Reproductive rights: then and now

Sourced: Janko Ferlic

Gaining and maintaining reproductive rights has been an uphill battle for women and transgender individuals who are able to become pregnant. As abortion bans have developed across at least 15 states, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it’s important to understand how reproductive rights might change. To do so, it is helpful to review the legal and social precedents that have shaped abortion access as it stands today

Second wave feminism

According to Vicki Toscano, an associate professor in NSU’s Department of History and Political Science, second wave feminism, prominent in the late 60s and 70s, was the first instance in which reproductive rights were framed as a feminist issue that was necessary for equity. Toscano said that several states around this time were moving towards less restrictive abortion laws. A few states, such as New York, repealed their abortion laws while other states made exceptions for therapeutic abortions. In response, Catholics and other groups began to argue against the more liberal abortion laws. Thus, Toscano suggested the factions were setting up a battle between fetus and pregnant individual.

Roe v. Wade — 1973

Rather than being argued as a part of this battle, Roe v. Wade, which ended up granting the right to abortion across the US, according to Oyez, framed abortion as a medical privacy issue. The case was judged based on whether restricting abortion violated the right to privacy in terms of medical procedures as granted by the 14th amendment. Toscano shared that many view Roe v. Wade as “interrupting the natural, social and legal movements that would have happened.” In addition, Roe v Wade allowed a 24- hour waiting period for abortion, which impacted those who have to travel to find a clinic or who have limited financial ability

Hyde Amendment — 1976

Meanwhile, the Hyde Amendment came along shortly after to address funding for abortion. According to Planned Parenthood’s website, the Hyde Amendment bars federal funds from paying for abortions with some exception for cases of rape, incest or endangerment to life. This means that states must determine funding for abortion on their own and most states do not allocate funds to the issue. As provided by Toscano, this means that the most vulnerable people who rely on Medicare or Medicaid do not have access to abortions. This is why organizations such as Planned Parenthood arose to provide low-cost abortions, and why potential cuts to their funding, such as the recent Title X cuts, could have a significant impact on access to abortion.

Planned Parenthood v. Casey

According to Toscano, Planned Parenthood v. Casey addressed issues that Roe v. Wade left untouched. It allowed states to establish regulations on abortion on the basis that state governments should be interested in fetal rights provided they do not create substantial obstacles in the path of a person seeking an abortion.


As these legal and social battles have been dealt with, one aspect remains consistent: disproportionate, harsher impact on marginalized and low-income communities. These indiscrepancies stem from multiple factors including financial ability and geographically based and available resources. About this, Toscano said, “with abortion law in general, there’s always a different impact on marginalized communities especially in terms of race. Even with Roe v. Wade — when reproductive rights are strong and are supposed to exist everywhere — what you see is pregnant people who are most vulnerable having difficulties. As restrictions occur across the board for everyone, it’s those groups that are hit the hardest.”


All abortion restrictions are evaluated based on the law set by Planned Parenthood v. Casey. As precedents are set, what a “substantial obstacle” to an abortion is defined as may change. However, one thing is certain: the more substantial the obstacles that are allowed, the less access people in the US have to abortion.

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