Women’s Health vs. the First Amendment

July 13, 2018


The past few weeks have been brutal

Though it may seem like a lifetime ago, it was a mere three years ago our country was celebrating the historic Ogerfell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision that declared all marriages, regardless of the couple’s genders, legal.

Cut to 2018. Instead of continuing to move our nation forward, SCOTUS spent the past weeks taking steps backward with decisions that ultimately hurt women, public unions, and anyone who isn’t white. And just when we thought SCOTUS was done trying to unravel the moral fabric of America, Justice Kennedy gently whispered, “Hold my beer” and announced his upcoming retirement, thus simultaneously signaling the end of an era of a [kind of] fair and balanced Supreme Court.

Oy to the vey.

The upholding of the travel (read: Muslim) ban and conservative-backed gerrymandering is a sign that racism and xenophobia are alive and well in the United States, but these decisions overshadowed another ruling that whittles away at the reproductive health rights of women.

For example:

National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, DBA NIFLA, et al. VS Becerra, Attorney General of California, et al.

On June 26, SCOTUS overturned a Ninth Circuit decision upholding the California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (or FACT Act), signed by California Governor Jerry Brown in 2015 that required anti-abortion Crisis Pregnancies Centers (CPCs) to inform patients of all their state-funded options, including birth control and abortion.

Justice Thomas argued the law “targets speakers, not speech, and imposes an unduly burdensome disclosure requirement that will chill their protected speech.”

However, in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey the law requiring abortion providers to inform patients about alternatives, including a father’s liability to pay child support—was upheld.

So if abortion providers have to tell patients about the option of keeping a child, how is it any different if anti-abortion clinics are required to tell patients about options available to them, such as birth control and abortion?

While the First Amendment and freedom of speech is the bedrock of our Constitution, should it trump the health and welfare of women? What does it mean when women’s reproductive health has to do battle with the First Amendment?

Citing the First Amendment to justify striking down a law designed to protect the health and well-being of women is a sign that America needs to re-evaluate what and who exactly the First Amendment should protect. This Supreme Court decision will create far more harm than good by keeping women in the dark about their options.

False Advertising

So, what are these CPCs, or “Crisis Pregnancy Centers”?

Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) are anti-abortion centers that work to prevent women from going through with an abortion. They often talk about the dangers of abortion while omitting the fact that women are fourteen times more likely to die during childbirth than during a legal abortion.

Just a minor detail. (Here is a fantastic overview by John Oliver that does a hilarious job explaining the history and agenda of these centers.)

There are three times as many of these CPCs than there are actual full-service women’s reproductive health clinics that offer abortion services.

A whopping 2,700 of these pregnancy centers exist across the United States, and many centers even have staff that dress in scrubs and lab coats to appear like medical personnel (apparently to trick patients into believing they’re doctors). These “medical personnel” then counsel pregnant women (often with inaccurate statistics about abortion dangers) as if they are experts, when in fact many are simply anti-abortion advocates with an agenda.

The women who visit pregnancy centers are usually drawn to the free services, including ultrasounds, but get little other assistance aside from a metric shit-ton of heavily biased, pro-life agenda advice.

[insert expletive-laden rant here]

Additionally, the CPCs’ marketing strategy is way craftier than omitting that they are an anti-abortion center. Many CPCs have manipulated internet search engines so they are the first website to be listed if a woman is searching for abortion related services. They are actually trying to trick women into coming to their center with no desire to give her the information she is looking for. Cue General Ackbar: It’s a trap! (Obligatory disclaimer: Not all CPCs are bad news; some are licensed clinics that explain all the options to the women who walk in their doors.)

Also worth mentioning is that your tax money goes to these centers. From 2001 to 2006, CPCs received roughly $30 million in federal funds and in fourteen states these anti-abortion clinics receive state funds that are often siphoned from welfare funds that could be used to improve the lives of the women in question and their potential offspring that the clinics claim they are fighting so hard to protect. Or it could fund clinics that offer free contraceptives because science shows that access to free birth control cuts down abortion rates dramatically.

Let’s be honest: These clinics aren’t pro-life; they are pro–forced birth and pro–controlling a woman’s lady bits. But once that baby is born, it’s “Hey kid, you’re on your own!”

Birth Control vs. Control Over Women

Thanks to this recent ruling, CPCs do not have to inform women about available state-funded birth control options. Under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which mandated insurance for birth control and thus made birth control readily available, abortion rates dropped to an all-time low: 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age (ages fifteen to forty-four) in 2014. That’s the lowest recorded rate since the Roe decision in 1973. Some women who have visited CPCs were told misleading and grossly irresponsible advice about birth control, such as telling them it causes infertility or cancer.

Can we acknowledge the sheer irony that these pregnancy centers won’t tell women about the one thing, birth control, that is scientifically proven to reduce the number of abortions? Nobody wakes up and wants to have an abortion. It’s not like they’re deciding to take a pleasant stroll through the park. People avoid them if possible. Why do you think Plan B, or “the morning after pill” is so popular? In 2013 it was estimated that 5.8 million women had used Plan B. That’s roughly the population of Atlanta in averted accidental pregnancies! So, if these clinics really cared about the health and the welfare of the women who enter their doors, they would immediately let them know their birth control options.

But they don’t.

Let’s take a second look at the term birth control with emphasis on control. This war against women’s reproductive rights is less about saving an unborn fetus and more about controlling the sex lives of women. Meanwhile, geriatric men can now have four-hour erections on the regular covered by their health insurance. So, if these pro-abortion clinics cared so much about limiting the amount of unwanted pregnancies that lead to abortions, wouldn’t they also seek to regulate who gets Viagra? Except they’re not interested in controlling the sex lives of men.

And then there is the red-headed stepchild of pregnancy avoidance: abstinence. When President Trump cut $200 million from teen pregnancy prevention programs last year, he began focusing on the Abstinence Education and Personal Responsibility Education Program.

But does abstinence work? A paper that was published in Journal of Adolescent Health last September stressed that “abstinence only” programs did not keep adolescents from having sex. And a government report released in 2004 details how the abstinence-only education programs are ineffective and also teach erroneous information, such as that abortions cause sterility in 5–10 percent of women and that gender stereotypes are scientific fact. The program “stereotypes that girls are weak and need protection.” The report also states that abstinence programs had multiple misleading and inaccurate science and medical information. So if you’re looking to raise your blood pressure, may I suggest reading the full report here.

Here are two of my favorite lines found in these abstinence-only education curricula:


“Just as a woman needs to feel a man’s devotion to her, a man has a primary need to feel a woman’s admiration. To admire a man is to regard him with wonder, delight, and approval. A man feels admired when his unique characteristics and talents happily amaze her.”

And 2.)

“Women gauge their happiness and judge their success by their relationships. Men’s happiness and success hinge on their accomplishments.”

Excuse me while I wipe away the vomit with my masters degree…

Childbirth Is Risky

It’s no secret childbirth is painful. Who enjoys squeezing a grapefruit through a golf-ball-sized hole? I’d rather have a root canal while listening to Nickelback. Prior to the twentieth century, the average life expectancy of women was living to the ripe old age of “died in childbirth.”

Jane Seymour, Henry the VIII’s third wife, died two weeks after giving birth to their son. Age of Enlightenment mathematician, physicist, philosopher, and author Émilie du Châtelet died while giving birth in 1749. The Egyptian queen Mutnedjmet, who lived during the thirteenth century BC, is thought to have died during childbirth, as she was buried with an infant thought to be hers.

And yet CPCs staff often argue that abortion can be a dangerous procedure. Yet, childbirth—especially in the United States—can be far more dangerous.

In fact, the U.S. has the highest childbirth mortality rate for a developed nation. Every year in the U.S., 700 to 900 women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes, and the CDC has determined 60 percent of these deaths are preventable.

American women are more than three times as likely as Canadian women to die in the maternal period (defined by the Centers for Disease Control as the start of pregnancy to one year after delivery or termination), and six times as likely to die as Scandinavians.

And black women in the United States are three to four times more likely to die due to pregnancy-related deaths than white women. Studies show that when women of color complained of pain it is oftentimes brushed off or misdiagnosed.

Why Is Childbirth Dangerous?

From an anatomical perspective, childbirth is more dangerous for humans than our nonhuman primate brethren. You can blame this on our big brains and unique mode of locomotion: walking on two legs. (Bipedal locomotion in humans also influenced other morphological characteristics, such as the evolution of breasts in human women and butts. Yes, butts. Here’s “The Story of Boobs: The Breast Story Ever Told” and “Butt Week Number Two: With Liberty and Just Ass For All.”)

As our ancestors, upright walking hominins, evolved from walking on all fours to walking on two legs, the human pelvis adapted to accommodate the new mode of locomotion, need for thermoregulation (keeping our body temperature in check), and the ability to safely deliver offspring. The result? The pelvis is both shorter and wider in humans than apes, and the birth canal of humans is more cylindrical, which means babies have to twist and turn themselves to leave dear ol’ Mom. This process is further complicated by the massive noggins of humans.

See, our hominin ancestors also experienced a large jump in brain size, or encephalization, which meant bigger skulls to squeeze through an already tight birth canal. All the pain of pushing can be blamed on our big brains and pelvis designed for bipedal locomotion. This is called the obstetrical dilemma. In fact, 1 in 1,000 mothers have a baby whose head is just too big, leading to cesarean section. And C-sections have higher mortality rates than vaginal childbirth (13 in 100,000 vs. 4 in 100,000) due to risks of infection, blood clots, and postpartum hemorrhage.

Aside from these unique (read: bloody painful) anatomical features in humans making childbirth dangerous, it also means humans actually need help when giving birth. Human babies emerge from the vagina facing backward, so mom needs the assistance of others to get the job done right.

Women > First Amendment

Yes, freedom of speech is important, but the welfare of a woman is more important. There is no way getting around it; fooling women into believing you are a healthcare provider when you’re an anti-abortion, pro-life center is reprehensible. By overturning the Ninth Circuit ruling, the Supreme Court revealed they are willing to overlook the health of 50 percent of the population using the first amendment to protect those pushing a religious agenda.

I call bullshit.

Interested in learning more about reproductive health and women’s health rights? Visit these great resources to find out more.

The National Institute for Reproductive Health

The Center for Reproductive Rights