Abortion. Birth control. Sex education in public schools. These are some of the most divisive topics in America. "Reproductive rights" refers to an individual's ability to make family planning decisions. This expression also refers to a person's ability to make informed decisions on reproductive health. These rights are central to a person's autonomy.
But that's not where the discussion ends. How the government can interfere with reproductive freedom raises legal questions. This kind of interference has been at the center of a debate that has lasted for many, many years. It raises moral concerns and also ethical ones.
This is the Reproductive Rights section of FindLaw's Family Law Center. It provides information and resources to help you understand reproductive rights.
In this section, you'll find in-depth information on a variety of matters concerning reproduction, such as:
- Reproductive health care
- Abortion care
- Sex education
- Contraceptive methods
Go in-depth on important issues, including birth control laws, children's sex education laws, abortion access, and more. This section also contains links to state reproductive laws. At the same time, it provides the full text of key Supreme Court cases involving reproductive rights.
'Reproductive Rights' Defined
The Constitution is silent on the issue of reproduction. But the Supreme Court has, in many cases, described the right of reproduction as a fundamental right. In fact, the Court has found Constitutional protection for:
- Family relationships
- Child rearing
Most famously, the Supreme Court found there was a fundamental right to abortion in Roe v. Wade.
Many of these rulings have relied on the Fourteenth Amendment's right to privacy. Generally, these issues are viewed from a female perspective. The Court has not ruled on male reproductive rights. The reproductive rights of minors may be limited as many states require parental consent for some reproductive health procedures, abortion most of all.
However, in 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its decision in Roe v. Wade. As a result, access to abortion is now a matter for each state to decide for itself.
To be clear, abortion is not banned nationwide. But access to abortion may be restricted or banned under state law. Abortion is still legal in many states. It is entirely legal to travel from one state to another to undergo an abortion.
Reproductive Health Care
Within the scope of reproductive health care, a variety of topics always come to mind, such as:
- Birth control
- Abortion services
- Prevention of and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Treatment for infertility
- Prenatal care
Organizations like Planned Parenthood provide a variety of health care services related to reproductive well-being. Planned Parenthood provides reproductive health services at reduced rates for qualifying individuals. Reproductive health care is often covered by health insurance.
It's important to note, however, that Medicaid cannot be used to pay for abortions. The federal law known as the Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal Medicaid funds for such procedures unless a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. Medicaid may also be used if a pregnancy threatens the life of the mother. The Amendment was passed in 1977. You can read more about this law under “Public Funding Restrictions" at FindLaw's Abortion Laws page.
While access to abortion has been restricted in many ways, you still have options for dealing with an unwanted pregnancy.
According to Planned Parenthood, you can take abortion pills up to 77 days after your last period. This equates to 11 weeks. These are called medication abortions. Medications for abortion typically include mifepristone and misoprostol.
To learn more about the legality of using abortion pills, review FindLaw's page on the issue. It's also helpful to review the FDA's page on mifepristone and medication abortions.
Keep in mind that medication abortions are legal abortions, while some restrictions still apply. It is still possible to obtain abortion medications at pharmacies, as well. You can also get an abortion in a clinic up to 24 weeks into a pregnancy.
Under some circumstances, you can even get an abortion in a clinic after that period of time has lapsed. Often, this special set of circumstances is a result of a life-threatening ailment that affects the pregnant person when carrying a child to term. It can also be related to whether the pregnancy has occurred as a result of a sexual assault.
If you're under the age of 18, be aware that you could require parental consent to undergo an abortion. If you require parental consent, waiting periods for obtaining the actual abortion could increase beyond permitted time frames. Read more about the restrictions on obtaining an abortion at Planned Parenthood.
You can also use Abortion Finder to locate the abortion providers closest to you. Always remember that, regardless of your ability to pay, reproductive health care services are available thru organizations like Planned Parenthood.
Of course, you can always go to private health care providers for any kind of care, including care related to reproductive health.
Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade
In June 2022, SCOTUS overturned Roe v. Wade. This landmark Supreme Court case, decided in January 1973, universalized abortion rights in all parts of the United States. It lifted prior abortion bans, finding that the right to access abortions was protected under constitutional restrictions against invasions of a person's privacy.
But in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, SCOTUS ruled that constitutional protections for access to abortion were invalid and Roe needed to be overturned. SCOTUS made this ruling based on a variety of issues, including the divisions of power between states and the federal government. The reasons behind the decision to overturn Roe can be very complicated. They extend beyond these issues of federalist divisions of authority between states and the federal government.
To learn more about why the Supreme Court made the decision in Dobbs, review FindLaw's article. You can also read an analysis of Dobbs at FindLaw's breakdown of the case.
In short, it is important to know that abortion is not illegal under federal law and across the United States. There are just no federal protections as once before. It is now a matter that the state can decide upon in ways that are unique to their jurisdiction. Although the overturning of Roe may alarm many people, it's equally as important to be aware of the commitment the Biden administration has made to protecting access to reproductive health care services.
You can learn more about this commitment by reviewing the White House's Fact Sheet. Often, the Biden administration has framed the issue as one of protecting the civil rights and legal rights of women. The administration has engaged in many tactics to preserve access to abortion. Whatever the case may be, SCOTUS' decision last year marks one of the biggest threats to more liberal abortion laws in the history of the United States.
Birth control is more accessible now than ever, yet it remains a volatile issue across the American social and political spectrum. Access to birth control can be difficult in some states. The landmark 1965 U.S. Supreme Court decision Griswold v. Connecticut established that couples, and women alone, have a constitutional right to privacy regarding contraceptive use.
Since then, contraceptives and their use have been protected under law. Although, access may vary. Courts have struggled to keep up with the latest scientific developments in contraception, like “the morning-after pill." In addition, the dissemination of contraceptives in public schools remains a hot-button issue.
Reproductive Rights as Human Rights
Many organizations advance the idea that reproductive rights are human rights. The Center for Reproductive Rights, for example, does just that. This organization understands reproductive rights as central to rights to self-determination.
This organization leverages case law and legislation, along with a large staff of attorneys, to advance this idea across the globe. This organization provides a variety of advocacy services meant to advance women's rights and reproductive rights regardless of a person's gender or sex.
Legal Help for Reproductive Rights Issues
As noted above, the law surrounding reproductive rights varies by jurisdiction and is subject to change. Consulting with an experienced family law attorney may help you understand and protect your reproductive rights and responsibilities.
But of course, it's not just attorneys that are useful in such a context where health-related matters are in play. Aside from an attorney, it's always a good idea to review the most up-to-date health information. Such information is available through your healthcare provider and other resources like the FDA and various reproductive rights groups. If you need an attorney, it's a good idea to find one. But always keep your health in mind and seek help from a medical professional, as well.