Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the United States in 1916 after being outraged that she was unable to give her patients information about contraceptives. Under the 1873 Comstock Law, it was illegal for Sanger to hand out information about birth control. She was arrested 9 days later when she handed an undercover police officer a pamphlet titled “What Everyone Girl Should Know”. According to NPR, “‘The courts ... ruled against her and said 'A woman's right to life gives her the right to not have intercourse with a man,' " says Lepore. "Sanger's argument is that a woman has a right to have sex without fear of death [during childbirth].” When the case was appealed, the courts ruled that it should be allowed for a doctor to hand out information about contraceptives. This allowed Sanger to open birth control clinics around the country. Her organization, American Birth Control League, was later renamed Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Although abortion was legal in the United States up until the 1800s, it was unsafe and unregulated. Connecticut became the first state to ban abortion-inducing medicine in 1921. Legal punishments for the women did not start until 1845. The reasons for these early abortion laws has been debated over the decades. Some argue that early laws were not made concerning the unborn fetus, but to protect the mother’s lives from untrained medical professionals performing the unsafe procedures while others say that pro-life was already influencing the abortion movement.
On January 22, 1973, in the case of Roe v Wade, restrictions against abortions were ruled unconstitutional by Justice Harry Blackmun. In the coming years, court cases have been made to limit the effect of Roe v Wade but none have successfully been able to overturn it. According to Britannica, “In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992), the Supreme Court established that restrictions on abortion are unconstitutional if they place an “undue burden” on a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus is viable.” States made restrictions by passing bills that would limit healthcare funding for abortions, banning abortions after 20 weeks (when a fetus is able to feel pain), banning abortions for babies with abnormalities, and more.
Recently, Alabama’s legislation has introduced a heartbeat ban on abortions. This bill outlaws the procedure after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which occurs at around 6 weeks of pregnancy. Doctors who perform the procedure after this amount of time face up to 99 years in prison. This law does not leave exceptions for cases of incest or rape. Alabama isn’t alone in passing these bills. Governors in Georgia, Mississippi, and Ohio have also signed bills similar to Alabama’s. These laws may be unenforceable due to the decision of Roe v Wade, but supporters hope that because of Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court as the 5th Republican vote, this could be a step towards outlawing abortion throughout the country.
Article written by Erin Chen
Additional Sources: https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/16/politics/states-abortion-laws/index.html
Image source: https://abortion.procon.org/history-of-abortion/