Abortion is never a choice anyone wants to make. But the United States Supreme Court has ruled in the famous case of Roe v Wade that it is a choice woman are allowed to make legally and safely. But nothing in the Court’s decision guarantees pregnant women access to abortion.
If the concept of justice is “equality under the law,” the reality of women’s ability to use their legal right to choose abortion can only be called “reproductive injustice,” a form of inequality that follows a familiar pattern in America. Those who get the least justice are the people with the least money, people of color and people who live out in the country.
In the poor and vast state of New Mexico, the pattern is repeated emphatically. The women in New Mexico who have received the least justice from Roe v. Wade, the women with the worst access to abortion in the Land of Enchantment are poor minorities from rural areas.
By the way, statistics show, these are the very people most likely to feel the need to choose abortion.
Imperfect as it is, translated to the real world, Roe v Wade is a crucial legal protection for women and for various reasons its legal survival is in doubt. That threat moved some in the New Mexico Legislature to try to update state law on abortion last year, to decriminalize the procedure as does Roe v. Wade. The bill failed. Apparently, a majority in the NM Legislature doesn’t care if the state goes back to the old pre-Roe v Wade America.
But, America in 2019 has changed a lot in 46 years, especially in the choice of abortion, since the Court made its ruling.
In 1972, there were, according to the authoritative archive kept by William Robert Johnston, 587,000 abortions performed in the United States. In 1973, when the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v Wade, the number went up to 745,000. And, to those opposed to the Court’s decision, the record of the next 20 years confirmed their worst fears.
Making abortion legal also made it safer and more accessible and more utilized. The number of abortions in America climbed every year for the next nine years before plateauing at around one and a half million, and eventually peaking in 1990 at just over 1.6 million.
But then, things turned around. Over the next 28 years, 1990 to 2018, the last year for which there are reliable figures, the numbers of abortions dropped, every year, with three statistically insignificant exceptions, year after year for 28 years. Last year, the number of abortions was 427,000, down from the peak in 1990 by almost three-quarters.
Even allowing for the fact that America’s birth rate has also been dropping for decades, the rate of abortions compared to live births continues to diminish.
So, you might say, the figures suggest that the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v Wade was not only wise but effective – it made the choice of abortion legal, safer, and easier to access, and the people most affected by the decision, pregnant women, are choosing it far less frequently.
Susan Dunlap leads coverage of reproductive justice for the NM Political Report. New Mexico has been described in recent years as a central area in the debate over abortion rights and access. She will also write a twice-a-month newsletter on reproductive justice issues.
Dunlap comes to NM Political Report from Montana, where she previously covered the environment at The Montana Standard. Prior to that, she worked at The Silver City Sun-News as a news reporter and now she’s returning to New Mexico.