Legal Matters

The whole basis of the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade was that there is no right to abortion in the constitution. The same thing is also true of the right to contraception usage or same-sex intimacy and marriage. Justice Clarence Thomas has pointed this out.

Some of the Supreme Court justices who supported the recent decision said that the issue should be decided by the states. Abortion was legal in several states even before Roe v. Wade. However, this will inevitably result in penalizing those of limited means in the states that ban abortion even more severely than under the existing state restrictions on abortion access. In these modern times of universal access to information and culture, there is no logical reason why every state should be different in this regard.

It is important to recall that Roe did not open the door to all abortion. In the first trimester (13.3 weeks), the abortion decision is left to the woman’s physician. In the second trimester, the state may regulate abortion procedures in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health. In the third trimester, the state may proscribe abortion except when medical judgment concludes that the life of the mother is at stake. A related case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, established the criterion that states may not place undue burdens in the way of a person seeking abortion. Presumably the demise of Roe v. Wade has also made this decision moot, but while it was in force, states including Florida pushed the boundaries of undue burden, passing laws that inevitably would be declared unconstitutional.

In Florida, the law prohibiting abortions after 15 weeks goes into effect July 1st, 2022. As noted above, this would allow the vast majority of abortions to remain legal. However, Governor DeSantis has just (6/24/22) stated that Florida will “work to expand pro-life protections”. Florida has a unique right to privacy law in the constitution that was used 30 years ago to protect abortion rights. On the other hand, Florida also has laws requiring a 24 hour wait for abortion and requiring parental consent for minors.

The right to reproductive choice should be established in national law. The Women’s Health Protection Act, also known as WHPA, was reintroduced in the 117th Congress by lead sponsors Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA), Lois Frankel (D-FL), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Veronica Escobar (D-TX) in the House and Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) in the Senate. The bill was passed by the US House of Representatives in September 2021, but it did not pass the Senate with the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster on February 28, 2022. The vote was along party lines. “If enacted, WHPA would protect abortion access nationwide by creating a statutory right for health care providers to provide, and a corresponding right for their patients to receive, abortion care—free from restrictions and bans.”

Would the Equal Rights Amendment support abortion rights? Some think so, based on the idea that restrictions on pregnant persons differentially impact women. The Brennan Center says, “The long push to get the Equal Rights Amendment over the finish line could strengthen equality-based arguments and protections for abortion rights nationwide.”A Google search on the topic reveals a number of anti-abortion groups who are adamantly opposed to the ERA for this very reason.

Finally, legality and morality are not the same. Many things that are arguably immoral, such as promoting oneself at the expense of others, are perfectly legal and in fact encouraged in some contexts. Another organization I belong to was required by the Federal Trade Commission to desist from promoting its collegial code of ethics, because some of its provisions were deemed to be a conspiracy in restraint of trade. The decision to have an abortion is a complicated one, and indeed it is possible that some decisions might be immoral. But given the lack of agreement among major religions regarding abortion, I do not believe that the law is capable of distinguishing between immoral abortions and moral ones.

Religions and Abortion

There are two questions that are answered differently by people of different faiths and philosophies: when does life begin, and whose welfare is paramount in questions of the fetus versus the person carrying it. These are moral and not scientific questions.

Many Christians believe that life begins at conception, namely the moment when the egg is fertilized. The National Council of Catholic Bishops maintains that Christianity was distinguished in its early days by the rejection of abortion and infanticide, a rejection that continued, and that the life that begins at conception is sacred. However, there is variation among Christian denominations. See the Pew Research report link below.

The National Council of Jewish women has published a scripturally based account of the Jewish position on abortion. Life does not begin at conception, the fetus is not a person, and the rights of the already living person carrying the fetus are paramount in cases of conflict.

Likewise, the American Muslim Bar Association and HEART, a national reproductive justice organization serving American Muslims, have published a statement on abortion and especially on the impact of anti-abortion legislation on marginalized people. They point out that Muslims do not hold a unified view on abortion, and the article contains a strong statement of belief that every person has the right to control their own body and reproductive choices. They associate anti-abortion legislation with colonialism and white Christian nationalism.

The Pew Research Center has put together official positions on abortion from the above plus many other religious communities in The United States. Many of these make a distinction between early and late abortions, and many attempt to make a distinction between abortion as a convenience and abortion for what they consider to be more justified reasons.

What is clear is that to enshrine one religion’s beliefs into law is to create an establishment of religion contrary to the First Amendment.

Birth Control

It is difficult to exaggerate the impact of the availability of birth control on women’s lives and on society in general. Women have been able to build careers and enter the workplace, adding significantly to national productivity. Birth control is critical to women’s economic security and to the economic well-being of the American family. However, this was not achieved without struggle. It was only in 1965 that the Supreme Court decided that married couples had the right to use birth control.

Even today, some employers refuse to provide birth control to their employees as part of their health care package (this is why I don’t shop at Hobby Lobby). For those who believe that life begins with the fertilization of an egg, some methods of birth control are equivalent to abortion. We need to understand that this is a logical extension of their belief, and that they will fight until such methods are banned. This is why birth control is under threat. For those who believe that even the potential for life itself is sacred, no birth control method is acceptable. Please note that those who believe in this way are a minority, but their voices have been loud.

We need to understand the methods of birth control and how they work. AAUW members, given our demographic, may not be up to date on this. You can review the currently available birth control methods, many of which were not available when most of us needed them, from Planned Parenthood. None, not even tubal ligation, is 100% effective except for abstinence, and to require abstinence is also to tell a woman what she can and cannot to do with her body. Abstinence is not conducive to a successful marriage, and healthcare advisors are continually telling us that we should have sex—safe sex, of course.

The above site also describes the cost of the various methods of birth control. Not surprisingly, the most effective methods that still allow sexual intercourse can be extremely expensive, up to $1300. This means that poor women do not have the best choices, especially since many of them are working at jobs that do not provide health care at all.


Prevention and termination of pregnancy has been practiced throughout recorded human history. Under English common law, the cornerstone of American jurisprudence, abortions performed prior to “quickening” (the first perceptible fetal movement, which usually occurs after the fourth month of pregnancy) were not criminal offenses. Abortion was made illegal under most circumstances in most US states in the mid-1800s, but by 1973, the year of Roe v. Wade, legal abortions were available in 17 states.

We need to understand the types of abortions, their frequency, and who has them. The Guttmacher Institute is a good source of information on this, but tracking abortions is difficult because different states have different reporting requirements.  

  • In 2020, there were 930,160 abortions in the United States, an 8% increase from 862,320 abortions in 2017.
  • Fifty-nine percent of abortions in 2014 were obtained by patients who had had at least one birth.
  • Some 75% of abortion patients in 2014 were poor (having an income below the federal poverty level of $15,730 for a family of two in 2014) or low-income (having an income of 100–199% of the federal poverty level). What does this tell you?

The Centers for Desease Control and Prevention produces an extensive statistical report on abortion. “Each year, CDC requests abortion data from the central health agencies for 50 states, the District of Columbia, and New York City. For 2019, 49 reporting areas voluntarily provided aggregate abortion data to CDC.” This report shows that very few abortions are performed after 13 weeks’ gestation (in Florida, 3.7%). However, other reporting has pointed out that these late term abortions constitute special, difficult cases.

The CDC also reports on abortion mortality–deaths attributable to legal abortion. Since 1970 there has been fewer than one death per 100,000 abortions.

The Pew Research Center‘s report uses the CDC data, but is much more readable.

WebMD describes abortion procedures in layman’s terms.

More than half of all abortions are now being accomplished through medication. These pills can be obtained from various sources, including international sources, and are as safe as surgical abortion. States with severe abortion restrictions are targeting medication abortion, but this will be more difficult to police.

Why do people choose to have abortions? There are a number of websites that feature stories told by real women about their abortion choices, and more come out every day in the news. In some cases, they don’t feel ready to have a child, or their life plans would be canceled by a pregnancy. In some cases, they already have children and cannot afford more. There are severely deformed and unviable fetuses. The stories are quite varied. Many people believe that abortion seekers are irresponsible and should not have allowed themselves to get pregnant. In addition to learning more about birth control and its limitations, reading these stories will provide another perspective. 

The above (and sites referenced in the post The Power of Story: Abortion) feature stories compiled largely by younger women. But I suspect, given the statistics on the number of women who have had abortions, that many of our members may have had this experience. Perhaps they will take the opportunity to share.

What You Can Do

In the branch: 

Have a discussion within your board of directors or branch on the topic: what do we mean when we say we empower women?

Schedule programs on the topics described in the information posts. Encourage respectful discussion and emphasize facts. Invite speakers from local women-serving agencies and get their viewpoint on the impact of current abortion regulations on real people. Invite legal speakers and current legislators (not candidates). But do not invite representatives of groups that oppose our public policy. See Article III, Section 1 of the national AAUW Bylaws: “The policies and programs of AAUW shall be binding on all members of AAUW (“Members”) engaged in AAUW activities, and no Member shall use the name of AAUW to oppose such policies or programs.”

In the community: 

Consider forming alliances with other groups that are interested in promoting reproductive rights, especially if they emphasize education. Many of these groups, however, are able to endorse candidates, which AAUW cannot do. What AAUW can do Is to emphasize the facts. There are many myths concerning abortion, but according to experts, “myth busting” is seldom effective, especially when it is directed at true believers. What is more effective is bringing out accurate information, for example the connection between poverty and abortion.

Should we march for reproductive rights? I personally did this a number of years ago in Washington, as did a good representation of AAUW members including then board president Patricia Ho. Did it change hearts and minds? I doubt that. Marching, or standing still and holding signs, are good ways to encourage people who already agree with us, and it can show them that we are on their side. This can be valuable. But I think that we need to devote the “smarts” and the education of which we are so proud to coming up with ways to educate others. We cannot change the minds of those who are irrevocably committed, but there are many people who may not have considered all the aspects and implications involved in the loss of reproductive rights. Some of them are our fellow AAUW members. They need to hear accurate information and participate in civil discussion.

The Power of Story: Abortion

Four years ago, during AAUW Florida’s last in-person convention, a small group of members cornered me in the hall and told me that their priest had proclaimed from the pulpit that they could not be members of both the Catholic Church and of AAUW because of our pro-choice stance. I have been told that they have since left AAUW. One of them said, while the others nodded their heads, that women seeking abortion have simply been irresponsible. I had no effective response. Now I do. The story these women believed has been carefully crafted.

When the landmark case Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, there were many stories of back-alley coat-hanger abortions performed on desperate women, and “women’s lib” was a compelling story for many. Now, those stories have faded away, and there has been an onslaught of state attempts to limit abortion and challenge Roe. What has caused this? I submit that groups of people who firmly believe that life begins at conception, and that that life must be preserved no matter the consequences to the person carrying it, have conducted an intensive and focused campaign to change the story. First, they labeled themselves “pro-life”, even though they are not concerned with the life of the person carrying the fetus. Many appear to strongly believe that a woman’s destiny is to bear children and she will be happier if she does that. They have already written the story of every person with a uterus. 

Rather than “fetus,” they name that tiny potential life a “baby”, even if it is merely a fertilized egg. If pressed, some will admit that they do not accept contraception because it prevents the fulfillment of that life potential. Recently, they have promoted laws that prohibit abortion if a “fetal heartbeat” can be detected, without making it clear that what they are talking about is not an actual heart beating but an electrical impulse. Choosing the term “heartbeat” is consistent with their story: abortion kills a baby. No one wants to kill a baby! On Interstate 10 as you drive toward Tallahassee from the east, billboards line the road featuring pictures of six-month-old children with various heart-wrenching pleas for life. This is how they have successfully made us all cringe when we hear the term “abortion”. But it is a reverse image of the propaganda in World War II posters depicting the enemy as subhuman. The enemy were human beings, and a 28 week fetus is not a baby.

Recent popular fiction glorifies the person who decides to keep a pregnancy in spite of all odds. There’s lots of human interest in the interactions that result, and a lovely ending with a bouncing baby that everyone loves. But if a woman chooses abortion, another story commences. What are those stories? 

In September 2021, three US congresswomen told their stories of abortion. Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri said she was raped on a church youth trip. Rep. Barbara Lee of California said she received a “back-alley” abortion in Mexico after a teenage pregnancy. And Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington said she opted for an abortion after being told her pregnancy would be high risk for her and the baby.

You may read more stories on these sites:


And there is

In a recent op-ed in the Florida Times-Union, the board of Jacksonville NOW cited the majority opinion that abortion should be legal, and asked those in agreement to speak up. I agree. AAUW’s public policy calls for for “self-determination of women’s reproductive health decisions.”

AAUW and Abortion Bans

This year’s state legislative season has seen extreme restrictions on abortion in several states voted into law, including so-called “fetal heartbeat bills” and even a near-andtotal ban on abortion in Alabama. More than 15 states have proposed or passed such bills. The motivation appears to be to generate a challenge to the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, which as it stands would prevent these bills from becoming enforced law. They will be challenged in the courts, but supporters hope the new Supreme Court will overturn Roe.

AAUW continues to support a woman’s self-determination in her reproductive health decisions. Deborah Vagins, AAUW’s senior vice president for public policy and research, has recently set out an appeal to donate so that AAUW may help counter these attempts to turn the clock back to the 1950s. AAUW has joined dozens of organizations nationwide to stand against the bans.

It is my hope as Director for Public Policy and soon-to-be President-elect that AAUW of Florida will wholeheartedly support AAUW’s position regarding reproductive freedom. I also realize that this is a troubling topic for some. If you are troubled, please read the rest of this post, which seeks to go beyond gut reactions and to bring some actual information to the topic.

As educated women, AAUW’s membership should be a receptive audience for facts and information to counteract false claims and misinformation. To begin, the bills that have passed in several states are called “fetal heartbeat bills” by both supporters and opponents. This implies that physicians can detect a “lub-lub” audible heartbeat as early as six weeks. To the contrary, according to Rewire.News, what is being detected is an electrical pulse from something called the fetal pole, a thick area alongside the yolk sac that extends from one end of an embryo to the other. Not the bouncing babies shown on billboards begging their mothers not to kill them! At the fetal pole stage, there is no heart at all.

Now for some more facts:

  • Under English common law, abortion was legal until “quickening” (about the fourth month). In the mid-1800s, most states made all abortions illegal under most circumstances. By 1973, legal abortions were available in 17 states. Abortion Law
  • Roe v. Wade legalizes abortion but allows for individual states to pass laws regulating abortion in the second and third trimesters. From the majority opinion: “We, therefore, conclude that the right of personal privacyincludes the abortion decision, but that this right is not unqualified and must be considered against important state interests in regulation.” What are those state interests? “…at some point the state interests as to protection of health, medical standards, and prenatal life, become dominant.”
  • According to the Guttmacher Institute, 75% of abortion patients are low income, 60% are in their 20s, and 59% already have a child. Racially, they are 39% white, 28% black, 25% Hispanic, 6% Asian or Pacific Islander, and 3% other. 62% are religiously affiliated.
  • According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015, of the 638,169 abortions reported by states (three did not report):
    • 4% were performed at 8 weeks of gestation or less
    • 7% were performed at 9-13 weeks of gestation
    • 3% were performed at 21 weeks or more
  • Among the 39 areas that reported to the CDC by marital status for 2015, 14.3% of all women who obtained an abortion were married, and 85.7% were unmarried.
  • In 2015, Florida reported 72,023 abortions to the CDC. Florida did not report abortion patients by age or gestational age of the fetus.
  • The CDC found that, in 2014, only six women were identified to have died as a result of complications from legal induced abortion.
  • Contraception methods can fail. The CDC reports a 9% failure rate for the “pill”, patch and ring, and 12% for the diaphragm. Male condoms fail at 18%. IUDs are among the most effective methods of contraception (failure rate .2%).
  • A fact from another source: (p. 3) 81% of single mothers in Florida have incomes below the Basic Economic Security Tables (BEST) index, which benchmarks the income a family needs for basic expenses plus emergency and retirement savings.
  • In spite of the picture created from the statistics, of a typical abortion patient being an impoverished single mother in her 20s, women 40 years old or more received 3.5% of all abortions.
  • In an attempt to portray themselves as fellow human beings, women who have had abortions are starting to tell their stories. (more stories) Some common reasons for unintended pregnancy include:
    • Birth control failure
    • Abusive relationships
    • Rape
    • Coercion
    • Poor judgment
  • Some reasons for choosing abortion include not being ready to be a mother, physical difficulties short of life-threatening, not being able to afford another child, and severe fetal abnormalities.

Here’s what I learned from these statistics: abortion is not terribly rare. It has been practiced for centuries. Today, it is extremely safe. Around 90% of all abortions are performed before 13 weeks of gestation. Women in their 20s are the primary abortion patients, and black women are disproportionately represented among them, as are women living in poverty. Many of these women have used contraception, but it failed. Many of them already have one or more children, and they likely will have trouble affording the expenses of another child.

However, as the stories tell, there are many reasons for having an abortion, and many different kinds of women have them. Each story is unique. Read them. For some, you might think the woman could have made another choice, but for others, only the most hard-hearted or medically uninformed would deny her right to choose an abortion. That is why “AAUW trusts that every woman has the ability to make her own informed choices regarding her reproductive life within the dictates of her own moral and religious beliefs. Further, AAUW believes that these deeply personal decisions should be made without government interference.”





New Abortion Ban Bills in Florida Legislature

We have received word from Kate Neilson that HB 1429 and SB 1890, the “Dismemberment Abortion” bills, are in opposition to our public policy priorities. The reason is that they limit a woman’s control of her reproductive life. They seek to ban the most common second-trimester procedure, properly called a dilation and evacuation or D&E, by making it a felony for a physician to “knowingly” perform one. I have read the bill and the staff analysis, and I find it very confusing (it’s OK if the fetus is killed first or if suction is involved) and very threatening to the provider. Doctors would have to choose a method based on the law and not on the best interests of the woman. I encourage you to read the staff analysis and the bill here. D&E abortion staff analysis

The fight to roll back reproductive choice is now in the phase of attempts to ban certain procedures, using emotional language and painful imagery. If enough procedures are banned and the legal risk of being an abortion provider is increased, their goals of taking the control of women’s own bodies away from them are achieved.

It is likely that if passed, this law would also be found unconstitutional. As noted in the article referenced below, eight states have had similar laws introduced; two are in force, one is permanently blocked by the courts, and the rest are in judicial review.

For those who wish to learn more, here’s a good article:

The House bill has been favorably reported out of two committees so far, with one to go. The Senate bill 1890 has not been heard in committee.

Here’s how the representatives voted:

Health Quality Subcommittee (1/24/18)

Grant, J


Judiciary Committee (2/7/18)

Record Vote:

Cortes, J
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