Advice Abortion

Got Breast Milk? First We Need Equity

Amie Newman

The results of a study released this month in the journal Pediatrics shows breastfeeding can save money and lives. But along with facts and figures, we need rights and equality to increase breastfeeding rates in the U.S.

The results of a study released this month in the journal Pediatrics suggest the U.S. could save $13 billion dollars and over 900 newborn lives every year if the majority of American mothers (90 percent) breastfed for more than 6 months.  This study has unleashed a wave of opinion and commentary from women around the web.

From mothers who blog to feminist birth activists to professional providers and advocates, people are passionately discussing the findings, imploring Americans to not only take notice of how important breastfeeding is to newborn and children’s health and the relationship between mother and child, but also to fight for better woman-centered policies from hospitals to the federal government to improve women’s chances of breastfeeding for longer periods of time successfully. The findings of the study are clear: there are tremendous benefits both financially and in actual human lives, when more women breastfeed their babies for longer than six months. Some comments about the study, however, take issue with the way this and other studies’ findings are presented and used, making moms feel guilty if they choose not to or can’t breastfeed. What the study does not address is that increasing rates of breastfeeding relies upon real women, with real lives, to make the decisions they are able to make given a range of societal, cultural and institutional factors. That is, while the study’s findings present the information as a simple equation, the reality is more complex: if we can address the myriad reasons why women don’t breastfeed, we’ll undoubtedly provide more support and positive encouragement for successful breastfeeding relationships.

There has been a resurgence of interest in breastfeeding as both a public health and political issue, over the last several years. From Facebook groups protesting policies on breastfeeding photos on the site and rallies around the country supporting mothers’ rights to breastfeed openly, in public, to public health initiatives like Healthy People 2010 (and, now, Healthy People 2020) in the United States which includes clear objectives for increasing breastfeeding rates, this is an issue which keeps gaining momentum. The Healthy People 2010 Initiative created in 1998 by the Department of Health and Human Services set a goal to increase the proportion of women who breastfeed their babies: ever, for six months, for one year, exclusively for three months and exclusively for six months, in order to bring us closer to the World Health Organizations’ recommendations that mothers breastfeed their babies for at least six months but optimally for two years. Healthy People 2010 cites breastfeeding as a “cross-cutting” issue. It is not only the means by which an excellent nutritional source for newborns and babies is provided, helping to prevent death and disease, it can bring “positive health effects” for the mother; and act as a guard “against the effects of poverty” says the Healthy People 2010 objectives, since breastfeeding costs are relatively few.

So, if breastfeeding is as golden as we all know it is, why aren’t more women breastfeeding for the recommended period of at least six months or more?

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There are many issues at play. Among these: cultural stigma which makes women feel as if breastfeeding is not respectable or sometimes downright disgusting; the lack of “baby-friendly” hospitals in the U.S. which offer breastfeeding information and support as the first choice for new mothers; the lack of postpartum support (such as access to a lactation consultant) for women who want to breastfeed; societal stigma preventing women from being able to breastfeed freely and comfortably in public spaces; and workplace inflexibility including lack of paid family leave, and time and space to pump when women return to work.

Dr. Paige Hall Smith, Director of the University of North Carolina Greensboro’s Center for Women’s Health and Wellness and Founder/Co-Director of the annual Breastfeeding & Feminism Symposia (a collaboration between UNC Greensboro and UNC Chapel Hill) says that although breastfeeding is seen as a “lifestyle choice” oftentimes, making some women out to be the “better mothers” and others made to feel guilty for their choices, in truth, “these choices are made within a constrained environment.” Smith says, instead, that we need to look not just “at the decisions made but the constraints and structures in society that shape women’s decisions” in order to understand more about why women do or don’t breastfeed for extended periods of time.

From the Healthy People 2010 web site:

The social and physical environment—including family, community, health care system, workplaces, businesses, schools, transportation, and the media—exerts an enormous influence on breastfeeding success, often putting up barriers to improving duration and exclusive breastfeeding rates.

As Gina Crosley-Corcoran, blogging as The Feminist Breeder puts it,

“…I don’t believe that most women are making this “choice.”  The CDC shows that 3/4 of women are initiating breastfeeding in the hospital, but only 13.6% of women are still exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months…Get mad that we have no paid leave to help support the breastfeeding relationship.  Get mad that moms aren’t being given free breastpumps, lactation consultants, and healthier food.  Get mad at a system that puts Girls Gone Wild tits on the cover of every magazine, but bans breastfeeding pictures on Facebook.  These are the issues that need our attention as mothers, or as feminists, or simply as women with brains… I believe women are capable. Give them the tools.  Give them the time.  Give them the respect they need.”

Says Dr. Smith, “The problem isn’t breastfeeding. This has to do with increasing the status of women. If we do that, we will increase the rates of breastfeeding.”

Dr. Smith points to recently released CDC data (referred to by Crosley-Corcoran above) which states that while 73 percent of American mothers initiate breastfeeding, only 14 percent of babies in this country are exclusively breastfed at six months of age.

“The problems we’re experiencing have to do with the fact that women aren’t able to continue breastfeeding more than ensuring that women start breastfeeding. We have a lot of work to do to make more hospitals baby-friendly…but we need to get into how breastfeeding reacts with the constraints on women’s lives.

If women really don’t have enough control over their life, their body, their time and their space to be able to breastfeed for 6 months, if they want to, what does that say about the status of mothers and women in this country? Breastfeeding rates are low in this society because the status of women is low.”

Given this lack of focus on radically improving many of the conditions that contribute to lower breastfeeding rates, we have not met the Healthy People 2010 targets. It’s also why, in part, the Healthy People 2020 initiative includes new objectives aimed more at changing the ways in which our health care institutions operate than just solely aiming for increased rates of breastfeeding:

There are and will always be women who cannot or do not want to breastfeed (or exclusively breastfeed) either for medical reasons (they are HIV positive or they are taking medication contraindicated with breastfeeding, for example), because they do not produce enough milk, or have a history of sexual abuse or assault which makes the physical closeness of a breastfeeding relationship difficult.

No woman should feel that she is deficient in her care for her baby should conditions be present under which she cannot or does not want to nurse her baby. Writes one commenter on the Feminist Breeder’s post,

I breastfed my daughter exclusively for the first four months. I had her in a UNICEF “baby-friendly” hospital where they insisted on exclusive breastfeeding. I wanted to breastfeed her…But I. JUST. DIDN’T. PRODUCE. ENOUGH. MILK…Turns out there was a reason she was hungry all the time — I wasn’t producing enough. She should have been eating twice as much as I was producing, and my body wasn’t ramping up even though she’d been trying desperately to make it do so…So I supplemented with formula, and pumped, and pumped, and pumped so she’d have breastmilk too. But she likes to eat, and it became clear pretty soon that we were kidding ourselves saying we were “supplementing” with formula. We were supplementing with breastmilk; even though I was pumping constantly, I produced about enough for two feedings a day out of eight or so. I made it to five months, and stopped pumping; it was hard to pump every two hours when I was back to work full-time…Do we need better maternity leave, more societal support for breastfeeding, access to lactation consultants, etc.? Especially in the United States? Hell yes.

But should EVERY mother breastfeed EXCLUSIVELY for the first six months? No. Sooner or later, you have to do what’s best for your child. Sometimes that’s not exclusive breastfeeding.

As a mother of two myself, I understand both sides of this coin. I deciced to discontinue breastfeeding my first child just days after he was born for a host of reasons, despite having tremendous support, access to information and resources. The guilt I experienced, at the time, was overwhelming. I felt like I was on the outside looking in as I struggled to connect with other new mothers whose first few weeks and months revolved around their stories and experiences of nursing their babies. It wasn’t a false sense of separation, of course. I was, to a degree, experiencing something very different. And when I decided to breastfeed my daughter after she was born, I was both scared and excited. Would I fail? Was I just not the “type of mom” who enjoys breastfeeding? Did I have it in me (as if I was headed into battle or preparing to climb a mountain – both of which, by the way, are apt metaphors at varying points in a woman’s breastfeeding life)? Turns out, breastfeeding a baby is not some secret society to which only some women hold the password. I breastfed my daughter for three years, enjoying (almost) every moment of it in a way I have never and certainly will never experience again. It had as much to do with my frame of mind as anything else.

Which is why solely focusing on public policy or solely focusing on the health benefits of breastfeeding or solely focusing on just trying to convince moms of how wonderful breastfeeding can be are not panaceas. There will always be women like myself, or women who have commented on other blog posts around the web who say, “Hey, I tried. I wanted to make it work. I decided to stop for this reason or that reason.” And that must be okay. If we continue to say, “No, we expect more of you than you can or are able to give at the moment” then we set up an impossible standard for women to meet. These feelings of inadequacy can contribute to lingering problems for a woman who wants to enjoy parenting, far beyond when a breastfeeding relationship ends. If we say to a woman right off the bat that she somehow failed to positively establish the first relationship she’ll have with her child, what does she carry forward as a parent?

But, says Dr. Smith, with almost 75 percent of women who birth in this country initiating breastfeeding, and only a small percentage actually breastfeeding for extended periods of time, it seems likely that most women want to breastfeed but come up against barriers that prevent them from doing so.

So, what’s the answer?

Dr. Smith says, “We need to give women control…That’s the bottom line. We must create structures in society that give women more control over their bodies. Women who have control over their lives, body, time and space [and I’m talking about private, public and work space] are more likely to breastfeed than those who don’t have that same kind of control.”

It’s the feminist answer – work towards equality and justice and we’ll allow women to make decisions they feel are right for themselves.

Some of that control will arise from public policy changes.

Kristin Rowe Finkbeiner of the grassroots parenting rights organization, Momsrising.org, points to workplace flexibility and parent-friendly policies as it relates to the care of newborns and breastfeeding:

“It is absolutely imperative for women to have time to care for their infants and next to impossible for them to do that without any form of paid family and medical leave.

We have members [of Momsrising] who have babies on a Thursday and end up back at a desk on a Tuesday…Some women don’t even have enough of a break to even get the infant started breastfeeding.”

The U.S. “stands out like a sore thumb with our lack of paid family leave”, says Rowe Finkbeiner. “Of over 170 countries, only four don’t have some form of paid family leave for new mothers: Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, Liberia and the U.S.”

These statistics relate directly to the breastfeeding study. If more mothers’ breastfed says the report, fewer newborns would die each year. But more mothers simply cannot and will not breastfeed, without support in the form of policies like paid family leave.

Even though we spend more, per capita, every year on health care, we rank 37th in infant mortality in the world. According to Momsrising.org, when paid family leave is instituted we see a 25 percent drop in infant mortality rates. One of the reasons? It allows mothers the time to establish a breastfeeding relationship with their new baby.

Breastfeeding saw a boost from public policy recently with the “right to pump” provision that mandates that employers with 50 more employees must establish reasonable spaces (other than the bathroom, thank you very much) for women to be able to express breast milk, for up to one year.

In addition to public policy, we must see shifts in hospital policies, where the majority of women in the U.S. give birth, as well. This means increasing the number of Baby-friendly designated hospitals throughout the country, especially hospitals that serve African-American women who are the least likely to breastfeed in the nation, according to Womens eNews.

Increasing the number of women who breastfeed for extended periods of time, then, requires much more than studies and statistics. It requires a coordinated, feminist response that acknowledges the full range of women’s needs, wants and rights, according to Smith and her co-organizers of the annual Breastfeeding & Feminism Symposia.

As Dr. Smith eludes to, feminism doesn’t end with what’s between women’s legs. Smith’s symposium each year addresses almost every and any topic related to feminism and breastfeeding and brings together advocates and scholars from around the world in order to establish a rights-based foundation for breastfeeding in the U.S. Topics over the last five years have included: work-life integration, making the business case for improved breastfeeding policies, the cultural contexts of guilt, popular media representations of breastfeeding, the implications of breastfeeding in public when women’s bodies have been publicly sexualized, racism and health disparities in breastfeeding, infant formula companies use of  the “choice” frame in regards to infant and baby feeding, the “medicalization” of infant feeding in hospitals and more.

A study that finds that breastfeeding saves money and lives is not earth-shattering. But what we do with this information has the potential to be. From public spaces to workplaces, hospital rooms to women’s living rooms, society must expand its notion of what women need to feed their babies from birth and beyond.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.

Analysis Law and Policy

After ‘Whole Woman’s Health’ Decision, Advocates Should Fight Ultrasound Laws With Science

Imani Gandy

A return to data should aid in dismantling other laws ungrounded in any real facts, such as Texas’s onerous "informed consent” law—HB 15—which forces women to get an ultrasound that they may neither need nor afford, and which imposes a 24-hour waiting period.

Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down two provisions of Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, has changed the reproductive rights landscape in ways that will reverberate in courts around the country for years to come. It is no longer acceptable—at least in theory—for a state to announce that a particular restriction advances an interest in women’s health and to expect courts and the public to take them at their word.

In an opinion driven by science and data, Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority in Whole Woman’s Health, weighed the costs and benefits of the two provisions of HB 2 at issue—the admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center (ASC) requirements—and found them wanting. Texas had breezed through the Fifth Circuit without facing any real pushback on its manufactured claims that the two provisions advanced women’s health. Finally, Justice Breyer whipped out his figurative calculator and determined that those claims didn’t add up. For starters, Texas admitted that it didn’t know of a single instance where the admitting privileges requirement would have helped a woman get better treatment. And as for Texas’ claim that abortion should be performed in an ASC, Breyer pointed out that the state did not require the same of its midwifery clinics, and that childbirth is 14 times more likely to result in death.

So now, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out in the case’s concurring opinion, laws that “‘do little or nothing for health, but rather strew impediments to abortion’ cannot survive judicial inspection.” In other words, if a state says a restriction promotes women’s health and safety, that state will now have to prove it to the courts.

With this success under our belts, a similar return to science and data should aid in dismantling other laws ungrounded in any real facts, such as Texas’s onerous “informed consent” law—HB 15—which forces women to get an ultrasound that they may neither need nor afford, and which imposes a 24-hour waiting period.

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In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld parts of Pennsylvania’s “informed consent” law requiring abortion patients to receive a pamphlet developed by the state department of health, finding that it did not constitute an “undue burden” on the constitutional right to abortion. The basis? Protecting women’s mental health: “[I]n an attempt to ensure that a woman apprehends the full consequences of her decision, the State furthers the legitimate purpose of reducing the risk that a woman may elect an abortion, only to discover later, with devastating psychological consequences, that her decision was not fully informed.”

Texas took up Casey’s informed consent mantle and ran with it. In 2011, the legislature passed a law that forces patients to undergo a medical exam, whether or not their doctor thinks they need it, and that forces them to listen to information that the state wants them to hear, whether or not their doctor thinks that they need to hear it. The purpose of this law—at least in theory—is, again, to protect patients’ “mental health” by dissuading those who may be unsure about procedure.

The ultra-conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law in 2012, in Texas Medical Providers v. Lakey.

And make no mistake: The exam the law requires is invasive, and in some cases, cruelly so. As Beverly McPhail pointed out in the Houston Chronicle in 2011, transvaginal probes will often be necessary to comply with the law up to 10 to 12 weeks of pregnancy—which is when, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 91 percent of abortions take place. “Because the fetus is so small at this stage, traditional ultrasounds performed through the abdominal wall, ‘jelly on the belly,’ often cannot produce a clear image,” McPhail noted.

Instead, a “probe is inserted into the vagina, sending sound waves to reflect off body structures to produce an image of the fetus. Under this new law, a woman’s vagina will be penetrated without an opportunity for her to refuse due to coercion from the so-called ‘public servants’ who passed and signed this bill into law,” McPhail concluded.

There’s a reason why abortion advocates began decrying these laws as “rape by the state.”

If Texas legislators are concerned about the mental health of their citizens, particularly those who may have been the victims of sexual assault—or any woman who does not want a wand forcibly shoved into her body for no medical reason—they have a funny way of showing it.

They don’t seem terribly concerned about the well-being of the woman who wants desperately to be a mother but who decides to terminate a pregnancy that doctors tell her is not viable. Certainly, forcing that woman to undergo the painful experience of having an ultrasound image described to her—which the law mandates for the vast majority of patients—could be psychologically devastating.

But maybe Texas legislators don’t care that forcing a foreign object into a person’s body is the ultimate undue burden.

After all, if foisting ultrasounds onto women who have decided to terminate a pregnancy saves even one woman from a lifetime of “devastating psychologically damaging consequences,” then it will all have been worth it, right? Liberty and bodily autonomy be damned.

But what if there’s very little risk that a woman who gets an abortion experiences those “devastating psychological consequences”?

What if the information often provided by states in connection with their “informed consent” protocol does not actually lead to consent that is more informed, either because the information offered is outdated, biased, false, or flatly unnecessary given a particular pregnant person’s circumstance? Texas’ latest edition of its “Woman’s Right to Know” pamphlet, for example, contains even more false information than prior versions, including the medically disproven claim that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks gestation.

What if studies show—as they have since the American Psychological Association first conducted one to that effect in 1989—that abortion doesn’t increase the risk of mental health issues?

If the purpose of informed consent laws is to weed out women who have been coerced or who haven’t thought it through, then that purpose collapses if women who get abortions are, by and large, perfectly happy with their decision.

And that’s exactly what research has shown.

Scientific studies indicate that the vast majority of women don’t regret their abortions, and therefore are not devastated psychologically. They don’t fall into drug and alcohol addiction or attempt to kill themselves. But that hasn’t kept anti-choice activists from claiming otherwise.

It’s simply not true that abortion sends mentally healthy patients over the edge. In a study report released in 2008, the APA found that the strongest predictor of post-abortion mental health was prior mental health. In other words, if you’re already suffering from mental health issues before getting an abortion, you’re likely to suffer mental health issues afterward. But the studies most frequently cited in courts around the country prove, at best, an association between mental illness and abortion. When the studies controlled for “prior mental health and violence experience,” “no significant relation was found between abortion history and anxiety disorders.”

But what about forced ultrasound laws, specifically?

Science has its part to play in dismantling those, too.

If Whole Woman’s Health requires the weighing of costs and benefits to ensure that there’s a connection between the claimed purpose of an abortion restriction and the law’s effect, then laws that require a woman to get an ultrasound and to hear a description of it certainly fail that cost-benefit analysis. Science tells us forcing patients to view ultrasound images (as opposed to simply offering the opportunity for a woman to view ultrasound images) in order to give them “information” doesn’t dissuade them from having abortions.

Dr. Jen Gunter made this point in a blog post years ago: One 2009 study found that when given the option to view an ultrasound, nearly 73 percent of women chose to view the ultrasound image, and of those who chose to view it, 85 percent of women felt that it was a positive experience. And here’s the kicker: Not a single woman changed her mind about having an abortion.

Again, if women who choose to see ultrasounds don’t change their minds about getting an abortion, a law mandating that ultrasound in order to dissuade at least some women is, at best, useless. At worst, it’s yet another hurdle patients must leap to get care.

And what of the mandatory waiting period? Texas law requires a 24-hour waiting period—and the Court in Casey upheld a 24-hour waiting period—but states like Louisiana and Florida are increasing the waiting period to 72 hours.

There’s no evidence that forcing women into longer waiting periods has a measurable effect on a woman’s decision to get an abortion. One study conducted in Utah found that 86 percent of women had chosen to get the abortion after the waiting period was over. Eight percent of women chose not to get the abortion, but the most common reason given was that they were already conflicted about abortion in the first place. The author of that study recommended that clinics explore options with women seeking abortion and offer additional counseling to the small percentage of women who are conflicted about it, rather than states imposing a burdensome waiting period.

The bottom line is that the majority of women who choose abortion make up their minds and go through with it, irrespective of the many roadblocks placed in their way by overzealous state governments. And we know that those who cannot overcome those roadblocks—for financial or other reasons—are the ones who experience actual negative effects. As we saw in Whole Woman’s Health, those kinds of studies, when admitted as evidence in the court record, can be critical in striking restrictions down.

Of course, the Supreme Court has not always expressed an affinity for scientific data, as Justice Anthony Kennedy demonstrated in Gonzales v. Carhart, when he announced that “some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained,” even though he admitted there was “no reliable data to measure the phenomenon.” It was under Gonzales that so many legislators felt equipped to pass laws backed up by no legitimate scientific evidence in the first place.

Whole Woman’s Health offers reproductive rights advocates an opportunity to revisit a host of anti-choice restrictions that states claim are intended to advance one interest or another—whether it’s the state’s interest in fetal life or the state’s purported interest in the psychological well-being of its citizens. But if the laws don’t have their intended effects, and if they simply throw up obstacles in front of people seeking abortion, then perhaps, Whole Woman’s Health and its focus on scientific data will be the death knell of these laws too.