An alarming number of states across the country have introduced unconstitutional bills that would ban abortion at six weeks of pregnancy — before most people even know they’re pregnant. In just the first three months of 2019, 16 states filed, moved, or enacted 6-week abortion bans.
Each of these bills would become the most extreme abortion ban in the country if enacted and enforced. The politicians behind these bans have one goal: to push abortion out of reach, outlawing it in all but name.
Attempts to Ban Abortion at 6 Weeks Have Surged
6-week abortion bans are nothing new — but in 2019, their number has increased at an unprecedented pace.
In 2011, Ohio politicians introduced the nation’s first 6-week ban (and have since proposed four similar bills). Ohio’s initial attempts never went into effect, but they paved the way for other states to push equally dangerous copycat laws.
North Dakota was the first state to enact a ban on abortion at six weeks in 2013. Iowa became the second in 2018. Courts blocked both laws for being unconstitutional, but the 6-week bans have kept coming — and their numbers have skyrocketed.
Mississippi enacted a 6-week ban that is set to become law July 1, 2019, but is being challenged in court. Anti-abortion politicians did this just four months after a judge struck down a 15-week ban for “unequivocally” violating people’s constitutional rights.
Kentucky enacted a 6-week ban, but within days a federal judge blocked it from taking effect.
Ohio has enacted a 6-week ban; unless blocked by a court, the law will take effect in July 2019.
Georgia has enacted a 6-week ban that would take effect, unless blocked by a court, in January 2020.
Some of these bills also criminalize abortion providers, and would keep pregnant people from accessing abortion in instances of rape and incest, without exceptions. Other 6-week bans, like the one in Georgia, would require patients to undergo a medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound — and would require sexual-assault survivors to obtain and provide an official police report. Moreover, the Georgia bill would subject all people who experience the termination of a pregnancy at 6 weeks or later to criminal liability, exposing anyone who has a miscarriage to the risk of criminal charges.
Banning Abortion at 6 Weeks Makes It Physically Impossible to Obtain
These bans make it both medically and logistically impossible for most people to determine that they are pregnant and arrange for safe, legal abortion care in time to beat the 6-week deadline. For most people, 6-week bans would stop access to abortion a mere two weeks after a missed period.
It’s no surprise why doctors oppose 6-week abortion bans. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) confirms that pregnant people are often unaware they’re pregnant before the 6-week mark from their last period. Not yet knowing you’re pregnant is one of many reasons that most surgical abortions take place after the 6-week mark; other reasons include needing time to save up money for the procedure and associated costs — such as traveling to the provider, taking time off school or work, lodging, and child care (a substantial majority of people who have abortions are already mothers).
Women often are unaware they are pregnant prior to six weeks [from their last menstrual period].—Thomas Gellhaus, M.D., past president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
The narrow health exceptions in 6-week abortion bans simply do not adequately allow physicians to exercise their medical judgment to protect pregnant people's health in all circumstances. As ACOG notes, many complications that threaten pregnant people's health can’t be detected until later in pregnancy. So taking away access to abortion could lead to serious complications, and even maternal mortality.
Attempts to Ban Abortion at 6 Weeks Mean That Politicians Want a Supreme Court Fight
The Supreme Court was clear in Roe v. Wade that states cannot ban abortion. So why would politicians flout well-settled precedent, and put patients and doctors at risk in the process? Because they want to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Several 6-week bans already face lawsuits, and that’s just what the politicians behind them want. They want a challenge to our constitutional right to safe, legal abortion that reaches the Supreme Court. With Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and others who have track records of opposing abortion access now in lifetime positions on the Supreme Court and lower federal courts, politicians pushing these bans believe that time — and the judiciary — may well be on their side.
Americans Support Safe, Legal Abortion
Blocking access to reproductive health care through measures like 6 week abortion laws — and ignoring clear Supreme Court precedent in the process — requires zealous ideological commitment. But politicians’ motivation is clear: With their eyes on the 2020 election, they seek to mobilize the small minority of voters who want to ban abortion nationwide.
In pushing these bans, anti-abortion politicians are ignoring the vast majority of people in the United States who support the right to access abortion without political interference. In fact, 73% of Americans say that they want to keep abortion legal.
Who Gets Hurt if Abortions Beyond 6 Weeks Are Banned?
Abortion is such a common medical procedure that 6-week bans will hurt many of us. Every day, people across America face the deeply personal decision of whether or not to continue their pregnancies. Nearly one in four women in America has an abortion during her lifetime.
But like all restrictions on safe and legal abortion, banning abortion at 6 weeks burdens low-income people the most. Such bans would force people to go to extreme and costly lengths to access abortion safely and legally. When safe, legal abortion providers are hundreds of miles and many hours away, people with low incomes struggle to reach the care they need — if they can get it at all. Women who can’t access abortion are three times more likely to end up below the federal poverty line.
For many people, these barriers effectively ban abortion — and women of color, who already face significant barriers to health care and attacks on their bodily autonomy, bear the brunt. Black, Hispanic, and Native American women experience poverty at more than twice the rate of non-Hispanic white women, and may lack the financial resources or job flexibility to make these trips. The cost of transportation, childcare, and time off work necessary to obtain an abortion can combine to put access out of reach. This is hardest on people who already face barriers to accessing health care, including people of color, immigrants, young people, people with disabilities, women, LGBTQ people, people living in rural areas, and people with low incomes.
Women of color are already less likely to be able to access an abortion. Racism and other systemic barriers have contributed to income inequality that makes Black people and Latinos in the United States more likely to use federally funded insurance to access health care. Though 15 states allow the state portion of Medicaid to fund all or most necessary abortions, millions of women live in states that ban public funding of abortion with few exceptions — and in some states, legislators have also used cultural misinformation to craft restrictions to target Asian-American women’s access to abortion.
Women of color also have less access to contraception—leading to more unintended pregnancies. Among other reasons, Latina women and non-Hispanic Black women are less likely to have access to family-planning services, which can result in significantly lower rates of effective contraceptive use. Limited access to health insurance and contraception can both contribute to heightened rates of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.
The Bottom Line: Banning Abortion at 6 Weeks is Unconstitutional and Unsafe
Abortion is health care. Every person deserves to access it.
The decision to have an abortion should be left up to the pregnant person, in consultation with their doctor and family — not a politician. 6-week abortion bans are dangerous attacks on reproductive health and rights, and they reflect an ideology out of touch with what the majority of Americans want from political leaders.