Women’s reproductive rights have always been threatened because of sexist beliefs. Recently, however, they’re being threatened in America in a subtler, but potentially more dangerous way. Product manufacturers market items towards women and make them more expensive than similar items for men, politicians enact laws whose main goal is to limit women’s reproductive rights, and medical professionals downplay women’s pain in emergency rooms. Personally, I believe that everyone should have access to proper healthcare. Of course, there are some who don’t agree and ignore or even defend these beliefs. But, do they do so based on truly moral reasoning, personal bias, or pure fact?
One of the opponents of women’s reproductive rights has been politicians, mainly conservatives. Conservative politicians have always tried to make laws against abortion and to make women’s lives more difficult in general. An example of this is the “Pink Tax,” which is the finding that products specifically marketed towards women are more expensive than those marketed towards men. According to a New York City Department of Consumer Affairs study, women consumers are charged 7% more on average than men on everyday products, from clothing to personal hygiene products, even to children’s toys. During this study, a side by side comparison was performed between a red scooter and a pink scooter, both identical except for color and made by the same company, and found the prices were $24.99 and $49.99, respectively. The largest price difference applies to personal care/hygiene products, where women’s products cost up to 48% more than men’s, even though women’s products are often smaller in volume.
Not much has been done about the pink tax because of how it, as a business practice, has been normalized. Only until recently have steps been taken to try to repeal the tax. In 1995, Congresswoman Jackie Speier from California introduced Assembly Bill No. 1088, also called the Gender Tax Repeal Act. The bill stated that certain business wouldn’t be permitted to discriminate for ‘standard services’ because of a person’s gender or the gender that clothing is intended for without a valid justification. Then, in 2016, she introduced H.R. 5486, also known as the Pink Tax Repeal Act and a revised and edited version, H.R. 5464, in 2018. The two bills are similar except the Gender Tax Repeal Act mainly focused on gender-based price discrimination in services while the Pink Tax Repeal Act was proposed to end all gender-based price discrimination. To do this, the bill stated that any comparable products that are marketed toward men and women must be priced equally. The Gender Tax Repeal Act passed and remains in effect but the Pink Tax Repeal Act has not passed. However, as of now, 10 states have abolished the pink tax.
In 2016, California State Senator Ben Hueso of San Diego proposed a new version of the Gender Tax Repeal Act named SB-899. It would have banned California businesses from charging customers different prices for similar products based on gender. Unfortunately, Hueso withdrew the bill after pushback from industry lobbyists. Then in 2018, in response to the Tampon Tax in Virginia, Jennifer Boysko, a Democratic member of the Virginia State House of Delegates, submitted HB 24, which would exempt menstrual supplies from sales and use taxes.
Another example of conservative politicians standing in the way of women’s reproductive rights has been their stance on abortion. Most politicians who oppose abortion state that they do so because it’s against their moral and/or religious beliefs. Some might say it all began with Roe v. Wade but abortion laws have been around since 1821 when Connecticut passed the first state statute criminalizing abortion and by 1900, every state had abortion legislation.
Roe v. Wade was a case that began in 1969 where Norma McCorvey, under the alias of Jane Roe, applied for abortion in Dallas, Texas but was ultimately denied because the pregnancy was neither life-threatening nor a result of rape or incest. She gave birth and put the child up for adoption but continued with the case. In 1970, it was declared unanimously that the Texas law was unconstitutional and found that it violated the right to privacy found in the Ninth Amendment but refused to change the law.
In 1970, Roe v. Wade reached the Supreme Court on appeal. The justices delayed in taking action on the case and another closely related case, Doe v. Bolton, until they had decided the outcomes of Younger v. Harris and United States v. Vuitch. Younger v. Harris was a case in which the United States Supreme Court held that United States federal courts were required to abstain from hearing any civil rights claims brought by a person who is currently being prosecuted for a matter arising from the same claim that has been brought up against them. United States v. Vuitch was a Supreme Court case in which they considered the constitutionality of a District of Columbia law that criminalized abortion except where the mother’s life or health was endangered. The day after the decision for United States v. Vuitch was announced, the Supreme Court voted to hear both Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton.
After a first round of arguments, all seven justices tentatively agreed that the Texas law should be struck down, but on varying grounds. The Court issued its decision on January 22, 1973, with a 7-to-2 majority vote in favor of Roe. The Supreme Court deemed abortion a fundamental right under the United States Constitution, therefore making laws to restrict it more difficult.
A more recent case concerning abortion rights is the only case heard by now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. In September 2017, a pregnant 17-year-old unaccompanied minor, known only as Jane Doe, illegally crossed into America. Jane was apprehended and, because of her status as an unaccompanied minor, was placed into the care of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). By then, Jane was eight weeks pregnant and was sent to an ORR funded shelter where she decided to have an abortion but, because of a Texas law that requires parental consent before a minor may obtain an abortion, the only way for her to get it was to receive a judicial waiver. A Texas judge granted Jane a judicial bypass to the state’s law and allowed her to seek an abortion on September 25, 2017. However, the ORR refused to allow Jane to leave the shelter to have her abortion due to the fact that the new ORR Director, Scott Lloyd, had federally forbidden any funded shelters from taking ‘any action that facilitates’ an abortion without his express approval. Because of this, Jane’s legal guardian, Rochelle Garza, sued the Acting United States Secretary of Health and Human Services, Eric Hargan, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, alleging that the government was violating Jane’s constitutional right to an abortion in the United States.
On October 18, 2017, Jane’s request for a temporary restraining order was granted by U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, which ordered the government to allow Jane to leave the shelter to attend the pre-abortion counseling required by Texas law and to go through with the abortion. On October 20, the government’s emergency motion to stay Judge Chutkan’s order was granted by a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Circuit Judges Brett Kavanaugh and Karen L. Henderson then issued an unsigned order which allowed the ORR to keep Jane from leaving it’s shelter to undergo an abortion until October 31, under the condition that the government immediately placed Jane in an outside sponsor’s custody. On October 24, the full D.C. Circuit panel of judges reversed the panel majority, again imposing the district court order requiring the government to grant Jane access to an abortion. That day, District Judge Chutkan amended her order to allow Jane’s abortion to proceed ‘promptly and without delay.” Believing the abortion would not take place until October 26 after Doe had repeated the state-required counseling with a new doctor, the Government informed opposing counsel and this Court that it would file a stay application early on the morning of October 25. However, on October 25, the doctor who had performed Doe’s earlier counseling was available to perform the abortion, the 7:30 a.m. appointment was moved to 4:15 a.m., and Jane was finally able to undergo her abortion. Then at 10 a.m., Garza’s lawyers informed the Government that Doe had had the abortion that morning which rendered the emergency stay application moot, so the Government did not file it.
On November 3, 2017, Noel Francisco, the Solicitor General of the United States, petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States to review and vacate the D.C. Circuit’s ruling and moved for sanctions against Jane’s lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union. Finally, on June 4, 2018, the Supreme Court granted review and vacated the judgment on the ground that the claim for injunctive relief granted by the lower court had become moot when the girl followed through with the abortion. An injunctive relief is a court-ordered act or prohibition against an act or condition which has been requested, and sometimes granted, in a petition to the court for an injunction. The Supreme Court also didn’t grant the government’s request for sanctions against Jane’s attorneys. This shows that although Jane Doe was able to obtain her legally allowed abortion, the government was able to postpone it for almost 2 months. If Jane had reached 20 weeks into her pregnancy, it no longer would have been legal to obtain an abortion in Texas and she would have been forced to give birth.
Another set of opponents of women’s reproductive rights have been pro-life activists. While a good many people understand that abortion is a personal choice, there are also many that believe that choice shouldn’t exist because the bible says that it’s a sin. While this debate can be healthy and harmless, there are a few who decide to take it into their own hands to let people know, whether they want to or not, that they are committing a sin and will be punished. These people choose to spend their time outside women’s health clinics and Planned Parenthood clinics and yell at women who are already going through a stressful time. Their main goal is to keep people from entering any medical building that they believe perform abortions.
Just a few months ago, in July 2018, Planned Parenthood closed down one of their health centers in Fort Worth, Indiana. When asked why they decided to close down the health center, they say that the cause was years of growing intimidation and harassment of the center’s staff by anti-abortion activists. Christie Gillespie, the president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, made clear that the center didn’t even perform abortions; it provided birth control options, sexually transmitted disease testing, and early diagnosis of cervical, testicular, and breast cancer. Gillespie also said in a press conference that the anti-choice activists harassed local businesses to ensure they didn’t partner with the clinic, even going so far as to publicly share personal information, including home addresses, of staff.
The tamer anti-abortion activists try to convince people going into Planned Parenthood and other women’s health clinics to choose another option and give them anti-abortion literature, including flyers for crisis pregnancy centers (CPC). There are around 4,000 CPCs in the United States, which greatly outnumber the less than 800 reproductive health clinics which provide abortions in the country. Pro-choice activists consider CPCs to be fake health clinics. Fake health clinics lie to, shame, and intentionally mislead women about their reproductive healthcare options to keep them from having abortions. In June 2018, a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in NIFLA v. Becerra ruled that these fake health clinics have the constitutional right to deceive women about their reproductive care as long as they just say that abortion is one the options they offer, despite it being an outright lie.
One of the final opponents of women’s reproductive are medical professionals. An unfortunately common occurrence is that women in pain are not taken as seriously as men. Novelist and essayist Leslie Jamison authored a book named The Empathy Exams containing an essay titled “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” which examines the ways that different forms of female suffering are downplayed, not taken seriously, and silenced. In this essay, Jamison refers to “The Girl Who Cried Pain,” a study identifying ways gender bias tends to play out in clinical pain management. Women are “more likely to be treated less aggressively in their initial encounters with the health-care system until they ‘prove that they are as sick as male patients,’” the study concludes. Another study was conducted the University of Pennsylvania and was published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine. The study confirmed that there are differences between men and women that come in with a heart attack concerning emergency room evaluation and treatment times. Over 250 patients with confirmed heart attacks were asked about their treatment times and it was found that women, on average, wait 3 minutes longer to receive an initial EKG than men. In addition, women waited 7 minutes longer than men for a heart attack treatment protocol to be activated and the total average time for women was found to be 25.5 minutes and 18.5 minutes for men.
There are also some medical professionals that are hesitant to perform any procedure or administer any medication that may affect fertility. These physicians’ hesitations are often due to moral, ethical, or religious beliefs. In a survey published in 2007, in The New England Journal of Medicine, 63% of doctors said it was acceptable to tell patients that they have moral objections to treatments. While people are entitled to their beliefs and opinions, medical professionals took an oath to help people and by refusing to treat these women, they are breaking that oath.
Pro-life activists believe that life begins at conception and that they’re standing outside of women’s health clinics and Planned Parenthood to be informational. They also believe that they are trying to prevent, what’s in their eyes, murder. Medical professionals believe that they know what’s best for their patients, are entitled to their personal belief about abortion and contraception, and are under no obligation to perform a procedure or administer a medication that is against their moral, ethical, or religious beliefs.
In 2007, Lori Boyer was sexually assaulted and went to Good Samaritan Hospital in Lebanon, Pennsylvania to ask for a rape kit and talk to a sexual assault counselor. Afterwards, she spoke to Martin Gish, M.D., and asked for the morning-after pill, to which Dr. Gish refused. Boyer was shocked and when she asked if she could see another physician, Dr. Gish again said no because it was against his religion. Boyer’s rape counselor was able to find her a physician later that day who would prescribe her emergency contraception but she left Good Samaritan feeling victimized and powerless. Unfortunately, this circumstance is not technically against any rules or laws or uncommon. According to a study performed in 2007 and submitted to The New England Journal of Medicine, 63% of doctors said it was acceptable to tell patients they have moral objections to treatments, and 18% felt no obligation to refer patients elsewhere. Additionally, in a SELF.com poll, nearly 1 in 20 respondents said their doctors had refused to treat them for moral, ethical or religious reasons.