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Between mother and son. Abortion in USA: from propaganda to new poverties

The case of a pregnant mother and her unborn son killed during a gunfight rekindled the debate on abortion in the United States. The expressions “pro-choice” and “pro-life” fail to convey the complexities of the debate on termination of pregnancy, confined to Roe vs. Wade, State legislation, and extremisms

As of Wednesday Marshae Jones has returned to be a free woman. She was shot in the stomach, this caused the miscarriage of her five-month-old unborn baby and was thus charged with manslaughter under State of Alabama legislation. Past May the southern US State signed the ban of abortion into law, with no exception for rape or incest.

Governor Kay Ivey, in her second mandate, signed the bill that was blasted as criminal, extremist, unconstitutional and against women’s rights. However, Alabama is not the only State that passed stringent legislation in defence of life: Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, Nord Dakota, Utah were among the first, and many more are expected to follow, also because the incident of the baby killed in his mother’s womb has drawn attention to the fact that 38 States have already enacted laws envisaging the murder of the foetus , defined as a person and therefore entitled to rights and protection.

The expressions “pro-choice” and “pro-life” fail to convey the complexities of the debate on termination of pregnancy, largely viewed as a controversial issue in the United States.

“Now a central aspect of the debate is to decide if the termination should take place after the 20th week, as several biologists argue that at that stage the foetus may experience pain”, said Charlie Camosy, associate professor of Social Ethics at the University of Fordham, author of the book Resisting throwaway culture’ that focuses on this issue. “60% of Americans consider abortion illegal after the 20th week, and more women than men support this stance,” he pointed out, adding that the revision of the 1973 ruling, known as Roe vs. Wade, on the protection of women’s reproductive health, is necessary. According to the provision, the right to abortion is not unconditional, as it must be balanced with both the protection of women and the protection of the foetus. More specifically, it disallows state regulation of abortion in the first trimester. States may require different health standards in the second trimester; during the last three months of pregnancy abortions are prohibited unless the life of the mother is at risk.

US States are taking different steps: the most conservative ones, including Alabama, are calling for a ban on abortion as early as the sixth week, when the baby’s heartbeat can be detected, even though at that stage most women may not be aware of being pregnant. Other more liberal states, such as Illinois, Maine and Vermont, are requesting to expand access to abortion to after the first trimester. Last January, the Governor of the state of New York Andrew Cuomo, signed a bill allowing for abortions after the 24th week of pregnancy envisaged in the 1973 law in specific circumstances, especially if the health of the mother is at risk. For Cuomo, who took abortion out of the state’s criminal code and expanded the health-care providers that can perform the procedure in the state, the bill may allow late-term abortions. The bill stipulates that if an infant is born alive despite the abortion procedures, he will not be given life-sustaining treatment nor life-saving medical care. The Catholic Church, as well as Evangelical and Protestant communities, opposed the bill with some even demanding Cuomo’s excommunication, but the Cardinal of New York, Timothy Dolan, chose the path of dialogue, information campaigns and letters to be sent to Congress.

It must be clarified that none of the provisions signed so far by the governors of these States has been enforced, and that abortion remains legal in all the United States, pending the decision of the Supreme Court expected for next November.

“Since 1973, the year the law was passed, approximately 53 million abortions were performed in the United States: 9 times the number of Jews exterminated in concentration camps – Camosy remarked. In the past 45 years more than 30% of American women have had an abortion, and the numbers are growing steadily with regard to African-American women living in near-poverty, who would be made homeless by the birth of a child. Unfortunately, the media coverage degenerated into propaganda while political polarization has kept the focus on the economic sustainability of a child, the health of women and the quality of healthcare facilities to a minimum.

A study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute shows that most women who resort to abortion already have other children: about 59% of them are parents and several have incomes below the poverty line. In 2018, the mortality rate of mothers was 11.9 every 100,000 people, 5.6% were white women and 27.6 were African-African women, most of them poor. Alabama, for example, has the highest infant mortality rate in the country and pregnant women living in rural areas have no access to obstetric care: only 29 of the 67 counties in the State have delivery rooms. Moreover, abortion in all the United States is at an all-time low according to the Centres for the Prevention and Control of Diseases. Rather than being the result of stringent abortion legislation, this is due to widespread access to contraception methods, included in health insurance plans.

“To this must be added the scheme launched by the Obama administration that has offered support to pregnant women in terms of coverage of medical examinations and state funds to ensure home visits of nurses, ultrasound scanners, midwives”, concluded Camosy who said he regrets the fact that parental leave, highly developed in Europe, is hardly ever found in the U.S.: this too would be beneficial to life.

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