Abortion: The Everlasting Debate

Alaina Keller ‘19 – Inside Politics Participant


On March 2, 2016, protestors rallied outside the Supreme Court Building to express their views on the Texas law regarding abortion clinics that was being presented before the justices.  The demonstration proved somewhat sudden in the eyes of the general public, for as political arguments in the past few months have become increasingly centered upon the 2016 presidential election, it seemed as if the fervor surrounding the issue of abortion waned in favor of discussions on Trump’s latest declaration.  It was only on July 14, 2015, however, that the abortion issue hit a recent climax when the Center for Medical Progress released its first of three critical videos that condemned Planned Parenthood for the possibly illegal sale of fetal tissue.  After a period of investigation, the grand jury on the case instead indicted the creators of the videos, David R. Daleiden and Sandra S. Merritt, and found that the many investigations into the videos revealed no concrete illegalities committed by Planned Parenthood.  Yet, the House of Representatives and the states themselves have continued to take action, focusing on legislation that attempts to limit abortion services as well as defund the organization.

Today, this issue proves to be relevant as the Supreme Court debates the Texas government’s 2013 law necessitating abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital in addition to requiring that abortion clinics meet the standards of “ambulatory surgical centers.” According to the New York Times article on the issue, more than half of the abortion clinics in the state have already closed down, prompting the justices to raise two related questions: whether Texas has legitimate reasoning behind the law and whether it violates the 1992 Planned Parenthood vs. Casey case that forbids states from placing “undue burdens on the constitutional right to an abortion before the fetus was viable.”  These burdens would include “unnecessary” health regulations that might inhibit the woman’s opportunity to receive an abortion.  Since the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case was argued before the Supreme Court on March 2, four justices have deemed the Texas law unconstitutional while three more conservative justices took the opposing view; ultimately, Justice Anthony Kennedy will act as the deciding factor with his vote, perhaps creating a tie due to the recent loss of Justice Antonin Scalia.  The decision will most likely be released in June of this year.

As this case reaches a conclusion near the end of state primaries for the 2016 election, this issue of abortion has the potential to continue playing a significant role in this election cycle.  Although the wide candidate pool has shrunk considerably, the stances on abortion of the remaining candidates still vary greatly.  On the Democratic side of the race, Hillary Clinton provides a clearly pro-choice view in her claims to oppose Republican attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and in her support of the Affordable Care Act, a measure that provides preventive options and prohibits insurance discrimination against women.  She emphasizes the “ability and right of every woman in this country to make her own health decisions.”  Contrastingly, Bernie Sanders offers an even more progressive approach in his plan to expand Planned Parenthood as it offers “vital healthcare service for millions of women.”  He also emphasizes the right for women to control their own bodies, and he claims that he will only nominate Supreme Court justices who fully accept and understand Roe v. Wade as law.  This latter promise, along with the assertion that he will not allow employers to deny contraceptives or any sort of procedure even on “moral” grounds, directly addresses the presence of abortion and contraception cases that have recently come before the Supreme Court, such as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc..

On the Republican side of the race, John Kasich has a distinctively pro-life view on the abortion issue, declaring his defense of the “sanctity of human life” in his past actions against abortion funding on the federal level and his success in prohibiting late term abortions and elective abortion in hospitals in his own state.  As governor of Ohio, he also actively worked to defund Planned Parenthood and reroute the taxpayer money towards other family planning organizations, a process which would be echoed in his anti-abortion policies should he become president.  Ted Cruz, on his platform, boldly claims that his presidency would immediately begin with an investigation of Planned Parenthood by his Attorney General, a promise which adequately reflects his deeply religious opposition towards the abortion issue.  In his defense of the “God-given right” to life, he combated taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood as well voted towards laws that restrict certain abortions; as with Kasich, Cruz plans on maintain this trend from the White House.

Though running as a Republican, Donald Trump diverges from the traditional party platform and refuses to focus on the abortion issue.  A historical list of his views from 1999 show that he has changed from being pro-choice to pro-life over the years, with a recent interview having him state that he would defund Planned Parenthood as long as they continue to provide abortions.  He does acknowledge the other services that the organization has for women, unlike the other candidates, yet his lack of political background does little to confirm his exact stance on the issue.

Regardless of who wins the 2016 presidential election, the issue of women’s rights will remain a debated issue in politics, with cases like Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt continuing to be brought before the courts as both federal and state governments struggle with the question of contraception and abortion.  Should a woman have complete control over her own body, or does the fetus within her have the inalienable right to life?