Feminism and Reproductive Issues

News Update

Reproductive health and freedom are widely recognized as basic to women's human rights. The 1994 United Nations International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo affirmed that women's rights "to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children and to have the information and means to do so" are essential to their basic human rights.1  However, an array of legislation threatening to limit reproductive freedom and cut funding for reproductive health services has been introduced this year. Here are some examples:

  • Undermining access to cost-saving and life-saving reproductive health care. On February 18, 2011, the House passed an amendment to the budget known as the "Pence Amendment," which undermines millions of women's access to cost-saving and life-saving primary and preventive health, including breast and cervical cancer screenings, annual exams, family planning visits, birth control, and HIV testing. If passed by the Senate and signed by President Obama, it would stop all Title X funding for Planned Parenthood.

  • Excluding mental health from the meaning of health. Roe v. Wade recognized the right to abortion through the point of fetal viability.  After that point, states are allowed to restrict access to abortion provided there is an exception for the health and life of the pregnant women.  The inseparability of mental from physical health has been integral to the understanding of health in this context since the Roe decision. In 2010, the Nebraska state legislator passed a law banning all abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and excluding mental health from the health exception for abortions after that point in pregnancy. Similarly, federal legislation introduced this year that seeks to extend the restrictions set by the Hyde Amendment include H.R. 217 (the "Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act") and H.R. 3 (the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act"), both allow for exceptions only in cases where "a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness" is present that would place the woman "in danger of death unless an abortion is performed."2  These existing and proposed laws set a dangerous precedent of legally disaggregating mental and physical health.

  • Allowing hospitals to refuse abortion care to women who will die without it. H.R. 358 (the ""Protect Life Act") would allow hospitals to turn away women who need to terminate a pregnancy in order to save their own lives.3 

  • Requiring women to view an ultrasound before having an abortion. On February 17, 2011, the Texas State Senate passed a bill (S. B. 16) that, if passed by the House and signed by Governor Perry, would require a woman to undergo an ultrasound and hear a description of the fetus before obtaining an abortion except for in cases of rape and incest or when there are fetal abnormalities. And Texas isn't alone: Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi have laws mandating ultrasounds before each abortion that also require the provider to offer the woman the opportunity to view the ultrasound image.

  • Requiring parental consent for minors to obtain abortions. A Kansas proposed bill (H.B. 2035) would require women under 18 to obtain consent from two parents before obtaining an abortion. According to the Guttmacher Institute,4  36 states require a minor to have to seek parental involvement before obtaining an abortion, while only 2 states currently require two parents' consent.

  • The introduction of extremist, anti-abortion legislation. In early February, a bill (H.B. 1171) was introduced in South Dakota that would have expanded the definition of "justifiable homicide" to include the killing an individual in order to "provide for the protection of certain unborn children." The bill was rejected by the South Dakota House, but remains an extreme example of anti-abortion state legislation being introduced in the nationwide. In Iowa, a bill (H.F. 153) has been introduced and that would redefine legal personhood as beginning "from the moment of conception" and would effectively ban abortion in Iowa without exception and limit contraceptive choice.

Take Action

  • Get involved in the Division 35 Reproductive Issues Committee—contact Lisa Rubin, Committee Chair

    • The Reproductive Issues committee aims to keep Division 35 members aware of new and important legislation affecting women's reproductive health

    • Committee members are involved in conducting and publishing evidence-based research on topics related to reproductive health issues, including abortion and mental health

    • The Committee maintains the Psychology & Reproductive Choice section of the Pro+Choice Forum

  • Attend a "Walk for Choice" or other event for women's reproductive freedom in your area

  • Sign Planned Parenthood's "An Open Letter to Congress" regarding the Pence Amendment, or (even better) write your own

Additional References

Major, B., Appelbaum, M., Beckman, L., Dutton, M. A., Russo, N. F., & West, C. (2009). Abortion and mental health: Evaluating the evidence. American Psychologist, 64(9), 863–890.

Rubin, L., & Russo, N. F. (2004). Abortion and mental health: What therapists need to know. In J. C. Chrisler (Ed.), From menarche to menopause: The female body in feminist therapy (pp. 69–90). New York: Haworth Press.

Steinberg, J. R., & Russo, N. F. (2008). Abortion and anxiety: What's the relationship? Social Science & Medicine, 67(2), 238–252.

1 http://www.un.org/ecosocdev/geninfo/women/womrepro.htm
2 http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h112-217&tab=summary
3 http://www.moveon.org/r?r=205974&id=26177-391471-yOM5dKx&t=11
4 http://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/spibs/spib_RFU.pdf (PDF, 189KB)