctional and it would be terrible for young women to seek consent. They could be thrown out or hurt.”
Lamotte said the proposed law is problematic because it makes the assumption that young women have a safe enough home environment to disclose their sexual histories and personal decisions in.
Lupe Rodriguez of Planned Parenthood shares the same opinion as Lamotte.
“Young women are often in fear of telling parents what they need,” Rodriguez said. “The people who would be most affected by this kind of bill are those in danger by it. It’s a small, but very important percentage of youth.”
Professor Aptheker said anti-abortion laws arise out of religious fanaticism and are detrimental to women’s health.
“There has been a backlash against the women’s liberation movement, and all it encompasses,” Aptheker said. “The political motivation behind these laws are very anti-women. They come from an unfortunate ignorance about social realities.”
For Santa Cruz DJ La Fortune, there is hope after these tumultuous years of restrictive policy.
“It’s got to get worse before it gets better,” La Fortune said. “I’m glad to see organized opposition and there is some pushback, which is great. But every day we lose more of our civil rights to legislation.”