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Partial Birth Abortion Ban Passed in Arkansas: Reproductive Rights Limited in the Conservative South

On November 5, 2003, President Bush signed The Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act into law, thus instituting a nation-wide, late-term abortion ban. Fearful that Congress’ democratic majority will lead to an overturning of this ban, Arkansas introduced a state bill with the same name to ensure that the state will not legalize the procedure anytime in the near future.

About Late-Term Abortion

Late-term abortion, known to anti-abortion activists as “Partial Birth Abortion,” is a procedure only performed in extreme circumstances. According to data in the US, before the procedure was banned, late-term abortions (regarded as some time between 20 and 27 weeks gestation) accounted for only 1.4% of all abortions performed in the country.

Reasons for Late-Term Abortion

Gretchen Voss’ article, “My Late Term Abortion” was written for The Boston Globe . In it, Voss writes about her highly traumatic, and totally necessary, late-term abortion. Her fetus had hydrocephalus, a build-up of fluid in the cavities of the brain, and had an open neural tube defect, making it highly unlikely the fetus would survive to term. Even if it did, would require extensive and multiple surgeries to live, which wouldn’t begin to repair the damage it was born with.

This is just one of many sad but factual occurrences of fetal abnormalities that will result in certain and early death for a child.

Utilizing an unfounded assumption that healthy women were terminating healthy pregnancies in a blood-bath procedure, conservative religious groups have been highly active in the fight to abolish late term abortions and now, in the case of the nation-wide ban and Arkansas’ recent ban, they have been successful. Without defining a fetus’ actual “viability” in Arkansas’ and the US’ Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, or clearly indicating provisions to protect the health of the mother, the Act will be open to subjective interpretation and application.

The First Restriction on Reproductive Rights Since Roe

Roe vs. Wade, the landmark case that legalized abortion in 1973, changed the face of reproductive rights, from a back alley procedure to a safe and certified one performed by a trained medical professional. The Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, in its national form, is the first law to infringe on a woman’s right to choose since Roe vs. Wade was enacted.

The Future of Reproductive Rights

President Obama has stated openly that he is pro-choice, and has acted in favor of women’s rights twice since his administration took over in January 2009. First, he overturned the Mexico City Policy, which prevented government funding from going to organizations that promote or provide access to abortion. Second, he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, an equal pay law that will ensure women’s salaries are equal to men’s.

Because of Obama’s actions, thus far, it is safe to say that the administration is a pro-choice administration, and Roe vs. Wade will not be threatened. However, Obama has spoken out against late-term abortion, so it’s hard to say what the future will look like for the procedure and, more importantly, for the families that are impacted by the current ban.

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