November 16th, 2009
05:24 PM ET

Not covered

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Jeffrey Toobin | Bio
CNN Senior Legal Analyst
New Yorker Columnist

Abortion is almost as old as childbirth. There has always been a need for some women to end their pregnancies. In modern times, the law’s attitude toward that need has varied. In the United States, at the time the Constitution was adopted, abortions before “quickening” were both legal and commonplace, often performed by midwives. In the nineteenth century, under the influence of the ascendant medical profession, which opposed abortion (and wanted to control health care), states began to outlaw the procedure, and by the turn of the twentieth century it was all but uniformly illegal. The rise of the feminist movement led to widespread efforts to decriminalize abortion, and in 1973 the Supreme Court found, in Roe v. Wade, that the Constitution prohibited the states from outlawing it.

Throughout this long legal history, the one constant has been that women have continued to have abortions. The rate has declined slightly in recent years, but, according to the Guttmacher Institute, thirty-five per cent of all women of reproductive age in America today will have had an abortion by the time they are forty-five. It might be assumed that such a common procedure would be included in a nation’s plan to protect the health of its citizens. In fact, the story of abortion during the past decade has been its separation from other medical services available to women. Abortion, as the academics like to say, is being marginalized.

The latest evidence comes from the House of Representatives, which two weekends ago narrowly passed its health-care bill, by a vote of 220 to 215. One reason that the Democrats won back control of Congress is that the Party adopted a “big tent” philosophy on abortion. The implications of that approach became clear when, during the health-care vote, the House considered a last-minute amendment by Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat, which proposed scrubbing the bill of government subsidies for abortion procedures. It passed 240 to 194, with sixty-four Democrats voting in favor.


Filed under: Health Care • Jeffrey Toobin
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Vivien D Wolsk, PhD. NYC

    The Stupak amendment is clearly discriminatory against the poor and our country's minorities and therefore I believe unconstitutional. People with sufficient income will be able to pay for abortions and those without money will not. This will lead to abortions illegally and by untrained people and to many more unwanted children among the poor.

    November 16, 2009 at 5:14 pm |
  2. Tim Gibson

    It is rare that an abortion is done to "protect" the health care of its citizens and in most circumstances is used as a method of birth control. That by definition is not a medically urgent need that should be covered by government funds in any shape or form.

    For our government to become even in a round about fashion involved in funding abortion is a violation of all those in america who are prolife.

    November 16, 2009 at 5:10 pm |