Roe v Wade 40th anniversary links and discussion thread

Forty years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Roe v Wade. Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread. I’ve posted many links about abortion rights and availability below.  

Access and demographics

At the state level, conservative politicians have chipped away at abortion rights for decades, but the trend accelerated in recent years. The Guttmacher Institute produced some excellent infographics to illustrate “key facts about abortion in the United States.”

More state-level abortion restrictions were enacted in 2011 than in any prior year; 2012 brought the second-highest number of restrictions ever. More than half of all U.S. women of reproductive age (15-44) now live in a state that is hostile to abortion rights, whereas fewer than one-third did a decade ago.

Click here to view all the graphics. Among other things, they show that abortion is less and less available to American women, and is increasingly concentrated among poor women. Some states have only one abortion provider.

Planned Parenthood of the Heartland runs most of the clinics where abortion is available in Iowa. There is also an independent Emma Goldman clinic in Iowa City.

Anti-choice advocates frequently trumpet claims that abortion causes breast cancer or other health problems. The American Cancer Society states, “scientific research studies have not found a cause-and-effect relationship between abortion and breast cancer.”

One British researcher has found that women who have had abortions have “double the risk of mental health problems” later in life. But the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion found “No evidence that having a single abortion causes mental health problems. […] The Task Force found some studies that indicate that some women do experience sadness, grief and feelings of loss following an abortion and some experience ‘clinically significant disorders, including depression and anxiety.’ The evidence regarding the relative mental health risks associated with multiple abortions is more uncertain.”

The abortion rate has fallen in recent years both nationally and in Iowa. More widespread use of contraception seems to be part of the explanation. The Iowa Initiative, a non-profit organization that operated for five years with a mission to reduce unintended pregnancies, reported on its research late last year.

Planned Parenthood’s use of telemedicine (allowing Iowa doctors to prescribe the abortion pill to women in other towns) has drawn criticism but has not increased the total number of abortions.

The Guttmacher Institute has studied the reasons women have second-trimester abortions.


Traditional attitudes toward abortion have been more complex that we may realize. Scholars have found evidence of “surprising attitudes towards abortion” among Christians in early medieval Ireland, for instance.

Kate Manning summarized some abortion methods used throughout human history here.

Leslie J. Reagan’s book When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973 is available electronically here. She suggests that in the U.S., “abortion was not an unusual feature of married life in the early twentieth century.”

These abortions were often dangerous, however. One retired gynecologist spoke about the horrific things he saw when women came for help after getting illegal abortions. Former Lieutenant Governor Joy Corning has spoken publicly about an event that haunted her as a young woman in Cedar Falls. Her husband came home from work one day and told her that the wife of an acquaintance (a married mother of several children) had died after an illegal abortion. This tragedy cemented Corning’s pro-choice political views, which were increasingly out of step in the Republican Party of Iowa during the 1980s and 1990s.

Public opinion

Political scientists sometimes cite Americans’ views on abortion as an example of stable public opinion over time. Pew Research Center polling has shown that for the past 20 years, about 60 percent of respondents in nationwide polls have said the Supreme Court should not overturn Roe v Wade. According to the latest Pew poll on the subject, taken earlier this month, most Americans over 30 know that Roe v Wade was about abortion rights, but a majority of respondents under age 30 thought it dealt with other rights or said they did not know.

Pew found that men and women are about equally supportive of Roe. People with certain religious affiliations are much more likely to oppose Roe v Wade, but only among white evangelical Protestants did Pew find a majority favor overturning the decision. Many Americans hold the same view as Joe Biden: they oppose abortion in their own families but believe the option should be legal for others.

Outside the northeast, it’s hard to find any pro-choice Republican elected official anymore. The Iowa Senate hasn’t had a pro-choice Republican since Maggie Tinsman lost a 2006 GOP primary, and the Iowa House hasn’t had a (sort-of) pro-choice Republican since Libby Jacobs retired in 2008.

Interestingly, the latest Pew poll found Republican respondents divided almost evenly on whether the Supreme Court should overturn Roe. Democrats and independents overwhelmingly believe the decision should stand.

According to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, about 31 percent of respondents said abortion should always be legal, 23 percent thought it should be legal most of the time, 35 percent believe it should be illegal except in case of rape, incest or saving a woman’s life, and 9 percent said abortion should be illegal with no exceptions.

Some people who identify as “pro-life” don’t necessarily walk their talk. Research has shown that a large percentage of women choose an abortion after finding out that the fetus has Down Syndrome, for example–though some studies indicate abortions in such cases may be less common than they used to be.

Personal reflections

Shortly after Dr. George Tiller was assassinated in 2009, Lynda Waddington (formerly of the Iowa Independent blog) spoke to CNN’s Anderson Cooper about her medically necessary abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy. Most of the politicians who advocate late-term abortion bans have no clue about the reasons women seek abortions during the second half of pregnancy.

Caryn Riswold, who was born shortly before Roe v Wade, discussed how a trip to the eye doctor as a teenager “created a lifelong advocate” for reproductive rights.

Suzanne Smith describes flying to Japan to get an abortion in the late 1960s.

Debra Hauser published her contribution to the essay collection “One in Three: These Are Our Abortion Stories.”

Gila Lyons discussed her experience in the provocatively titled essay “Abortion, a love story.”

Jan Wilberg told the story of her illegal abortion here.

This pro-choice woman wrote to an advice columnist about how she had been traumatized by her abortion and feelings of grief and regret. ran this anonymous essay by a man about how abortion has affected his life.

Political reaction

Neither legislative leaders nor Governor Terry Branstad discussed abortion in their speeches to open this year’s legislative session. Branstad has always been anti-choice, but he hasn’t made the issue a priority, acknowledging that the Iowa Senate would not approve new restrictions. The Republican-controlled Iowa House approved a bill to restrict late-term abortions in 2011, but that bill died in the upper chamber. Iowa House Republican leaders have rebuffed attempts to force a vote on a “personhood” bill that would declare life begins at conception.

Although Iowa is already among the most restrictive states in terms of Medicaid coverage of abortion, some statehouse Republicans have pushed for a near-total ban on Medicaid coverage in this area. Last summer 41 Iowa House Republicans petitioned the Iowa Department of Human Services for emergency rulemaking to ban Medicaid coverage of abortion in cases of fetal abnormalities. DHS Director Chuck Palmer denied the petition, and Branstad has said his administration won’t enact new limits on Medicaid coverage of abortions without new legislative action.

Among the Iowans in Congress, Senator Tom Harkin has the strongest record on reproductive rights, followed by Representatives Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack. Among Republicans, Representative Steve King and Senator Chuck Grassley have “perfect” zero ratings on reproductive rights. Representative Tom Latham is almost as low.

I will update this post as needed with public comments on the anniversary from Iowa politicians. Today Iowa Democratic Party Chair Sue Dvorsky released the following statement:

“The Iowa Democratic Party proudly joins in solidarity with the majority of Americans who support and respect the decision each woman must make about her own pregnancy, and we reaffirm our commitment to working to ensure a women’s right to continued access to safe and legal abortion if and when she needs to consider it.

“Abortion is a deeply personal and often complex decision for a woman – and that decision should remain between a woman, her family, her faith, and with the counsel of her doctor or health care provider.  It is truly disturbing that after 40 years, out-of-touch, anti-women’s health politicians continue to erode access to safe and legal abortion through court battles, ballot measures, and burdensome legislative restrictions.

“This past November, Americans again went to their polling places and voted to protect a woman’s ability to make her own personal medical decisions without interference from politicians. On Election Day, voters rejected some of the nation’s most vocal and extreme opponents of safe and legal abortion, including Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana – showing that voters are opposed to state and federal policies that demean and dismiss women.

In June 2012, the Iowa Democratic Party ratified our state party platform affirming our full support for Women’s Rights and Reproductive Health including: the right of women to make their own healthcare decisions; reproductive choices; pledging support for affordable contraceptives for all persons; safeguarding doctors, clinics and clients from domestic terrorism; and supporting increased funding for Planned Parenthood, an organization working every day to reduce unintended pregnancy, keep women healthy, and inform the public of political campaigns which seek to restrict these constitutionally protected rights and ultimately compromise the health of Iowa women and families.”

UPDATE: Steve King decried Roe v Wade and the impact of 40 years of abortion in this speech on the U.S. House floor on January 22.

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  • Republicans have tried to use abortion as a wedge issue

    That may still work in some communities, but it’s a loser nationally and state-wide in Iowa. The Obama campaign ran repeated ads with Romney calling for overturning Roe v. Wade, and saying, in his own words, “Planned Parenthood, we’re going to get rid of that.”

    • Obama ran quite a lot of ads

      focusing on abortion, tv as well as radio. But Republicans have been pretty successful in eradicating all pro-choice sentiment from their elected ranks and keeping most of those suburban Iowa House and Senate seats in R hands.