For those of you following the increasing restrictions on abortion providers and access to abortion in the US, the ongoing events in Texas will not come as much of a surprise. Abortion is a highly politicised issue in the United States, and perhaps nowhere more so than Texas, which has been the location of many abortion-related flashpoints in the last fifty years.
Abortion was legalised in the US in 1973, after the case of Roe vs Wade. Jane Roe was the pseudonym of Norma McCorvey, a Texas resident, who challenged the court for her legal right to terminate her pregnancy. The supreme court of the US voted that this was a private matter for the women seeking abortion, and as such was protected under the 14th amendment of the US constitution, which decrees the right to personal liberty.
After Roe vs Wade, individual states have brought in their own legislation to restrict access to abortion, in some ways reflecting the devolved differences in accessing abortion in the United Kingdom.
In Texas, abortion and politics related to abortion have flared up again recently, as the state government attempts to bring in laws that restrict the workings of clinicians and centres that provide abortions, despite opposition from ACOG and AMA. The restrictions include insistence that the physicians must have admitting privileges to a hospital, and restricts where medication for medical termination of pregnancy can be prescribed.
For pro-choice campaigners, these restrictions appear to be attempts to restrict and criminalise abortion through over-regulation. A third of centres providing termination of pregnancy services will close under the new laws, meaning that some Texas residents will need to travel hundreds of miles in order to procure an abortion.
Not all Texans are in favour of these measures and in June of last year, Senator Wendy Davis undertook an eleven hour filibuster to delay passage of the bill restricting access to abortion. Ultimately, this was unsuccessful; although it appears that Davis will now run for governor in the next election, and it’s likely that this will keep abortion related issues at the frontline of Texan, and American, politics for some time.
In the UK, we can think ourselves lucky that we live in a country with healthcare that’s free at point of access and comparatively liberal access to termination of pregnancy services; however, there is still huge disparity in access to termination of pregnancy in the UK, with abortion in Northern Ireland remaining highly restricted. We in mainland UK might consider our healthcare system to be superior to that of the US, but when we consider that a woman in Texas has more freedom to choose an abortion than her counterpart in Belfast, perhaps we are on very shaky ground indeed.