A European Court of Human Rights decision that I wrote about a few weeks ago upheld most aspects of an Irish law that forces women seeking abortion to travel to the UK. Linda Greenhouse envisions it as a portent for the U.S.:
…[A]s I finished reading this opinion, I had the eerie feeling that I was peering into a domestic future.
As Robert Pear of The Times noted recently, the political climate in Congress has grown much more hostile to abortion rights since the November election. Representative Joe Pitts, a Pennsylvania Republican, will be in charge of a House subcommittee with jurisdiction over many abortion-relevant subjects, including private health insurance, Medicaid, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Institutes of Health. He is one of the leading opponents of abortion on Capitol Hill and was put forward for his new position by the National Right to Life Committee.
And as Robert Barnes of The Washington Post observed in a long article this week, states are erecting new obstacles to abortion in the expectation that the current Supreme Court is likely to uphold at least some of them. States are moving to ban abortion even before fetal viability, a direct challenge to existing Supreme Court precedent. In the name of “informed consent,” some states now require doctors to “inform” women that abortion has negative psychological effects and increases the risk of breast cancer, both of which are untrue. (Recall that Dr. C. Everett Koop, the Reagan administration’s surgeon general and a strong opponent of abortion, was given the task of with finding evidence of a psychological “post-abortion syndrome” and reported back to the White House that there was none.)
Obviously, not all states would choose to join the anti-abortion bandwagon, even if they had the Supreme Court’s permission. California, New York, the District of Columbia, Connecticut and Massachusetts (once two of the most anti-abortion states, but times change) would remain places of refuge for desperate women, Englands to the Irelands that are Wyoming (which has no abortion provider), the Dakotas, or the Deep South, where a shrinking handful of doctors provide abortions in a hostile regulatory climate. More than a third of all women live in counties without an abortion provider, and that number is growing. Long-distance travel is made more onerous in the half of the states that require 24-hour waiting periods after “counseling,” necessitating two trips or an overnight stay.
Yet abortion remains one of the most common of all medical procedures. Nearly a quarter of all pregnancies end in abortion; put another way, nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended, and of those, 40 percent are terminated. One out of every three American women will have an abortion by the age of 45.
And if they can’t get the care they seek at home, where will they go? As the European Court of Human Rights seems to assume, there is always the airport.