What We’re Reading

A number of domestic and international reproductive health developments were in the news over the past month. Some of the stories we have been following relate to President Trump’s executive order on international health funding and abortions, a wrongful death lawsuit out of Alabama that could have repercussions for abortion cases in the future, and a recent study on abortion trends in the United States.

An article by Serra Sippel in the New York Times outlines the global health consequences associated with President Trump’s executive order that cuts off U.S. funding to health organizations that provide information or services related to abortion across the world. Although a similar funding restriction was in place during every Republican administration over the past 30 years, this order is more overarching, banning health funding for programs entirely unrelated to reproductive health or family planning. The article shares some devastating outcomes resulting from this global gag rule in the past, such as the halt of a condom distribution program in Lesotho during a period of 25 percent HIV prevalence among women, and the defunding of an awareness program about unsafe abortions in Nepal. Sippel explores two different studies — one from sub-Saharan Africa and one from Ghana — both establishing higher abortions rates in those regions during periods when the rule was previously enforced. The Atlantic also offers a good overview of the global gag rule.

In state news, the American Bar Association and Rewire News both reported a local Alabama case that brings up the questions of fetal personhood and doctor liability in negligence lawsuits. As the ABA writes, the Alabama Supreme Court allowed a patient to pursue a civil wrongful death lawsuit, alleging that her first-trimester miscarriage was the result of negligence on the part of her doctor. Based on suspicions of an ectopic pregnancy, which later turned out to be inaccurate, the patient was given a prescription by her doctor to terminate the pregnancy. Although Alabama law exempts doctors from criminal liability related to fetal death if it was the result of an unintentional mistake, the Alabama Supreme Court appeal allowed a civil legal action against the doctor. The Rewire article explains that, in 2006, the Brody Act in Alabama afforded personhood to all fetuses regardless of gestation in the context of criminal liability cases (while exempting doctors from prosecution), going against the fetal viability standard established in Roe v. Wade. In a concurring opinion in the current case, Tom Parker, one of Alabama’s Supreme Court justices, specifically addressed and rejected that fetal viability threshold, stating that fetuses are human beings regardless of their ability to survive outside of their mother’s womb.

Finally, we’ve been reading about some abortion trends. Christina Cauterucci at Slate reports that, according to a recent study by the Guttmacher Institute, abortion rates in the country were lower in 2014 than during any other year since the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973, dropping to below 1 million in 2013. That trend coincides with a decline in teen birth rates and in unplanned pregnancies across the country. One anti-choice activist attributed the abortions drop to stricter regulations denying women access to reproductive health care, while the study authors believe that the decline is at least partially due to greater access to contraception.

What reproductive rights stories are you reading? Share with us on Twitter at @DCAbortionFund!

By volunteer Maria S.