The New Abortion Wars

By Susan Estrich

May 11, 2019 5 min read

In the not-so-old days, the guerrilla battle against Roe v. Wade took the form of state laws that imposed endless obstacles in the face of women seeking to exercise their constitutional rights, from waiting periods to hospitalization requirements to exhaustive credentialing of clinics, not to mention repeated efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.

Time and again, cases went to the Supreme Court. And instead of overturning Roe v. Wade, which might have started a political firestorm, the court founds ways to uphold most of those burdensome requirements. The result was not to deny abortions to middle-class women who have access to pills and private doctors. Forty-three percent of all women of childbearing age in America live in states that have been classified by the Guttmacher Institute as hostile to abortion. Ninety percent of counties in America have no abortion providers. These are the clinics that should serve poor women and rural women and teenage girls. These are the places where clinics are needed the most.

Remember "partial-birth abortion"? Actually, there is no such thing. It is a political term invented by those who were looking for yet another way to limit access to abortions. These "partial-birth abortions" happened to hit the most life-threatening cases hardest.

But that wasn't good enough. No state allows an "abortion" of a baby who could be saved. Babies born alive are babies.

Now the anti-choice folks have pushed even further. Forget about second- and third term abortions. Four states have now voted to ban abortion at six weeks, when a fetal heartbeat can be detected. And Alabama wants to ban all abortions, having removed the possible exceptions for rape and incest on Thursday, with sentences of up to 99 years for doctors who perform abortions in the absence of "serious" risk to the mother.

Need I point out that most women don't know they are even pregnant until eight weeks? If we do, we don't even tell friends and family, because the danger of miscarriage is so high. Look to your left, and look to your right, and you will find a woman who has had a miscarriage. Our doctors reassure us. Who is the Alabama Supreme Court to tell us otherwise?

The argument these states have concocted is that "viability" — which provided scientific support for the constitutional approach taken in Roe — has advanced since that decision.

It has not advanced to six weeks.

They are taking another run at Roe. They have been taking these runs since I was a teenager.

A new round of lawsuits has been filed. A new round of arguments will be held. Once again, years of time and energy will be devoted to fighting for rights that are guaranteed to us under the Constitution.

It's a game being played with women's lives.

Does anyone think that the ladies of Birmingham will not be able to visit their gynecologist's office if their periods are delayed? Does anyone think that there will be massive dropouts of pregnant sorority girls at the University of Alabama in the wake of this legislation?

Of course not. Most likely, if passed, it won't even go into effect. And if it does, we know who would be punished. Not the wives and daughters of the men voting for it.

But even in defeat, even if another generation of lawyers does what mine has done for so many years, which is to spend years seeking stays and writing briefs and fighting defunding long after we stopped worrying about getting pregnant, we still lose.

It will reduce even further the few abortion clinics left, in the South and Midwest, where six states already have none. It will punish those who are dependent on public hospitals and subject to political scrutiny. It will lead medical schools to stop training doctors to perform abortions. You shouldn't have to be a hero to be a gynecologist.

And in the end, it will not even lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Why bother, when it has been so thoroughly decimated, and so long used as a political wedge?

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: Free-Photos at Pixabay

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