Abortion laws have always been a source of controversy in the United States. From religious rights groups to legal advocacy groups, everyone has a different take on these laws and the restrictions placed upon mothers regarding the timing and manner in which they are allowed to get an abortion.
Below is a list of abortion rights FAQs, with answers. For specific abortion rights information, see your state's abortion laws.
Is abortion legal in the United States?
At this point, abortion in the U.S. is legal. Ever since the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade, women have a right to choose whether to have an abortion during the early stages of her pregnancy. After the first trimester, however, states may regulate certain aspects of abortion, such as imposing waiting periods, counseling, and other mandates -- and during the third trimester there is virtually little or no legal way to have an abortion (except if your life is in danger).
Do fetuses have rights?
The Constitution only guarantees rights to "humans" and the Court has determined that embryos or fetuses have no particular rights, that is, until they have reached "personhood." The question then because "when is a fetus a person?" Courts and legislative bodies have struggled with the exact moment a fetus becomes human, but most of the answer relies on when the fetus can live outside the mother's womb. Until that time, fetuses do not have human rights.
I'm under the age of 18, do I need my parent's consent to have an abortion?
The requirement that minors get parental consent before having an abortion varies by state. Some states actively require parental consent for women under the age of 18 with exceptions for abuse, incest or neglect. This typically includes the involvement of one parent, although a few states require parental consent of both parents. Other states have parental consent laws on the books that are currently not being enforced. Finally, a handful of states have no parental consent requirements, although physicians often use their discretion whether to notify parents of a planned abortion.
Is there a mandatory waiting period between seeing a counselor and having an abortion?
In many states, a woman can schedule an abortion for the following day. Several other states have waiting periods, typically 24 hours before one can have the procedure. These waiting periods are meant to provide information about abortion procedures and health risks. In a few select states, counselors are required to give women over 20-weeks gestation information on the ability of the fetus to feel pain.
My boyfriend wants me to have an abortion, but I want to keep the baby. Does he have any say in the matter?
Legally, men do not have a right to determine whether a woman may or may not seek an abortion. While men have equal human rights as women, they do not have legal rights to abortion because they are not "similarly situated" as women. Moreover, the Supreme Court believes it would be too burdensome for women to have to ask "permission" from their partners, which arguably may even lead to psychological or physical abuse on the part of the husband.
What is the abortion pill? Is it available in the U.S.?
The term "abortion pill" refers to a pill called Mifepristone (or RU-486) -- a prescription drug created by a French doctor in the 1980's that ends unwanted pregnancies up to 49 days gestation. The drug was approved in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000 and is legal and available in all 50 states directly from a physician, clinic, or hospital.
What are "partial-birth" abortions? Are they legal?
"Partial-birth" abortions refer to a controversial procedure that ends a pregnancy through a method which partially delivers an intact fetus before aborting it. The federal government has banned the use of this method in most cases (according to Gonzales v. Carhart (2007)). More than a dozen states have also banned partial-birth abortions, with a few of these states banning this procedure only after viability.
Learn About Your Right to a Safe Abortion: Contact an Attorney
Reproductive rights is a controversial topic from both a personal and legal standpoint. If you have additional questions about the reproductive rights and the laws of your state, beyond this abortion rights FAQ, it's best to speak with a family law attorney in your area. A skilled family law attorney will be able to answer your questions so you can make the right decision for you and your family.