The Right to Abortion Under Attack in the U.S. During COVID-19

Photo by Montanasuffragettes. ©

In March of 2020 COVID-19 hit the United States in full force. Days after hearing the news of the outbreak my university cancelled school and many cities initiated a shelter in place. As I rushed to pack my belongings in order to move from my college town back to my childhood home I was preoccupied with thoughts of school, housing, and when I would see my classmates and friends again. Little did I know that at the same time the human right to abortion was being attacked throughout the United States. Amidst the panic of the pandemic, several states decided that the time of uncertainty and uncharted territory was the perfect opportunity to restrict abortion rights. Like many other Americans I believed that our government leaders were focused on combating the pandemic and protecting citizens; however, while most countries were actually focused on caring for their citizens and trying to stop the outbreak, many officials within the U.S. had the wrong priorities as they worked to obstruct women’s access to abortion. Soon after the pandemic began, multiple states attempted to or succeeded in passing abortion bans. While these bans are no longer in effect today, they created irreversable damage to abortion rights and threatened the health and safety of women nationwide. With the pandemic far from being over it is doubtful that these attacks on the right to abrtion will end, which leaves many concerned about where we go from here. 

Even though the right to abortion has been contested throughout the history of the United States, it is defined as a human right worldwide. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or the UDHR for short, states that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights…Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”. These lines of the UDHR express how every person is entitled to certain rights, like dignity and liberty. In order for these right to be realized, every woman needs to have control over her body and access to reproductive services, like abortion. The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) declares that women’s right to abortion is a human right in clearer terms. CEDAW explains that “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of health care in order to ensure…access to health care services, including those related to family planning”. CEDAW illustrates how access to family planning, which includes access to abortion, is vital to ensuring women’s equality. It is only with the acess to abortion that women can achieve the dignity and equality that they are entitled to as humans. 

When several states within the U.S. decided to enact abortion bans during the pandemic, many were unware that they were violating the human rights of women throughout the country. Various politicians decided that while everyone’s eyes were focused on the COVID-19 crisis, they would covertly attack the right to abortion. It started on March 18 when the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recommended states suspend all non-essential medical services. With this statement, politicians keen on restricting the right to abortion had their opportunity. In numerous states abortion was deemed a non-essential medical service, and therefore able to be prohibited during the pandemic. Without hesitation politicians took a measure meant to limit the danger of COVID-19 and created policies that put women at risk in multiple states. Texas was the first state to pass an abortion ban based on the idea that abortion was a “non-essential” service on March 23. From there nine other states, including Texas, Ohio, Iowa, Alabama, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Tennessee, created abortion bans. Fortunately these bans were challenged in every state, and are no longer in effect. However, with the pandemic still in effect there is no telling when these states will launch another attack. 

While the abortion bans that were enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic are currently not in place, the pandemic is not over and many women’s lives have already been altered. These bans proved that human rights, like abortion, can be threatened in a crisis. Women were directly affected by these bans as they need the choice of an abortion when confronting issues of rape, health concerns, and more. No matter what their reason may be they are entitled to have the choice and option of abortion. These state abortion bans took away women’s right to choose, which is detrimental because women’s need for abortion did not disapear. This led women to have to travel long distances to other states to obtain the care they deserved and needed. For example, in Texas, “If all abortion clinics in the state were to close, per the intent of those pursuing a COVID-19 abortion ban, people would have to travel an avgerage of 243 miles to reach the nearest facility in the neighboring states”. This travel was costly, both in time and money. It also put them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 with all of the travel during a time when they should have been quarantining. In addition evidence shows that “new abortion bans will result in fewer abortions, an increase in second-trimester abortions, and for those ultimately unable to access care, more births from unintended pregnancies”. While COVID-19 abortion bans were aimed at reducing abortion rates they just endangered the lives of women by forcing them to endure later, more dangerous abortions. During this period, women’s lives were determined to be of less value than abortion bans and a politial agenda. 

In addition to the direct effect COVID-19 abortion bans had on women, the bans irreperably damaged the right to abortion within the U.S. Now that the right to abortion has been successfully deemed “non-essential” by multiple states there is no doubt that shall another crisis arise these states will claim abortion is “non-essential” again. Even though the abortion bans are no longer in effect, the precedent has been set that the right to abortion can and will be attacked, even in a worldwide pandemic. The implementation of these bans, even it was only for a short while, shows the American people that their right to abortion is not safe. Moreover, the bans signal an escalation in the attack on abortion rights. Ever since the right to abortion has been implemented in the United States it has never been so restricted as it was by the COVID-19 abortion bans. These events are clearly foreshadowing the further attack the right to abortion will undergo in the future. On a larger scale the abortion bans demonstrate that in a pandemic, in uncertain times and emergency, people’s human rights can be taken away. In the COVID-19 pandemic it started with the human right to abortion, what right will be next? 

It is worrisome that in a pandemic, a moment of crisis for the United States and the world, politicians were more concerned with pushing their political agenda rather than the pandemic. Under the guise of an emergency, states were able to deem abortion “non-essential”. A service, a human right that ensures women’s equality and dignity is anything but “non-essential”. It goes to show how political agendas within the United States are prioritized over the lives of women. It took no time at all for a moment that should have been about health and safety to become about politics.Women in the United States do not need to be worried that amidst a worldwide crisis their right to abortion will be taken away. When politics outweighs women’s rights, human rights, there is a larger issue present. Some officials within the United States are more concerned about party politics than they are about the lives of their fellow Americans. There will be other pandemics and crises in the future. It is only through the actions and activism of diligent citizens that new, better officials will be elected and human rights, like the right to abortion, will remain safe in dangerious and precarious times.