Abortion Bans Undermine Equality for All

May 23, 2019

For many women in America, and for advocates against discrimination and supporters of equal rights for all, the past few weeks have been particularly dark.  The constitutional safeguards promised by Roe v. Wade are under attack like never before. The right to safe and legal abortion for many women hangs in the balance. 

ADL is an organization whose 100+ year mission commits us to fight hate and secure fair treatment to all and we firmly believe that reproductive freedom is a core civil right enshrined in the law. When women can’t control their own reproductive choices and exercise their own decision-making autonomy, they are victims of discrimination. Women - particularly low-income women and women of color - are prevented from enjoying equal participation in social and economic life. The incredibly polarizing rhetoric around this debate also can contribute to the building blocks of hate.

For these reasons, ADL has filed amicus briefs in every major Supreme Court case since Roe supporting reproductive freedom and opposing efforts to curtail abortion rights. But the recent trend of abortion bans makes clear that the issue is not merely about defending Roe. It also underscores the broader imperative to work harder to protect our civil rights, the future of our democracy, and the ability of vulnerable populations to participate in our society on some degree of terms of equality.

As part of the abortion bans enacted in several states in recent weeks, lawmakers have sent a resounding and unequivocal message to women across the country: that they are not full and equal participants in our society; that male-dominated legislatures are prepared to impose their religious beliefs on everyone; that women are not entitled to have autonomy over their own bodies; that government officials rather than women themselves, in consultation with those close to them and their doctors should make these difficult and intimate medical decisions; and that it is legitimate to place safe and legal abortion access out of reach, especially for women of color, immigrants, low-income, and young women. 

Of course, the recent spate of unconstitutional abortion bans didn’t come out of nowhere.  Lawmakers have been quietly chipping away at abortion access since 2011, passing more than 400 abortion restrictions. In the past year, however, against a backdrop of reproductive freedom rollbacks at the federal level, a coordinated strategy to methodically undermine women’s reproductive freedoms has evolved into an all-out assault on Roe. With Missouri being the most recent, several states have passed “fetal heartbeat” bills, amounting to near-total abortion bans, including Georgia, which imposes harsh criminal penalties on women who obtain now-illegal abortions, and Alabama, which would effectively ban abortion at every stage and would charge doctors who perform an abortion with felonies.  With little public support and no exceptions for victims of incest or rape, Alabama’s law- the harshest in the nation- has been heralded by supporters as intentionally designed to challenge Roe at the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Laws like those adopted in Alabama and Georgia, which criminalize abortion, also will disproportionately affect poor women and women of color.  In Alabama, the poorest in the state are disproportionately Latino and black.  According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, only half of the state’s 67 counties have access to a local obstetricians and Alabama consistently ranks among the poorest states in the country. Such laws have clear effects on certain women more than others.

The abortion ban bills are inconsistent with basic principles of equality, privacy, and the Constitution and illuminate the underlying misogyny behind these laws.  Ultimately, they highlight that reproductive rights are civil rights. And thus, ADL will fight for them as we continue our centennial struggle to ensure justice and fair treatment to all.