To kick off msnbc.com's weekly Q&A program, Irin Carmon answered questions about women’s reproductive rights for the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that said that ending a pregnancy is a constitutional right.
What we learned from Irin:
- The World Health Organization estimates that every 8 minutes a woman in a developing nation will die of complications arising from an unsafe abortion.
- A review of research literature found that there is no evidence that fetus feels pain before 29 or 30 weeks.
- The number of people calling themselves pro-life has risen, at the same time that the same number of people say they want abortion to be legal (a majority).
- Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) is a good resource to see which states/regions have comprehensive sexual health programs.
- Under the Obama administration, sexual health education programs that get federal funding are required to have evidence-based protocols, which eliminates just about all abstinence-only programs.
- The last time Justice Anthony Kennedy ruled on a major abortion restriction case was 2007 in Gonzales v. Carhart, and he upheld it.
- Many people who support abortion rights believe -- as Mary Elizabeth Williams explained -- that while an embryo or a fetus is alive, a woman's right to determine the course of her life and body is a stronger right in that balancing act.
- There is no federal law that ensures access to abortion, though activists and legislators have repeatedly tried. Since Supreme Court precedent -- mostly Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey -- largely govern what states can and can't do, and it falls to the federal courts to interpret whether new restrictions violate them.
Here are the highlights from the discussion:
deafear: With all the clinics being forced to close all across the country, I believe some women will actually lose their lives under desperate circumstances. Is there an estimate of how many women will lose their lives as a result of these closings?
Irin: It's very hard to measure how many women died or suffered serious injury or infection from self-inducing abortion or going to an unsafe provider before Roe v. Wade. We can also look at countries where abortion is illegal, where women still have abortions. The World Health Organization estimates that every 8 minutes a woman in a developing nation will die of complications arising from an unsafe abortion. Given that these are countries with already substandard access to health care, it's unlikely to get so bad in the United States, but in the Rio Grande Valley, for example, where two clinics have been forced to close, there are reports that women are obtaining abortion-inducing drugs illegally. For women who are further along in their pregnancy, that's not an option, and it raises the risk significantly.
Crinder: Are there polls being conducted that give us insight into how women in Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, and other states, that are limiting reproductive rights, are responding to these regulations? What's happening 'on the ground' in these states?
Irin: Polling on abortion varies widely depending on how it's worded -- for example, the number of people calling themselves pro-life has risen, at the same time that the same number of people say they want abortion to be legal (a majority). But it's worth noting that there's still a regional divide on opinions about abortion, with the weakest support for abortion rights in some of the states you mentioned: Pew Research Study on the Widening Regional Divide Over Abortion Laws.
That said, just because people oppose abortion doesn't mean they want to see it legislated away, as indicated in today's Huffington Post poll. So we may see some change in these states. That may have been what happened in the recent gubernatorial race in Virginia, with Terry McAuliffe winning voters who were motivated by abortion rights. And it may happen in a state like North Carolina, where Governor Pat McCrory promised no new abortion restrictions but whose favorability dropped after he signed several into law.
Cyrus1: Irin, if Roe v. Wade were to reach the U.S. Supreme Court today, can we be confident that the court would re-affirm it? I believe the last time Roe v. Wade got to the Supreme Court was in '92, when it was upheld by a 5-4 margin with Anthony Kennedy casting the decisive vote. However, Kennedy has been a loose cannon throughout his career, so can we expect him to, again, vote for Roe v. Wade?
Irin: Good question. The litigators who challenge anti-abortion laws clearly aren't so sure that they can count on Kennedy to maintain his previous support for abortion rights. That's because the last time he ruled on an abortion restriction, in 2007 with Gonzales v. Carhart, he upheld it. That decision is what emboldened anti-abortion activists to start passing 20-week bans, and it clearly spooked pro-choice strategists enough that they've only challenged that ban in Arizona, in the more liberal 9th Circuit, to avoid a split in the circuits and a Supreme Court revisiting of abortion. That strategy paid off, at least for now, when the court declined to hear the Arizona case earlier this month. But cases challenging other kinds of abortion restrictions are likely to be accepted by the court sooner or later.
zagonep: 65% of abortions that occur are from Christians, which practice their faith or at least affiliate themselves to that faith, who find themselves in the situation of undergoing an abortion and go through with it. Why do you think these people go against their belief system and why do so many of them do it?
Irin: It's definitely interesting to note that religious folks also have abortions in fairly proportionate numbers. I sometimes hear from people who work at clinics that they've seen some of the protesters outside come in for appointments. But people often have very different feelings about abortion in the abstract than they do when it's their own life or family. You may want to check out this take on the issue: "The Only Moral Abortion is My Abortion".
Some Brooklyn Guy: I am curious about why depictions of abortion in movies and television are so rare. HBO's Girls did a half-hearted episode where it turned out the girl wasn't even pregnant. Do you feel like millennial writers like Lena Dunham are copping out on giving this issue greater light?
Irin: I'm partial to how abortion is treated in Dirty Dancing and Fast Times at Ridgement High myself. While you could plausibly argue that that that episode ofGirls was a copout, I think Dunham herself has been a voice for reproductive rights, and her projects of sexual frankness and removing shame from women's bodies overlaps with this issue. Check out Gretchen Sisson's work for a more comprehensive look at how abortion is represented on TV.
Here's the entire conversation from the Q&A.
For more information on women's reproductive health, follow Planned Parenthood Action Fund.