Abortion: Health Care, Not a Crime
One in four women in the U.S. will have an abortion by the time they are 45 years old. They are women of a range of ages, races, and religions, and from diverse backgrounds and communities. Despite what sets them apart, they have one thing in common: they are frequently subject to laws that restrict their access to abortion care.
When a woman has decided to have an abortion, she should be able to access safe, legal, affordable, supportive care.
But since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, states have enacted at least 1,271 medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion access, causing widespread clinic closures and significant barriers to care. This has disproportionately impacted women of color, immigrant women, low-income women, and women in rural communities. Other barriers – such as lack of insurance coverage, distance to the nearest providers, or cultural or language differences – also impede a woman’s ability to get an abortion at a clinic or from a health care provider.
If a woman is not able to get abortion care at a clinic or from a medical provider, history shows that she will find a way.
Across the country, data shows that women are increasingly searching for how to access abortion online, and websites are popping up to provide medication abortion outside of the medical system.
While research and use over last several decades around the world has shown that medication abortion can be safe and effective when used outside of a medical setting, with the right medication and information, it remains overly regulated by the federal government. The current climate of attacks on reproductive health care has revealed an increased willingness on the part of the anti-abortion movement, anti-abortion politicians and law enforcement to prosecute women for ending their own pregnancies.
For many women who self-manage their abortion using medication abortion, the threat of prosecution is greater than the threat of physical harm.
NIRH’s priority is to ensure that abortion is not treated like a crime. We are working in states to enshrine protections for reproductive health decisions, including the decision to end a pregnancy, and ensure that no woman is prosecuted for ending her pregnancy, no matter the method or reason. That means decriminalizing abortion in as many states as possible — including in the five states where self-managed abortion is explicitly a crime, and other states with any law that treats abortion as a crime or could be misused to prosecute a woman for ending her pregnancy.
The legal status of abortion has changed throughout American history – from legal to illegal and back to legal again. However, women seeking to end an unintended pregnancy have always done so, whether it is legal or not. Our white paper, “When Self-Abortion is a Crime: Laws that Put Women at Risk,” documents this history in New York and assess whether there is any justification for the state’s criminal abortion ban.
NIRH President Andrea Miller has been an outspoken advocate against the laws that criminalize women for their abortion decisions. She has emerged as one of the leaders in the field ringing the alarm bell about politicians’ threats to shame, pressure, and ultimately punish women who end their pregnancies. See her op-ed in TIME magazine. To read more about our work on decriminalizing abortion, click here.