Abortion in Perspective of the American Government

Over the course of the semester, I have found that abortion is controversial and hard because of these factors: media, legality, social welfare, impacts on mother’s quality of life, and state’s rights.

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Abortion is the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy. Abortion stances differ on the issues of rights of the mother, rights of the fetus, and the determination of when it is too late and immoral to abort. Consequently, the medical and legal interpretation of when a fetus reaches the stage of viability is very important. Undoubtedly, as modern medical technology progresses, the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb gets pushed back. However, not only does abortion ultimately affect the fetus’s life but also the mother’s future. The topic is so controversial and volatile that it is pervasive topic in American media and households.

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Photo By: Hulu, Deadline, and IMDB

Abortion appeared on TV shows such as The Good Wife, True Detective, You’re the Worst, Quantico, Crazy Ex – Girlfriend, and Jane the Virgin. Whether dramatic, strange, or idealized, the manner in which abortion is depicted not only impacts how real world abortion patients view accessibility to abortion  but also how these patients are viewed by the general public. TV characters who considered abortion were “mostly white, young, in committed relationships and not parenting”, but characters who were “lower in socioeconomic status and not in committed relationship” were more likely to actually obtain an abortion. Compared to statistics on real women, characters who obtained abortions were disproportionally “white, young, wealthy, and not parenting”, and compared to real women’s reasons for abortion, “immaturity and interference with future opportunities” were overrepresented on TV while “financial hardship and pregnancy mistiming” were underrepresented on TV.

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Photo By: HuffingtonPost

Consequently, not only do TV abortion stories underrepresent and mispresent “women of color, poor women and mothers”, they contribute to a perception that abortion is a luxury rather than an essential health care service.

The media’s main role is to provide the public with information and inform us when important events occur. Creating our perceptions of the world, this information impacts our view on reality and may affect what we think and the actions we take. For example, when the media labels abortion as “infanticide” and “child murder”, they imply a false dichotomy in which those who do not agree with them are seen as being opposed to life itself.

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Framing, the creation of a narrative for a news story, places a story in a context so the reader understands its importance or relevance. However, framing, especially with abortion, affects the way the reader or viewer processes the story. Episodic framing focuses on isolated details or specifics rather than looking broadly at a whole issue. Thematic framing takes a broad look at an issue and skips numbers or details.

Andrea Tyler a linguistics professor at Georgetown University states:

“By positioning themselves as ‘pro-life’, this group essentially won the war of words. These labels set up particular frames. It doesn’t seem like a good thing to be anti-choice. But it’s worse to be anti-life. So there’s an inequality in the frames when you say pro-life and pro-choice. Being the opposite of pro-choice is not as bad as being the opposite of pro-life.”

Through priming, the media coverage predisposes the viewer or reader to a particular perspective on abortion.  For example, although “intact dilation and extraction” is the medical term most often used for an abortion procedure, the media widely publicizes it as a “partial-birth abortion”, a term carry many negative connotations.  This creates a negative opinion on abortion, so if asked whether they approve of the current abortion laws, the viewers are primed to say no.

Therefore, the media does have the ability to frame what it presents, and it can also prime citizens to think a particular way, which changes how they react to new information.

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Furthermore, current selected media coverage of abortion focuses more on sensationalized and controversial events of abortion than the underlying issues and policies; viewers form opinions without knowing all of the facts. The media can also place pressure on government to act by signaling a need for intervention or showing that citizens want change. Furthermore, in the modern age, the media are kingmakers, greatly influencing who will become the Democratic and Republican nominees in presidential elections.

The OpenStax textbook on American Government states that the “media can discuss the candidates’ messages, vet their credentials, carry sound bites of their speeches, and conduct interviews. The candidates with the most media coverage build momentum and do well in the first few primaries and caucuses. This, in turn, leads to more media coverage, more momentum, and eventually a winning candidate.”

This evidently directly impacts who will be making the laws, specifically with abortion. Therefore, media shapes the public’s opinion on abortion, greatly influences election results, and therefore indirectly affect abortion laws.

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Despite the public’s view and the media’s opinion, placing morality and ethics aside; the legality of abortion is still in question. The first section of the Fourteenth Amendment states that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities or citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law: nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” However, during Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court raised many questions. Does the meaning of “person” in the Fourteenth Amendment extend to all humans? Does it include unborn children and therefore guarantee them protection under the law? Now, this becomes a question of definition of the word “person” and viability of a fetus. At what stage of life are we considered “human” let alone a “person?” If a fetus is considered a “person” then their right to life would undeniably supersede the mother’s right to abortion; viewed from this perspective, abortion would be outright murder. In addition, legally accepted dictionaries defined the words “person” and “human being” interchangeably; there seems to be no distinction between biological human life and legal personhood. Unfortunately, the issue of abortion was inconceivable when the Fourteenth Amendment was drafted.

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However, the Ninth Amendment states that “the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed or disparage others retained by the people”; this allows room for a more inclusive interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Nevertheless in 1973, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe vs. Wade established women’s legal right to abortion. “The Court held that a woman’s right to an abortion fell within the right to privacy (recognized in Griswold vs. Connecticut) protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision gave a woman total autonomy over the pregnancy during the first trimester and defined different levels of state interest for the second and third trimesters.” In Griswold vs. Connecticut, Griswold argued that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause guaranteeing the constitutional right to privacy limits the government’s ability to interfere with a person’s decisions including bodily integrity, marriage, procreation, family relationships, child rearing, and education.  Ultimately, The Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional right to privacy extends to the use of birth control. Although this allows couples to decide whether or not they want children, does this extend when the fetus has already been established? Despite public belief, the Supreme Court ruled that is does apply. However, considering that the “Supreme Court has carved out exceptions to First Amendment protections for speech that threatens someone with violence, invites listeners to take illegal action, or is harm in certain other ways”, the Court’s philosophy seems to be that one’s equal protection under the law ends when it usurps the rights of others. Therefore, the Supreme Court’s hasty decision to merely protect the mother neglects the ultimate well-being of the child, their ability to live; this contradicts their previous interpretation on the bounds of the laws. Shouldn’t these bounds also apply to the Fourteenth Amendment and protect the child? At the end of the day, the interpretation of the law and more specifically certain words within the Constitution determine whether or not the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees or prohibits abortion. However, over time, the Court has backed off its decision during Roe vs Wade.

The OpenStax textbook on American Government states that “starting in the 1980s, Supreme Court justices appointed by Republican presidents began to roll back the Roe decision. A key turning point was the court’s ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, in which a plurality of the court rejected Roe’s framework based on trimesters of pregnancy and replaced it with the undue burden test, which allows restrictions prior to viability that are not “substantial obstacle[s]” (undue burdens) to women seeking an abortion. Although no majority of Supreme Court justices has ever moved to overrule Roe, the restrictions on abortion the Court has upheld in the last few decades have made access to abortions more difficult in many areas of the country, particularly in rural states and communities along the U.S.–Mexico border.”

The Court has ruled that (1) Roe does not protect the right of non-physicians to perform abortions, (2) failure to fund abortion is not a restriction on the abortion right and says states may favor childbirth over abortion through funding allocations, (3) city policy can prohibit abortions in city-owned hospitals, (4) states may limit Medicaid payments to life-saving abortions, (5)  the Hyde Amendment can limit federal abortion funding to life-saving abortions, (6) laws can require that second-trimester abortions be done in licensed facilities, (7)  two-parent notification for a minor’s abortion is constitutional as long as judicial bypass is available, (8) restrictions can be placed on the use of federal funds for abortion counseling, referral, and advocacy, (9) restrictions can be placed on abortions past 20 weeks to stand despite invalidity of restrictions on earlier abortions, (10) laws can require abortions to be done by licensed physicians, (11)  federal law can restrict partial-birth abortion.

Evidently, the rules on abortion have gotten tighter, making access much more difficult and putting limitations on the right to abortion. However, even if abortion were to be indisputably legalized by federal and state law, accessibility and its impact on the mother’s life still come to question.

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Photo By: Markel International

Out of all the women that abort in the US, in regards to economic standing, most are already in difficult financial situations. For example, 75% are poor or low income and 59% already have a child. In regards to age, most of are still immature and do not have their own income. For example, 60% are in their 20s, 12% are in their teens, and 4% are minors. In regards to ethnicity, abortion occurs in all races, not just in minorities like perceived by the general public. For example, 39% are white, 28% are Black, 25% Hispanic, 6% Asian.

An early medical abortion costs $504. However, 49% of the patients live below the federal poverty level. Consequently, most of these patients turn to social welfare, the organized public or private social services for assistance of disadvantaged groups; it is most likely their only way of paying and accessing the procedure. Social welfare policy is designed to ensure some level of equity in a democratic political system based on competitive, free-market economics. Democratic systems are assumed to work best when poverty is minimized.

The OpenStax textbook on American Government states that  “in societies operating in survival mode, in contrast, people tend to focus more on short-term problem-solving than on long-term planning.  Also, social welfare policy creates an automatic stimulus for a society by building a safety net that can catch members of society who are suffering economic hardship through no fault of their own. For an individual family, this safety net makes the difference between eating and starving; for an entire economy, it could prevent an economic recession from sliding into a broader and more damaging depression.”

Medicaid is a formula-based, health insurance program, which means beneficiaries must demonstrate they fall within a particular income category. Individuals in the Medicaid program receive a fairly comprehensive set of health benefits.

However, the OpenStax textbook on American Government states that “access to health care may be limited because fewer providers accept payments from the program (it pays them less for services than does Medicare). Medicaid differs dramatically from Medicare in that it is partially funded by states, many of which have reduced access to the program by setting the income threshold so low that few people qualify.”

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However, the Hyde Amendment in 1976 blocked federal Medicaid funding for abortion services. This obstacle to accessing abortion only leaves room for few exceptions: life endangerment, rape, and incest.

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Consequently, the Hyde Amendment prohibits Medicaid form covering abortion even when a woman’s health is at risk and her doctor recommends an abortion. This specifically penalizes women that seek abortion that are low-income, women of color, young, and immigrants; these all rely on Medicaid for their health care coverage.

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Some states even take it one step further.

The OpenStax textbook on American Government states that “several states
have attempted to pass laws requiring women to notify their husbands, and often obtain their consent,before having an abortion.”

South Dakota’s Medicaid program does not pay for abortion when a woman has been raped or is the victim of incest, a clear violation of federal law. In addition, most providers decline to accept patients’ Medicaid coverage even for abortions that met the Hyde requirements, citing spotty reimbursement and complicated billing. Therefore, not only federal law stands in the way of the access to abortion, but states and providers also create obstacles or straight up decline the service.

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However, there is a loop hole to the Hyde Amendment; it does not limit a state’s ability to use its own funds to cover abortion. As of now, 17 states use their own funds to extend abortion coverage to low-income women enrolled in Medicaid; an additional 6 states extend abortion coverage under specific exceptions such as when a woman’s health is at risk. However otherwise, the other 34 states, the majority, still do not cover.

Consequently, as of now, 53% of abortion patients pay out of pocket and 24% pay using Medicaid. Tax payers cover roughly 24% of abortion costs. Annually, Medicaid pays for around 157,000 abortions, but the Federal government contributed to only 160. Medicaid funding of abortion increases state abortion rates by 10 percent.

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For discussion and analysis purposes, the rich are classified as 400% or above the Federal Poverty Level which is $44,700 per year or more; the poor is classified as 100% or less of the Federal Poverty Level which is $11,200 per year or less.

Studies have shown that women have the same amount of sex regardless of class. Poor women are twice as likely not to use contraception; poor women not trying to conceive are 3 times more likely to get pregnant than higher income counterparts. As a result, they are 5 times as likely to have unintended births. As a result of their respective levels of access to abortion, poor women’s abortion rates of 9 percent while rich women’s abortion rates of 32 percent.

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Whether a women has access to abortion and chooses to abort has a significant impact on the rest of her life.

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If poorer women had same access to abortion, it would cut birth rate of women living in poverty in half; the most common reasons for abortion were financial reasons.

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Carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term was associated with a fourfold increase of the likelihood to be living below the federal poverty level.

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Women who didn’t manage to have an abortion and gave birth were also less likely to have full-time employment, and more likely to be completely out of a job.

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Nearly half (43%) of the women who ended up giving birth despite wanting an abortion were receiving food subsidies—while in all other groups the percentage was at least 11% lower.

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Women that were unable or chose not to abort were significantly more likely to continue living without an adult partner by group.

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Therefore, most women considering abortion are already in difficult financial situations and do not have a sufficient incomes. Although social welfare helps with paying and accessing abortion, federal and state laws create many obstacles along the way. Women’s level of income greatly impacts their access to abortion. Conversely, whether a woman aborts greatly influences a women’s future in respect to poverty, employment, dependence on food stamps, and adult partners.

Considering legality, morality, public opinion, and effects on the mother, there is no clear cut solution to this issue.

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Although the fundamental composition of the US Constitution guarantees certain specific rights, it does not explicitly guarantee or prohibit modern issues such as abortion.  As modern issues progress, the outdated US Constitution can only dictate so much. Consequently, a question is raised: Does the federal government or state and local government have legislative authority over abortion? Can Congress create laws on abortion? Can the Supreme Court adjudicate on the matter?

One may argue that the Fourteenth amendment to the Constitution protects women’s right to have an abortion; so therefore, the Supreme Court can affirm the matter. However, because “abortion” is not specifically addressed in the amendment, one may also argue that because the abortion is not explicitly under the jurisdiction of the federal government, it falls under the jurisdiction of the state government. In addition, even though the Supreme Court affirms the right to abort, states have still created their own laws reversing such a decision. However, even if the federal government or each state can guarantee the right to abortion, accessibility is still an issue. States, themselves, restrict insurance coverage of abortion, utilize TRAP laws which target restrictions against abortion providers, and utilize unconstitutional abortion bans at specific weeks of pregnancy.

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Furthermore, because each state’s own laws and economy differs, funding for abortion and therefore accessibility differs even greater. States may only have one location for abortions; therefore, the financial and time cost to travel to such locations may put abortion out of reach despite its legality. In addition, some states require ultrasounds and an extensive waiting period to reflect on their decision to abort; although this may provide greater opportunity to reach a well-thought out decision, it forces mothers and their partner to stay at such a location. Therefore again, the financial cost for housing and not working comes into play. In addition, the Hyde Amendment withholds federal Medicaid funding from abortion nationwide, with little to no exceptions. Consequently, the federal and state governments clash in their laws and jurisdiction on the matter.

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With such a highly volatile subject, no decision by the federal government can appease the general public. Therefore, abortion may be better legislated at state and local levels, even city or county levels. This will allow citizens to live under the laws that most reflect their values. Adamant supporters of abortion can move to nearby areas where abortion is accepted and legalized without completely uprooting and changing their ways of life. Likewise, those who oppose abortion can live in areas that outlaw the act.

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Although this solution is not perfect, utilizing State’s rights, moving from state to state is much easier than moving to another country. Smaller areas of jurisdiction provide easier means of mobility to areas of similar beliefs.

 

 

 

 

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