In todays United States of America, the topic of abortion is a very heated subject. Whether people’s views on abortion are due to own personal or religious beliefs, constitutional rights or medical concerns, there seems to be a great divide amongst the population if abortion should be legal or illegal. Today, abortion is legal in all fifty states, however the legality of this topic isn’t so black and white. There has been major hurdles and changes over the last three hundred years on this controversial topic.
Each branch of government plays a vital role on the acceptance of abortion or the demise.
“Abortion was not only legal but also not widely considered immoral in the 1700s and the early to mid-1800s in the United States. Only in the late 1800s did doctors and the Roman Catholic Church take a stand against it” (Britannica 2018). By the early nineteen hundreds, all United States outlawed abortion, but the bans were rarely enforced until around the nineteen thirties.
The stand against or ratification of abortion has become more and more complex as the years progress. Subjects such as the mother’s constitutional rights of privacy have been said to be compromised with certain laws set in place by the federal government. However, if people in the United States are given certain rights, another major question is that does the fetus also hold these same rights. “Constitutionally, the issue of abortion can be simplified down to whether or not the unborn fetus falls under the Constitution’s category of ‘any person’” (Britannica 2018).
“With regard to the fetus, the court located that point at “capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb,” or viability.” (Britannica 2018).
In the United States Constitution, the Fifth Amendment, which is part of the Bill of Rights, it states that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of the law. The Fourteenth Amendment focuses on equal protection of the laws, which include racial and gender discrimination, and also reproductive rights. Both the mother and fetus are members of the United States that are both granted these rights, but the Federal government has stepped in to try to create balance. “It implies that the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments may actually compel federal involvement in this matter, just as they do in cases where anyone in this country is deprived of the individual liberties and rights recognized in the Bill of Rights” (Abortion 2016).
The Supreme Court makes up the Judicial Branch of our government. In 1973, the case of Roe versus Wade was presented. “In 1970, two recent graduates of the University of Texas Law School, Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, brought a lawsuit on behalf of a pregnant woman, Dallas area resident Norma L. McCorvey (‘Jane Roe’), claiming a Texas law criminalizing most abortions violated Roe’s constitutional rights” (The Supreme Court 2018). At that time, the state of Texas restricted all abortions, unless it was harmful to the mother’s health. When this case went to court, against the District Attorney of Dallas County at the time, Henry Wade, it was found that the law was unconstitutional and did indeed violate Norma McCorvey’s right to privacy. She stated that even though her health was not at risk, she was unable to travel outside of the state of Texas and should be allowed the right to have an abortion safely. Even in the case of Roe versus Bolton in 1973, the Supreme Court created a broad health exception that if a doctor determines that continued pregnancy would endanger the mother, then abortion would be the best option.
The courts tried to find a balance between keeping the sanctity of a woman’s constitutional rights, those rights of the fetus, and the state’s regulations. The argument of the fetus being “a person with rights” are then raised again. The medical community believes that the viability of a fetus can be as young as six months outside the mother’s womb. Others believe the fetus is considered a person when they develop a heartbeat, which can be as young as six weeks, before the mother may even know she is pregnant yet. Because of all these broad aspects, the Court believed narrowing the State’s laws of abortion would help keep the sanctity of Constitutional rights. “The Court ruled that the states were forbidden from outlawing or regulating any aspect of abortion performed during the first trimester of pregnancy, could only enact abortion regulations reasonably related to maternal health in the second and third trimesters, and could enact abortion laws protecting the life of the fetus only in the third trimester” (The Supreme Court 2018). In the case of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania versus Casey (1992), the Supreme Court said that restrictions on abortion are unconstitutional if they place an undue burden on a woman wanting an abortion before the fetus is viable.
It would seem that the Supreme Court was starting to side with the woman’s right to choose, but has slowly started implementing rules and regulations to compromise the past year’s progression. Just as recently as April eighteenth, two thousand and seven, the Federal Abortion Ban was upheld as the Supreme Courts first ever federal law banning abortion procedures, therefore allowing politicians to interfere with private health matters, and criminalizing those having second trimester abortions. Restrictions on insurance coverages were implemented, abortions at specific time frames were put into place, and even mandatory ultrasounds, waiting periods, and biased counseling before having an abortion were enforced on the mother. Because there are so many checks and balances of our democratic government, the laws and regulations over abortion have not been able to hold a consistency.
The second branch of our government, the Legislative Branch, is made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate. “Congress continues to be a forum for proposed legislation and constitutional amendments aimed at limiting or prohibiting the practice of abortion” (Shimabukuro 2018). Before the Roe versus Wade case, the House and the Senate proposed very few bills on the subject of abortion, but that number has increased significantly after nineteen seventy-three. Many of the bills that were introduced wanted to restrict the availability of a woman’s ability to get an abortion. Only a few proposed changes to help secure the mother’s rights to terminate her pregnancy. Different acts were presented to the floor, such as the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) but were never enacted. The purpose of the FOCA was to convert the original Supreme Court’s ruling in the Roe versus Wade case. There were also acts to protect not only the mothers seeking abortions, but the employees and doctors of the offices that provided them. “The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act of 1994, P.L. 103-259 (18 U.S.C. 248), made it a federal crime to use force, or the threat of force, to intimidate abortion clinic workers or women seeking abortions” (Shimabukuro 2018).
In Congress, there has been more restrictive legislations on abortion proposed with varying levels of success, so members began to push for Constitutional Amendments in attempt to overrule the Supreme Court’s Ruling. Many proposals were brought to the House and Senate floor, but never could receive the amount of votes needed to solidify the passing of these bills. During the ninety eighth Congress, S.J. Res. was introduced and subcommittees were held as the amendment was being passed back and forth between the House and the Senate. “The amendment required a two- thirds vote to pass the Senate since super-majorities of both houses of Congress must approve a constitutional amendment before it can be submitted to the states” (Shimabukuro 2018). An amendment needs a two-thirds vote to be passed but this amendment was defeated with a fifty to forty nine vote. Congress tried many other ways to work around the difficulties it would take for passing constitutional amendments by using other tactics known as Statutory Provisions. Congress introduced bills to seek prohibition of the right to abortion by statute, Hyde type amendments, and other government funded programs were being restricted.
The Executive Branch of our government is ran by the President of the United States. The cabinet and the independent federal agencies possess the duties of enforcing the rules and regulations of Congress. “These departments and agencies have missions and responsibilities as widely divergent as those of the Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency, the Social Security Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission” (The Executive Branch 2018). The President of the United States also have a right to introduce executive orders. This is a formal method in which the president can exercise supervision and direct the agency by issuing an executive order outlining a certain way to do things. They are not binding, not mentioned in the Constitution, and only function in a discretionary way concerning policy decisions that agencies make. In May of this year, President Trump has stirred up a lot of controversy about his views on abortion. He proposed a new rule that in evidently cause Planned Parenthood to lose funding that would help women seeking abortions. Also, the Department of Health and Human Services would stop facilities from providing abortions, if that same facility provided any other procedures that were government funded. Abortion can be legalized under certain state’s criteria, however when the funding is being scrutinized and opportunity of women receiving them can be jeopardized when health care providers, insurances, Medicaid and Planned Parenthood is losing funding by the agencies provided in the Executive Branch of our government.
However, with our three branches of government, not one or the other has an absolute say on the legality of abortion. The three branches have to work together to provide some stability and balance on the issue. In the Legislative Branch, the House and the Senate, a bill over the topic of abortion can be presented by any member of the House. This bill is then passed to standing committee for revisions and is debated over. The rules committee then sets conditions for debate and amendment on the floor. If the bill is voted on and has passed with the two thirds vote, it is then sent to the Senate, where the standing committee will then again set revisions for debate. If the abortion bill is voted on and Rule 22 is met, which needs sixty, or three fifths of the Senator’s votes, it will then move to the Conference committee. There the resolution of differences between the House and the Senate are made. Both then vote, and the bill is passed to the President, in the Executive Branch. He then has the choice of signing or vetoing the bill. However, if he vetoes, his decision can be over turned with a two thirds vote from the House and the Senate. Finally, if the bill is approved and becomes a new law, our Judicial Branch, the Supreme Court, upholds the interpretation of the law to the people of the United States and uphold the integrity of the rights given by the constitution.
The future on abortion is not yet clear. It is legal in our country, however it is consistently being scrutinized, changed, restricted, controlled and regulated. With each state having its own set of criteria and regulations, it is uncertain if the United States will ever be on the same page one way or the other. However, with the changes and record breaking movements that the millennial population have already made in this country, it could bring extreme change on what a woman is and isn’t allowed to do with her body.