“Reproductive rights" refers to many topics. Those topics include abortion, birth control, and sex education. They also include the right to rear children, the freedom to plan a family, and other matters related to reproduction.
This section features an explanation of reproductive rights. It provides a brief legal history of reproductive rights and relevant case law. It also addresses the sections on abortion, birth control, and other reproductive rights topics. We address a variety of not only legal but also health care-related topics in this section, including:
What Are Reproductive Rights?
Reproductive rights refer to a person's right to make decisions regarding reproduction. Generally, this concept includes the right to:
- Plan a family
- Learn about reproduction in school
- Terminate a pregnancy
- Access and use contraceptives
- Access reproductive health care
Some even argue that reproductive rights include the right to access accurate information on reproductive health care. Such information might include:
- Location of abortion providers
- Accurate statements from public officials about relevant laws
Accurate statements from public officials should include information about various procedures. It often does not, however. You'd hope you could find accurate information that serves your exercise of body autonomy. But inaccurate information about abortion care abounds in the United States. Inaccurate information is also pervasive about reproductive care in general.
Reproductive rights advocates have faced opposition from those raising moral concerns. Abortion advocates have also faced opposition. Those opposing such advocates have also raised ethical and religious concerns.
The conflict between the pro-choice and pro-life movements remains emotionally charged. It is also politically charged.
Abortion is generally the most hotly contested issue within reproductive rights. It has been framed as both a personal concern and an issue related to public health. Defenders and opponents of abortion generally call themselves "pro-choice" and "pro-life," respectively.
Pro-choice advocates argue that abortions fall within a person's right to privacy. They also argue that it falls within a person's right to self-determination. They feel that the choice to terminate an "unborn fetus" lies with an individual and their doctor.
Pro-life advocates argue that a fetus is a living human being from the moment of conception. They also argue that abortion should be criminalized for the protection of the "unborn child."
In the pro-life movement, abortion bans are understood as a way to protect "human life" and assign rights to unborn children. In the pro-choice movement, there is an understanding that unborn fetuses have not yet taken on the characteristics of a living human.
In some people's minds, the well-being of the person carrying the child appears to be less important than that of the child. Abortion services, therefore, are framed by pro-choice advocates as a way to protect the well-being of the person carrying the child.
Abortion services are also framed as a way to protect the bodily autonomy of the person carrying the child. At the same time, contraceptive methods are framed as a way to exercise bodily autonomy, as well.
Family planning services are also framed as a way to protect the right to self-determination for all people engaged in sexual activity. Family planning services entail both reproductive health care and sex education.
Reproductive Rights Laws and History
Much of the legal debate over reproductive rights has focused on abortion. At one time, abortion was a legal practice throughout the United States. This was prior to the country's independence and continued until the passage of the Comstock Act in 1873. That act primarily targeted pornography. But it also made it illegal to use the U.S. Postal Service to send contraceptives. It also made it illegal to send abortifacients and materials related to sexual education by mail.
Around this time, states began to pass laws criminalizing abortion. This trend continued until the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade, which overturned state laws criminalizing abortion.
In recent years, federal lawmakers have restricted federal funding for abortions. Some states have also restricted access to abortions by requiring parental consent for minors. Some states have even required that people seeking abortions undergo counseling. They have also required that people undergo waiting periods. Other requirements have been designed to dissuade individuals from having an abortion.
Certain kinds of abortions have been banned altogether. Banned abortions have included situations where childbirth endangers the life of the mother. Legislation has passed in some states that establish personhood for fetuses. On the other hand, at this time, the Food and Drug Administration also approved the abortion drug RU-486. This drug aborts pregnancies during the first seven weeks after conception.
Supreme Court Overturn of Roe v. Wade
In 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Roe was the landmark Supreme Court case from the early 1970s that established constitutional protections for a person to seek and obtain an abortion.
In that case, SCOTUS indicated that the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution protect a person's right to choose between carrying a fetus to term and terminating a pregnancy. Justices on the Court found that a person's right to privacy and to make choices for themselves, in a way that is free from government interference, are protected by the Constitution of the United States. In Roe, legal protections affirmed a person's right to choose.
But in June 2022, SCOTUS overturned Roe, claiming that the U.S. Constitution never actually provided such rights. The Justices on the Court claimed that whether a person can obtain an abortion should be a matter left up to the states. While no abortion ban is in effect across the United States, there are now more abortion restrictions in effect. Under federal law, there is no universal set of restrictions banning abortion outright.
Although SCOTUS overruled Roe, the Biden administration continues to support a person's right to choose. About the decision in 2022, the Attorney General of the United States, Merrick Garland, has said: “The Justice Department strongly disagrees with the Court's decision. This decision deals a devastating blow to reproductive freedom in the United States."
In this statement from the Office of Public Affairs, Garland continued: “It will have an immediate and irreversible impact on the lives of people across the country. And it will be greatly disproportionate in its effect–with the greatest burdens felt by people of color and those of limited financial means."
Now under state law, each state may determine its own policies on terminating pregnancies. It is still possible to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. It can just be tricky. But it's important to know that you can still cross state lines to obtain an abortion. If you are located in a state where your abortion is illegal, you can go to another state where it is legal to obtain an abortion. Reproductive freedom still exists. It has merely been restricted. You can still seek reproductive health care services. Legal rights to end pregnancies are still an option. You merely have to be aware of the restrictions.
Reproductive justice is one of the most important issues any person can face. Continue reading to learn even more. Over the years, many cases have addressed reproductive rights. You can learn more about the legal history of these cases from a resource released by the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Sex Education in Schools
Another reproductive rights issue that has generated controversy is the question of whether and to what extent it is appropriate to provide sex education in schools. Advocates of sex education claim that sex education results in lower rates of teen pregnancy and lower STD infection rates.
One of the top priorities of these advocates is the elimination of HIV/AIDS. Accurate health information is central to the prevention of how STDs spread and the consequences STDs have for society, many of these advocates argue.
Opponents of sex education in schools claim that the state has no place in educating children about sex. They prefer that parents teach children about sex according to the parents' values and the time of their choosing.
At present, the debate focuses more on the content of sex education rather than whether it should be provided. Opponents frequently favor an abstinence-only approach to education. Advocates generally seek a broader discussion of reproduction and issues related to reproductive health.
Many people frame the issue of sex education as a way to eliminate or remediate the disparities in rights between those biologically capable of carrying a fetus and those that are not.
In educating people about their bodies, many understand that information intended to inform a person of the consequences they face as a member of the sex they are biologically assigned at birth should not determine who they are, what they become, or what their life must look like.
Many health organizations advocate for this kind of sex education. An example of such an organization is NARAL Pro-Choice America. Such organizations believe that:
- Inequalities between those of any given sex or gender can be eliminated by proper access to information
- All people are entitled to proper medical care, including the right to access safe abortions
- Sex education is an issue of women's rights
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