Abortion Rights FAQ
Abortion laws have been a source of controversy in the United States for decades. From religious to legal advocacy groups, everyone has a different take on the restrictions placed upon pregnant people regarding bodily autonomy and abortion. From 1973 until 2022, abortion access was considered a constitutional right of people who can get pregnant. However, the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court made abortion access across the nation more complicated.
Below is a list of frequently asked questions about abortion rights. For more information about specific abortion rights, see your state's abortion laws.
Is abortion legal in the United States?
Since the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, abortion regulation varies by state. A handful of states protect the right to abortion throughout pregnancy. Others, such as Texas and Mississippi, had trigger bans in place to outlaw abortion as soon as the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Some states could reinstate old abortion bans or restrictions on abortion services that were held unconstitutional when Roe v. Wade was established law.
After the first trimester, many states impose abortion restrictions, such as imposing waiting periods, counseling, and other mandates regarding the health of the pregnant person. They also might place restrictions on the way abortion providers or abortion clinics can operate. In most states, abortion during the third trimester is illegal unless it is necessary to save the pregnant person's life.
At the same time, under the Hyde Amendment, federal funds cannot be used for abortions. The Hyde Amendment bars using Medicaid to cover abortions. You can, however, use private health insurance. If you do not have adequate insurance, many organizations, like Planned Parenthood, provide reproductive health care services on a sliding scale. In the absence of adequate insurance plans, low-income persons may qualify for reduced-cost reproductive health services. Under many health plans, you can still obtain an abortion using private health insurance.
It's important to know that there is no outright abortion ban in effect across the United States. You can still access abortion care. While many states are working to ban abortion within their own jurisdictions or they already have, abortions are still legal in many states. Federal law no longer protects abortion. It is a matter left up to the states.
Do fetuses have rights?
The U.S. Constitution only guarantees rights to "persons." In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court determined that embryos or fetuses have no particular rights until they have reached "personhood." So, the question becomes, "When is a fetus a person?"
Of course, society continues to debate this scientific and ethical question. Courts and legislative bodies have struggled with the exact moment a fetus becomes a person. For nearly 50 years, lawmakers and health care providers relied on the Supreme Court's conclusion that a fetus became a “person" once it could live outside the mother's womb.
However, in a post-Roe world, some abortion opponents argue that fetuses or even embryos should have the same human rights as a person. Any “fetal personhood" laws, if enacted, could have a profound impact on abortion care.
The debate around the “rights of fetuses" is an interesting one. It appears that pro-life advocates claim pregnant persons have fewer civil rights than the fetus they carry. As this debate continues, there may never be coherence in pro-life advocates' arguments. The U.S. Constitution assigns rights to “persons" and “citizens." Pro-life advocates appear to understand a pregnant person as having fewer traits of a “person" or a “citizen" than their arguments would cause one to believe.
I'm under the age of 18. Do I need my parent's consent to have an abortion?
The requirement that minors get parental consent before having an abortion varies by state. Some states actively require parental consent for people under the age of 18, with exceptions for abuse, incest, or neglect. This typically involves one parent, although a few states require the parental consent of both parents.
Other states have parental consent laws on the books that are currently not enforced. Finally, a handful of states have no parental consent requirements, although physicians often use their discretion on whether to notify parents of a planned abortion.
Is there a mandatory waiting period between seeing a counselor and having an abortion?
In many states, a person can schedule an abortion for the following day. Several other states have waiting periods (typically 24 hours but sometimes 72 hours) before one can have the procedure.
These waiting periods give a patient the opportunity to learn information from their health care provider about abortion procedures and health risks. In a few select states, counselors are required to give a person who is more than 20 weeks pregnant information on a fetus's ability to feel pain.
My partner wants me to have an abortion, but I want to keep the baby. Do they have any say in the matter?
Non-pregnant partners generally do not have a legal right to determine whether their pregnant partner seeks an abortion. Though both have equal human rights, they are not "similarly situated."
In some states, not requiring a partner's consent is seen as a safety measure. For example, a pregnant woman in an abusive relationship may be afraid to reveal the pregnancy to her partner because she fears they might hurt her as a result.
What is the abortion pill? Is it available in the U.S.?
The term "abortion pill" refers to mifepristone (or RU-486). This is a progesterone blocker created by a French doctor in the 1980s that can end a pregnancy prior to ten weeks gestation. Mifepristone is taken with misoprostol, a drug that causes a person's uterus to empty, as it does during menstruation.
Medication abortions are considered safe and extremely effective. Mifepristone was approved in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000 and is legal and available in all 50 states directly from a physician, clinic, or hospital. Patients cannot obtain mifepristone from a pharmacy.
In some jurisdictions, state law requires the physician who prescribes mifepristone to be physically present when the patient takes it. This presents a significant roadblock for those who wish to obtain the abortion pill via telemedicine.
This method of abortion is considered safe and is widely used for medication abortions. It is a completely viable way to terminate a pregnancy under many circumstances, including when birth control or contraception has failed or the pregnancy poses a threat to your life. Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list of reasons you can obtain a medication abortion. They are only examples of situations where you can obtain an abortion. You must, however, obtain the medication abortion within the permitted timeframes.
You can learn more about mifepristone by visiting the FDA's Frequently Asked Questions page on the subject. This FAQ page provides useful and insightful information on the uses and risks of this abortion medication.
What are 'partial-birth' abortions? Are they legal?
Partial-birth abortions refer to a controversial procedure that ends a pregnancy through a method that partially delivers an intact fetus before aborting it. In the medical field, it is known as standard dilation and evacuation (D&E). The federal government banned “partial-birth" abortion in 2003, and the Supreme Court upheld that ban in Gonzales v. Carhart in 2007. However, that law does not define exactly what procedures Congress defines as partial-birth abortions.
More than a dozen states have also banned partial-birth abortions, with a few of these states banning this procedure only after viability. Most of these state laws specifically ban standard dilation and evacuation.
Both state and federal partial-birth abortion bans include exceptions for cases where the life of the pregnant person is in danger.
- The Center for Reproductive Rights: This nonprofit organization frames reproductive rights as human rights. This group runs a variety of pro-choice initiatives for reproductive health programs and actions related to the right to choose across the globe.
- Planned Parenthood: This organization provides low-cost reproductive health services to qualifying individuals.
Learn About Abortion Protections and Restrictions: Contact an Attorney
Reproductive rights are a controversial topic from both a personal and legal standpoint. If you have additional questions about reproductive health care and how to obtain a legal abortion, it's best to speak with a family law attorney in your area. A skilled family law attorney will be able to answer your questions so you can make the right decision for you and your family. It's important to remember that abortions are still legal in many states. But if you're facing an issue related to abortion and you need legal help, it's important you contact an attorney.
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