Continued from a previous post.
Welcome back to the land of history nerdiness! Last week I wrote about just a little of the history surrounding abortions and reproductive justice in this country preceding Roe v. Wade. This week, we’re going to keep that timeline going. I probably don’t need to tell you this, but it gets very dark very quickly. Let’s get started.
1973: In the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, the Supreme Court finds that the right to abortion is protected under the right to privacy. It recognizes a person’s right to abortion before the fetus is “viable,” as decided by the doctor providing the abortion, and after that point for parental health reasons.
1976: In Oregon, Joseph C. Stockett is convicted of the first reported arson attack on an abortion clinic.
1976: Congress passes the first “Hyde Amendment” banning the use of federal funding for abortion, except in case of rape, incest, or significant damage to the parent’s physical health. This means that Medicaid, which covered abortion care since Roe v. Wade, can no longer cover abortion costs for low-income individuals.
1978: The trend of anti-abortion violence continues with a series of clinic bombings and arson cases in Ohio (five cases, four in February alone), Vermont, and Iowa.
1979: In Bellotti v. Baird, the Supreme Court protects state laws requiring that minors obtain parental consent before getting an abortion.
1980: The 1976 Hyde Amendment is upheld in Harris v. McRae, essentially asserting that prohibitive financial barriers to healthcare do not violate women’s constitutional rights.
1991: Rust v. Sullivan upholds the constitutionality of 1988 regulations restricting doctors and counselors at federally funded clinics from providing their patients with information and referrals for abortions.
1992: In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the Supreme Court upholds an extremely restrictive law in Pennsylvania including mandatory waiting periods, parental consent for minors, and the provision of biased information to people seeking an abortion. This case sets a precedent that states can place restrictions on abortion access at any stage of pregnancy as long as they do not create an “undue burden” on individuals seeking abortions, and reframes the legal principles of abortion access around the concept of undue burden.
1993: Dr. David Gunn is murdered outside his clinic in Pennsacola, Florida. His killer, Michael Frederick Griffin, reportedly shouts “Don’t kill any more babies!” before shooting Gunn. This is the first recorded case in which a doctor is killed for performing abortions, and leads Paul Hill to write the First Defensive Action Statement, which justifies killing abortion providers. In the twenty-three years since this incident, anti-abortion violence has spawned ten more murders and twenty-six attempted murders. The National Abortion Federation tracks violence against providers and reports all incidents in this extremely useful database.
1994: Congress passes the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act prohibiting the use of physical obstruction or physical force (threatened or actual) to keep someone from providing or receiving reproductive health services. It also prohibits using obstruction, force, or threat of force to keep someone from exercising their right to religious freedom at a place of worship; and it prohibits the intentional damage or destruction of a reproductive health care facility or a place of worship.
2003: George W. Bush signs into law the “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act,” which bans late-term dilation and extraction abortions (“partial birth abortion” is a misnomer) except in cases of parental fatality. The law’s constitutionality is immediately questioned, and various district courts and judges block its implementation.
2007: The Supreme Court narrowly upholds the 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg describes the dangers of this precedent:
“It tolerates, indeed applauds, federal intervention to ban nationwide a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). It blurs the line, firmly drawn in Casey, between previability and postviability abortions. And, for the first time since Roe, the Court blesses a prohibition with no exception safeguarding a woman’s health.”
2009: Dr. George Tiller is shot and killed at his church in Wichita, Kansas by anti-choice extremist Scott Roeder. Dr. Tiller was the medical director of Women’s Health Care Services, one of three clinics in the country to still provide late-term abortions. He had worked at that center since 1975 and had been the target of anti-abortion violence and threats of violence many times. His assassination drew national attention and inspired the 2013 documentary After Tiller as well as the George Tiller Memorial Abortion Fund created through the National Network of Abortion Funds.
2015: At a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Robert Lewis Dears, Jr. kills a police officer and two civilians. Nine others are shot (five police officers and four civilians) but survive the attack.
2016: In an important step, in the case of Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt the Supreme Court strikes down a Texas law whose medically unnecessary restrictions would close most of the state’s abortion clinics and leave vast distances between abortion providers. The Court rules that the question of what constitutes an “undue burden” on the right to abortion should be decided by courts, not legislators.
For now: I told you that would be dark. And there’s so much more, both terrible and inspiring, to be learned and talked about when we dig around in our past and when we look with fear and determination into our future. But for the moment, take a breath. Watch Obvious Child for smiles. Check out the Repeal Hyde Art Project for intersectional inspiration.
For the future: Learn. Read. Speak out, sign petitions, call legislators, attend actions, donate where you can. Keep yourself aware of the ways that reproductive rights are currently in danger, who is most affected by harmful legislation, and opportunities to support reproductive rights and reproductive justice. See you there.
- The Guttmacher Institute (also check out their state law overview)
- Our Bodies Ourselves’ “History of Abortion in the U.S.”
- The National Institute for Reproductive Health
- The National Abortion Federation
- Planned Parenthood