Abortion/Reproductive Rights

Key Questions (by Mercedes Anderson and Claire Ferguson)

What restrictions are placed on minors wanting an abortion?

The restrictions placed on minors wanting an abortion vary by state; some states enforce parental consent and notification, others do not enforce these laws, and others do not have such laws. The Center for Reproductive Rights provides a map showing which states fall into each of these categories (June 2006).

The Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health provides an overview of the parental notification and consent laws and explains how they are doing more harm than good by creating obstacles for young women needing reproductive health care services (November 2005). There are ways to get around the laws of parental consent and notification. As shown in a CNN video a minor can be granted a judicial bypass. This involves getting a representative from an abortion clinic, or a lawyer and presenting a case to a judge that proves they are mature enough to make the decision on their own, and that an abortion is in their best interest. A recent study in New England Journal of Medicine shows that the implementation of a parental notification law in Texas decreased the abortion rate among teens.

What is happening to abortion rates in the United States?

Abortion rates in the United States were rising up until the 1980’s, but have since been slightly declining. The Guttmacher Institute provides a graph of the number of abortions per 1,000 women in the years 1973-2001 (May 2006). It also explains that almost half of the pregnancies among women in the United States are not planned, and 4 in 10 of the unplanned pregnancies end in abortion.

William Johnston provides abortion data in Johnston Archive that shows the decline in abortion rates from 1985-2004 by state of residence. His data is from the Alan Guttmacher Institute and the Center for Disease Control. In its annual abortion surveillance report the Center for Disease Control provides a table of the number, ration and rate of abortions in the United States from 1970-2001. This table shows that abortion rates were declining from 1984 thru 2001.

What are the current policies on access to emergency contraception?

Emergency contraception, or “the morning after pill,” is a prescription drug available to prevent pregnancy if taken shortly after unprotected intercourse. The Guttmacher Institute reports that on August 24, 2006 Plan B, an emergency contraception, was approved as an over the counter medication for those 18 and older, and is still a prescription drug for minors. The Guttmacher Institute also provides a table of emergency contraception policies in different states; some states require pharmacists to dispense the drug, while others allow the refusal to dispense the drug.

An article in New England Journal of Medicine presents the problems with pharmacies that refuse to dispense emergency contraception. The drug is most effective if taken 72 hours after unprotected sex, so pharmacies that do not provide it are problematic for many women, especially those in rural areas where other pharmacies are not available.

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