Illegal abortion on the rise

Even with Roe protected, access to safe abortion is getting harder to come by.

Published January 30, 2006 6:58PM (EST)

With Samuel Alito's expected confirmation a day away, it is unsurprising that anti-abortion-rights stories are in the news. One of the most disturbing is an account published on AlterNet suggesting that the number of illegal abortions -- those conducted by oneself or by an "untrained practitioner" -- is on the rise throughout the country. Abortion providers and aides discussing their work on a listserv reported that in nearly all of their communities illegal abortion seems to be increasing. Statistics about such practices are notoriously hard to obtain and nearly impossible to verify, but the fact that illegal abortions persist to this day, when Roe has long been, as Arlen Specter would say, a "super-duper precedent," should be enough to give us pause.

An administrator at a women's health clinic in the South explained that aside from legislation that infringes on access (in her state abortions by teenagers require parental consent), many women just can't afford to have the procedure done. AlterNet reports that "though the cost of abortion has remained remarkably flat since Roe -- the cost of a first-trimester abortion at [her] clinic is $380, actually less than it was 20 years ago, adjusting for inflation -- it's still too much for a woman who  is on assistance, has two or three kids already and has no money whatsoever." The administrator said that her local hospital sees 12-20 patients a year "who have already self-induced or had illegal abortions." Even clinics are becoming hard to find: AlterNet reports that South Dakota, North Dakota and Mississippi each have only one abortion clinic for the entire state. Finally, prevention is also under siege as the Bush administration funnels millions of dollars into abstinence-only education and renegade pharmacists refuse to dispense prescriptions for emergency contraception.

If AlterNet's characterization is correct and illegal abortion is indeed on the rise, then Alito, whose "passion" for overturning Roe has made him the new darling of the Christian right, makes the outlook even bleaker. And here's a secret: Although he will almost certainly be confirmed, he will never get pregnant. While it seems unlikely that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe, with the addition of Roberts and Alito, we can count on watching as it is chipped away to a shell of its former self. A little parental notification here, some spousal consent there, late-term abortion bans everywhere -- and women's access to safe, affordable abortions will fast become a memory.

By Sarah Goldstein

Sarah Goldstein is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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