Alibi V.13 No.4 • Jan 22-28, 2004 

Feature

The Issues Today

Since the Roe v. Wade battle began 31 years ago, technology and medicine have changed and new modern issues have made the debate more complex. Emergency contraception, a ban on late-term abortions and parental consent are just a few of the issues contributing to the local abortion conversation.

Emergency Contraception

Just months ago, top FDA officials recommended emergency contraception morning-after pills be made available without a prescription. Pro-choice groups praised the 27-4 decision because it makes it easier for women to get the back-up contraceptive pill in time to prevent pregnancy. If taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, contraception failure or misuse, or rape, emergency contraception is between 75 and 89 percent effective. If taken within 24 hours, it is up to 95 percent effective.

Morning-after pills have been available with prescription since 1998 under the names Plan B and Preven. Plan B, which contains the hormone progestin, will be the brand available without a prescription, if the decision is upheld.

The FDA usually follows it's advisers' recommendations and is likely to approve the pill sometime in the next eight months. The officials looked at emergency contraception success rates overseas, where the pill has been used for years. Another factor in the recommendation was a study of 585 women, which found that 90 percent of women could correctly take the first dose and 73 percent took the second dose on time 12 hours later.

The application for approval was submitted in April by Women's Capital Corporation, the company that manufactures Plan B.

Women in New Mexico already have more freedom than in many states because New Mexico already allows women to buy the morning-after pill from some pharmacists without a prescription. Only five other states allow this. A dosage costs about $20 at a pharmacy and between $8 and $20 at Planned Parenthood clinics.

Emergency rooms in non-religious hospitals provide emergency contraception to survivors of sexual assault. Only six other states likewise make it available.

Studies indicate that morning-after pills work because they contain higher doses of the hormones found in regular birth control pills. The hormones prevent ovulation or fertilization of an egg. They may also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, which is the medical definition of pregnancy. Opponents argue that interfering with a fertilized egg at all is morally reprehensible. Other concerns are that women will become less careful about regular contraception if the morning-after pill is widely available. Proponents such as Planned Parenthood say there is no evidence to support either of those arguments and estimate that the pill would reduce by half the nation's three million unintended pregnancies per year. Many abortions could also be prevented as well.

In 2002, 634,000 women received emergency contraception from Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest provider.

NARAL is supporting several pieces of legislation during this year's session that deal with supporting emergency contraception. The legislation is based on NARAL's research on reproductive health disparities among underserviced communities, Rossi says. “What we've found is that women of color and low-income areas are adversely affected. They don't have access to get the services,” she says. Language and cultural barriers are also an issue, she says. The legislature, which will address these problems will be introduced Jan. 20.

The organization also helped pass last year's emergency contraception bill, which allows emergency rooms to administer the drug to sexual assault surviviors.

Emergency contraception is not the same as RU-486, otherwise known as the abortion pill.

Parental Consent

Another issue being debated in the reproductive rights argument is that of parental notification, where a minor would be required to notify her parents before she could get an abortion. In New Mexico, parental consent or notification is not required, but it is needed in 43 other states.

Anti-choice groups argue that parental consent is necessary to protect the safety of a minor who may not be mature enough to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy. They argue that a minor's parents have the responsibility to deal with the pregnancy and argue that far less-serious cosmetic procedures such as tattoos and piercings cannot be done without parental consent.

Pro-choice groups say requiring consent limits a young woman's privacy and interferes with her right to choose. Adding barriers to safe abortion isn't fair, they argue, and a pregnancy is only the pregnant women's business and not her parents'.

In some states, a pregnant minor could instead ask a judge for permission. The judge would then decide if the minor was mature enough or if the abortion seemed to be in her best interest. New Mexico is not one of these states; no judicial bypass is required.

Late-term Abortion Bans

It's often called “partial-birth abortion,” a gruesome and misleading term used by anti-choice groups to define the very rare procedure of terminating a pregnancy after the first trimester. The medical term for the procedure is dilation and extraction.

Anti-choice groups had the upper hand on the issue because they coined the term “partial-birth” and are using the issue to slowly chisel away at reproductive rights.

On Nov. 5, 2003, President Bush outlawed the procedure, declaring that the government is “[coming] to the defense of the innocent child.”

The procedure is most often used for abortions needed for serious health reasons after 24 weeks of pregnancy. The cervix is slowly dilated (where the term “partial-birth” originates because, during pregnancy, the cervix dilates on its own) and the fetus is removed from the uterus.

Doctors who perform the procedure could now face jail time.

Pro-choice advocates say the ban goes against Roe v. Wade and is broad enough to possibly ban other more common types of abortion procedures. What's more, they argue, it allows the government to intrude into an issue that should be between a woman and her doctor. But Bush announced at the bill signing that “the executive branch will vigorously defend this law against any who would try to overturn it in the courts.”

The House approved the bill 281 to 142 and the Senate later approved it 64 to 34.