What Are Reproductive Rights?
Reproductive rights refer to the rights of couples and individuals to determine when and whether to have children as well as their rights to access information and services related to reproductive health. Though reproductive rights are often discussed in relation to access to safe, legal abortions, these rights also relate to the availability of birth control, sex education and outreach, access to fertility resources, maternal and prenatal health care, and freedom from forced or coerced pregnancy, abortion, and sterilization.
The US Constitution does not explicitly protect reproductive rights. However, state and federal laws restricting access to reproductive services have been successfully challenged on constitutional grounds. Notably, the US Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade (1973) that the Fourteenth Amendment protected a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. Still, state and local governments determine most policies related to reproductive rights. Advocates have sought to affirm reproductive rights through legislation, litigation, and public outreach. Such advocacy has faced significant pushback from organizations that oppose family planning, particularly pregnancy termination and contraceptive use, largely due to religious objections. Like reproductive rights advocates, these organizations have used both the law and public opinion to promote their perspectives.
Despite repeated Supreme Court decisions affirming the right to abortion services, the issue remains contentious. A 2020 Gallup poll found that 50 percent of US adults believe abortion should be legal only under certain conditions, 29 percent believe it should be legal in all circumstances, and 20 percent believe it should not be permitted under any circumstances. [Continue]
Reproductive Reproductive Rights. (2021). In Gale Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection. Gale. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/PC3010999318/OVIC?u=arl&sid=bookmark-OVIC&xid=62517fa2
Opposing Viewpoints: Access to Abortion
Opponents of legal abortion, commonly identified as pro-life, contend that the government has a responsibility to protect all human life including unborn fetuses. Abortion supporters, commonly identified as pro-choice, argue that the government does not have the right to interfere with a woman’s medical decisions. Since the US Supreme Court affirmed access to abortion as a constitutional right in its 1973 decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, antiabortion activists and lawmakers have sought to pass laws and implement policies that create obstacles to obtaining the procedure. Protesting outside of reproductive health clinics served as a popular form of antiabortion activism until Congress passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act in 1994. The law prohibits people from using physical force or obstruction to intimidate others from entering a clinic or a house of worship. Additionally, the law authorizes the US Department of Justice to seek additional penalties for intentional property damage to clinics or houses of worship. [Continue]
Reproductive Rights. (2021). In Gale Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection. Gale. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/PC3010999318/OVIC?u=arl&sid=bookmark-OVIC&xid=62517fa2
What Is Reproductive Justice?
Reproductive justice was coined by a group of Black women in 1994 in recognition that the Women’s Rights Movement, led by and representing white women, lacked a lens that could more equitably fight for the needs of Black, Indigenous, and women of color, and other marginalized people. Reproductive Justice looks at reproductive health and rights through a human rights and social justice framework. [Continue]
Duran, S. (2021, January 28). Choice vs. access: Defining reproductive justice. Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, Inc. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-pacific-southwest/blog/choice-vs-access-defining-reproductive-justice
Reproductive Justice Briefing Book: A Primer on Reproductive Justice and Social Change
History of Reproductive Rights
Although humans have attempted to control their reproductive destinies for many thousands of years, the notion of “reproductive rights” is a relatively recent phenomenon. The term was first articulated on a global level in 1984 at the International Meeting on Women and Health in Amsterdam. However, in individual societies and countries around the world, movements to gain rights related to reproduction had emerged prior to this time. Nonetheless, these movements were discrete and in many cases, such as with the struggles to legalize contraception and abortion in the United States, the focus was primarily on rights as they related to an individual’s right to privacy. It was not until the meeting in Amsterdam that the emerging concept of human rights was applied to reproductive concerns, marking the beginning of what would become a global “reproductive rights” movement. [Continue]
Reproductive Rights. (2008). In W. A. Darity, Jr. (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (2nd ed., Vol. 7, pp. 182-184). Macmillan Reference USA. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CX3045302246/WHIC?u=arl&sid=bookmark-WHIC&xid=d29447fa
- [ACLU] Timeline of Important Reproductive Freedom Cases Decided by the Supreme Court
- [ACLU] The Racist History of Abortion and Midwifery Bans
- [Angela Davis] Racism, Birth Control, and Reproductive Rights
- [Consuming Women, Liberating Women: Women and Advertising in the Mid 20th Century] Reproductive Rights in History
- [JSTOR Daily] The History of Reproductive Rights: A Syllabus
- [Guttmacher Institute] Lessons from Before Roe: Will Past be Prologue?
- [NPR] The movement against abortion rights is nearing its apex. But it began way before Roe
- [NYTimes] When Doctors Took ‘Family Planning’ Into Their Own Hands
- [Origins OSU] Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Justice
- [Planned Parenthood] Abortion in US History
- [Planned Parenthood] Historical Abortion Law Timeline
- [Reproductive Injustices against Latina Women] Reproductive Injustices against Latina Women in the 1900s
- [Time] A 1970 Law Led to the Mass Sterilization of Native American Women. That History Still Matters
- [University of Rochester Newscenter] Native Americans, government authorities, and reproductive politics
- [WXXI News] ‘Reproduction on the Reservation’: The history of forced sterilization of Native American women
Guttmacher Institute: Who Has Abortions?
- At 2014 abortion rates, about one in four (24%) women will have an abortion by age 45.
- More than half of all U.S. abortion patients in 2014 were in their 20s: Patients aged 20–24 obtained 34% of all abortions, and patients aged 25–29 obtained 27%.
- Adolescents made up 12% of abortion patients in 2014: Those aged 18–19 accounted for 8% of all abortions, 15–17-year-olds for 3% and those younger than 15 for 0.2%.
- White patients accounted for 39% of abortion procedures in 2014, black patients for 28%, Hispanic patients for 25%, and patients of other races and ethnicities for 9%.
- Seventeen percent of abortion patients in 2014 identified themselves as mainline Protestant, 13% as evangelical Protestant and 24% as Catholic, while 38% reported no religious affiliation and the remaining 8% reported some other affiliation.
- The vast majority (94%) of abortion patients in 2014 identified as heterosexual or straight. Four percent of patients said they were bisexual; 0.3% identified as homosexual, gay or lesbian; and 1% identified as “something else.”
- Fifty-nine percent of abortions in 2014 were obtained by patients who had had at least one birth.
- Some 75% of abortion patients in 2014 were poor (having an income below the federal poverty level of $15,730 for a family of two in 2014) or low-income (having an income of 100–199% of the federal poverty level).
- In 2014, 16% of patients who obtained abortions in the United States were born outside the United States, a proportion comparable to their representation in the U.S. population (17% of women aged 15–44).
- In 2014, 51% of abortion patients were using a contraceptive method in the month they became pregnant, most commonly condoms (24%) or a short-acting hormonal method (13%).
Induced Abortion in the United States. Guttmacher Institute. (2022). Retrieved 12 May 2022, from https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/induced-abortion-united-states.
Status of Women in the States: Trends in Women’s Reproductive Rights
What Has Improved
- In October 2014, 12 states required insurance companies to provide coverage of infertility treatments, compared with just nine states in 2004. The number of states that required insurance companies to offer policyholders at least one package with coverage of infertility treatments, however, declined from five states in 2004 to two in 2014.
- Between 2004 and 2015, the percentage of women living in counties with at least one abortion provider declined in 22 states, increased in 24 states, and stayed the same in four states and the District of Columbia.
What Has Worsened or Stayed the Same
- In 2015, 30 states had statutes requiring waiting periods for abortions—which mandate that a physician cannot perform an abortion until a certain number of hours after the patient is notified of her options in dealing with a pregnancy—compared with 26 states in 2004.
- Between 2004 and 2015, the share of public officials—including the Governor (or mayor for the District of Columbia) and state legislators (or city council members for the District of Columbia)—who were pro-choice increased in 14 states and decreased in 22 states. The share of pro-choice officials stayed the same in the other 14 states and the District of Columbia.
- The number of jurisdictions with laws on the books preventing minors from accessing abortion without parental consent or notification (43) stayed the same between 2004 and 2015.
- The number of states (17) that provide public funding for all or most medically necessary abortions—typically defined to protect the woman’s physical or mental health—for Medicaid enrollees stayed the same between 2004 and 2015.
- Between 2004 and 2015, the number of jurisdictions that required schools to provide mandatory sex education (23) remained the same.
Reproductive Rights Full Section – Women in the States. Status of Women in the States. (2022). Retrieved 12 May 2022, from https://statusofwomendata.org/explore-the-data/reproductive-rights/reproductive-rights-full-section/.
- [Bixby Center for Reproductive Health] LGBTQ patients face discrimination and erasure when seeking reproductive health care
- [CDC] Reproductive Health Data and Statistics
- [Guttmacher Institute] Reproductive Health Impact Study
- [Guttmacher Institute] United States Abortion
- [Guttmacher Institute] Trends and Differentials in Receipt of Sexual and Reproductive Health Services in the United States: Services Received and Sources of Care, 2006–2019
- [Guttmacher Institute] Not Up for Debate: LGBTQ People Need and Deserve Tailored Sexual and Reproductive Health Care
- [High Country News] Indigenous women face extra barriers when it comes to reproductive rights
- [Kaiser Family Foundation] Beyond the Numbers: Access to Reproductive Health Care for Low-Income Women in Five Communities
- [National LGBTQ Task Force] Queering Reproductive Justice
- [NYTimes] To Be Pro-Choice, You Must Have the Privilege of Having Choices
- [Opposing Viewpoints] Feminism Should Promote Reproductive Justice as a Human Rights Issue
- [Pew Research Center] Key facts about the abortion debate in America
- [Pew Research Center] Wide partisan gaps in abortion attitudes, but opinions in both parties are complicated
- [Planned Parenthood] Annual Report
- [Planned Parenthood] Fact Sheets and Reports
- [Political Environments] Barriers Between Black Women & the Reproductive Rights Movement
- [The Status of Women in the States] Reproductive Rights
Laws Affecting Reproductive Rights
- Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965) – this case held that married couples had a constitutional “right to privacy” regarding decisions about childbearing and that a state ban on the sale of contraception was thus unconstitutional.
- Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 (1972) – this case extended the right to contraception to unmarried individuals.
- Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) – the case that held that state bans on abortions were unconstitutional.
- Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992) – this case laid out the “undue burden test,” under which state regulations can survive constitutional review so long as they do not place a “substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.”
- Stenberg v. Carhart (Carhart I), 530 U.S. 914 (2000) – this case struck down a Nebraska “partial-birth abortion” law because it did not include a health exception and it posed an undue burden on women who needed second-trimester abortions as it banned the most common second-trimester method.
- Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. (Carhart II), 550 U.S. 124 (2007) – this case upheld a federal ban – the “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.”
Capatosto, V. (2018). A Brief History of Civil Rights in the United States. Law Library Howard University. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from https://library.law.howard.edu/civilrightshistory/women/reproductiverights
Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade, legal case in which the U.S. Supreme Court on January 22, 1973, ruled (7–2) that unduly restrictive state regulation of abortion is unconstitutional. In a majority opinion written by Justice Harry A. Blackmun, the Court held that a set of Texas statutes criminalizing abortion in most instances violated a woman’s constitutional right of privacy, which it found to be implicit in the liberty guarantee of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (“…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”). [Continue]
Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2022, May 3). Roe v. Wade. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/event/Roe-v-Wade
- [Legal Information Institute] Jane ROE, et al., Appellants, v. Henry WADE
- [NYTimes] Quick Facts You Should Know About Roe v. Wade
- [Oyez] Roe v. Wade
- [PBS] What is Roe v Wade?
Current News: Abortion
Abortion, the expulsion of a fetus from the uterus before it has reached the stage of viability (in human beings, usually about the 20th week of gestation). An abortion may occur spontaneously, in which case it is also called a miscarriage, or it may be brought on purposefully, in which case it is often called an induced abortion.
Encyclopædia Britannica. (n.d.). Abortion. Britannica Library. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from https://libraries.state.ma.us/login?eburl=https%3A%2F%2Flibrary.eb.com&ebtarget=%2Flevels%2Freferencecenter%2Farticle%2Fabortion%2F3376&ebboatid=9265609
- [Columbia Journalism Review] The implications of the draft Roe opinion leaking to the press
- [NPR] The ‘Roe v. Wade’ leak has drawn attention to how journalists cover the Supreme Court
- [NPR] The leaked abortion decision blew up overnight. In 1973, Roe had a longer fuse
- [NPR] Here’s what could happen if Roe v. Wade is overturned
- [NPR] See protests grow across the country as the Supreme Court deals with Roe v. Wade leak
- [NYTimes] Leaked Threat to Roe v. Wade Stuns, Then Energizes Americans
- [NYTimes] Supreme Court Confirms Leak but Says Text Is Not Final
- [NYTimes] Roe’s Potential End Forces Politicians Into a Deeper Abortion Debate
- [NYTimes] With Roe Under Threat, Biden Is an Unlikely Abortion Rights Champion
- [Politico] Supreme Court has voted to overturn abortion rights, draft opinion shows
- [Time] Draft Decision Ending Roe v. Wade Emboldens Activists on Both Sides of the Abortion Debate
- [WBUR] Simultaneous attacks on abortion and LGBTQ rights are not coincidental
- [The White House Briefing Room] Statement by President Joe Biden
- [The White House Briefing Room] Statement by Vice President Kamala Harris
Why You Should Care
- [Center for Reproductive Rights] What if Roe fell?
- [Guttmacher Institute] Roe v. Wade in Peril: Our Latest Resources
- [Healthline] What Happens if Roe v. Wade Is Overturned? What We Know About the Supreme Court Decision
- [NPR] Gloria Steinem on the consequences of overturning Roe v. Wade
- [NPR] Here’s what could happen if Roe v. Wade is overturned
- [NYTimes] If Roe Falls, Is Same-Sex Marriage Next?
What exactly does the Supreme Court of the United States do?
- The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States. The Justices of the Supreme Court are nominated by the president and must be approved by the Senate.
- Nine members make up the Supreme Court—a Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. There must be a minimum or quorum of six Justices to decide a case.
- If there is an even number of Justices and a case results in a tie, the lower court’s decision stands.
- There is no fixed term for Justices. They serve until their death, retirement, or removal in exceptional circumstances.
USA.gov. (2018). Branches of the U.S. Government. Usa.gov. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from https://www.usa.gov/branches-of-government
“EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW” – These words, written above the main entrance to the Supreme Court Building, express the ultimate responsibility of the Supreme Court of the United States. The Court is the highest tribunal in the Nation for all cases and controversies arising under the Constitution or the laws of the United States. As the final arbiter of the law, the Court is charged with ensuring the American people the promise of equal justice under law and, thereby, also functions as guardian and interpreter of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice of the United States and such number of Associate Justices as may be fixed by Congress. The number of Associate Justices is currently fixed at eight (28 U. S. C. §1). Power to nominate the Justices is vested in the President of the United States, and appointments are made with the advice and consent of the Senate.
About the Court – Supreme Court of the United States. (n.d.). Www.supremecourt.gov. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from https://www.supremecourt.gov/about/about.aspx#:~:text=As%20the%20final%20arbiter%20of
Abortion Law in Massachusetts
Abortion access would continue to be protected in Massachusetts. In December 2020, the state legislature overrode a veto from Gov. Charlie Baker and passed the ROE Act in anticipation of challenges to Roe v. Wade. The act strengthened access by allowing abortions after 24 weeks in certain cases to protect the health of the patient or if there is a fetal anomaly. The act also lowered the age that a person can obtain an abortion without parental consent to 16, from 18.
Smith, M. (2021, December 3). Abortion laws in Massachusetts: What you need to know. GBH News. Retrieved May 12, 2022, from https://www.wgbh.org/news/local-news/2021/12/03/abortion-laws-in-massachusetts-what-you-need-to-know
- [Mass.gov] Massachusetts law about abortion
- [NPR] Here’s how overturning Roe v. Wade could affect Mass. and the rest of New England
- [WBUR] Mass. politicians pledge to protect abortion rights after Supreme Court draft opinion is leaked
- [WCBV-ABC5] What happens to abortion access in Massachusetts? Reproductive rights advocates discuss future of Roe v. Wade
- Planned Parenthood Action Glossary
- Center for Reproduction Rights Defending Human Rights Glossary
- Center for Reproductive Medicine Glossary (University of Michigan/Michigan Medicine)
For a list of Reproductive Freedom Sites, visit ACLU’s page.
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