How Abortion Bans Impact Survivors

by Amanda Rodhe

You’ve likely been seeing a lot of news about the recent abortion legislation passed in Alabama and Missouri. Alabama is now the first state to institute a full ban on abortion, eliminating all exceptions, even in the case of rape or incest.

Missouri is the fifth state this year to pass a so-called “heartbeat bill.” These laws restrict abortion after six to eight weeks of conception (the time at which doctors can typically pick up a heartbeat from the fetus). While these laws aren’t technically bans, most experts consider them as such, since many women don’t even discover that they’re pregnant until they’re further than six weeks along in their pregnancy.

The laws in Alabama and Missouri make it a felony for healthcare professionals to provide abortions. Felony charges can come with serious jail time, a loss of license to practice medicine, and the revocation of other essential rights (for example, felons in both Alabama and Missouri lose the right to vote while serving out their sentence, and Alabama requires that they take additional steps to restore voting rights even after their sentence has been completed).

Most pro-choice advocates have been upset by this news, but for those who aren’t well-versed in the abortion debate, they may be wondering why these laws have become such a flashpoint in this ongoing back-and-forth between the pro-life and pro-choice camps. Here’s why these state laws are a big deal on a national scale.

The Link Between Abortion and IPV

Pro-choice advocates see many reasons why a woman’s right to choose is essential. Most of these reasons are discussed often in the news media: Women deserve to have autonomy over their bodies; an abortion is a medical procedure and should not be restricted by the government; the separation of Church and state should keep religious concerns from influencing our laws.

All of these arguments are valid. But there is another issue that is just as important that doesn’t always get as much attention: the link between intimate partner violence (IPV) and abortion.

Research indicates that there is a strong positive correlation between a lack of abortion access and an increase in IPV. A lack of safe access to abortion is likely to further increase rates of violence against women who are already in unhealthy relationships. Some controlling partners use pregnancy as a weapon. They coerce their partner into getting pregnant, and then use the pregnancy to keep her trapped.

And the pregnancy does not curtail the violence. In fact, in the United States, homicide is the number one cause of death for pregnant women. That means that the abuse in these relationships continues and often worsens during and after pregnancy. Furthermore, women of all cultural backgrounds are more likely to experience beginning or escalating physical violence while pregnant.

Being trapped in an abusive relationship while pregnant affects the health and safety of both the expectant mother and the unborn child. A study from the World Health Organization found that mothers who survive IPV are more likely to give birth to pre-term and underweight babies.

It also seems that this link between IPV and abortion has a broader effect on the state’s legal psyche. Those states with the highest rates of intimate partner violence tend to pass the most restrictive abortion laws. Take, for example, Missouri, the state with the seventh-highest rate of homicide where women are killed by men. Georgia, another one of the states to pass a “heartbeat bill” this year, ranked ninth on that list.

State Laws Can Have a National Impact

While these laws currently restrict abortions only for the women living in these states, there is a possibility that they could lead to restrictions for women in other states as well, especially given the timing. With the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in October, conservative justices now outnumber liberal ones. Pro-life advocates may be hoping that these state laws generate enough debate to be brought in front of the current Supreme Court, thus creating an opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade, the the 1973 landmark decision that protected women’s right to privacy to obtain an abortion, per the 14th Amendment.

In New York, legislators passed the Reproductive Health Act in January 2019 to ensure that all residents of the state have access to safe, legal abortion. This law is designed to protect those rights even if Roe v. Wade is overturned on a national level. However, other states have not enacted such progressive legislation, and women there could lose access to abortion. Take a look at this interactive story from the Center for Reproductive Rights for a better understanding of what is at stake in each state.

The increase over the past few months in laws aimed at restricting or banning abortion access should be a concern for anyone interested in maintaining a woman’s right to choose. Along with that erosion of rights comes the very real threat to women’s health and safety. No woman should have to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, but for those women who find themselves in unsafe relationships, the mandate to keep their pregnancy forces them to remain in a dangerous situation.

If you or someone you know is in an unsafe relationship, please reach out to Day One. We provide necessary counseling and support through our direct services.

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