Abortion Rights = Women’s Rights = Human Rights – But Not in Texas

When does the regulation of health care become an abuse of human rights? Today, on the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a social worker lays out the case against Texas.


by Sarah Deegan, MSW candidate



In January of 1973, one of the most well-known and controversial United States Supreme Court decisions was released. This decision, known as Roe V. Wade, stated that prohibiting abortion was unconstitutional and ruled that women across the United States have protected rights in regard to their reproductive health (McBride, 2006).



Roe v. Wade was a monumental Supreme Court case that changed family planning for women everywhere.  Photo Credit: www.ellabakercenter.org

Roe v. Wade was a monumental Supreme Court case that changed family planning for women everywhere. Photo Credit: http://www.ellabakercenter.org



While Roe V. Wade may seem like the beginning of the story, abortion and reproductive planning has long been a part of life. Before Roe, abortion was not legal in any form, and women’s health was not a part of American cultural conversation. According to Pollitt (2014), the average number of births per woman was seven in 1800, dropping to about two per woman in 1930. Currently, about one in five American women do not become mothers, a trend that shows that, increasingly, women are deciding that motherhood is not a viable choice for them. One in three American women have had an abortion by the time they reach menopause.   Traditional attitudes toward abortion and contraception were that only irresponsible and unprepared women sought these services. However, abortion and reproductive planning is in integral part of American women’s health care, allowing women to plan for the care of themselves and their families.



Women’s health has always been an issue in American politics. Throughout the years laws have come and gone, regulating various aspects of women’s health, whether it be the legality of the particular service, or the safety of the procedure. Recently, it seems that the debate around reproductive health care has become even more polarized. The laws impacting women’s health have always varied state to state, but one question lies underneath it all: where does abortion regulation start to become human rights abuses? When are laws moving from safety and regulation to infringement on one’s most basic human rights? I believe Texas has infringed upon the rights of women to decide what is best for themselves and their families.



red whiote and blue image of Texas, with white star


The most recent example of questionable abortion regulation is in the state of Texas, with the passing of House Bill 2 (HB2). Recently, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law, despite sound legal challenges, a great outcry from women’s health advocacy groups and objection by the American Medical Association (American Civil Liberties Union, 2014).



The Texas law requires that (a) providers of abortions in the state become certified as ambulatory care centers, and (b) doctors at centers that provide abortions must have admitting privileges at a local hospital. According to supporters of the law, it ensures that women’s health is paramount, and that all safety precautions are taken during these procedures. The real-world effect of this law is that the number of abortion clinics in the state have  shrunk from 44 down to eight in 2013 (Basset, L., 2014).




Women, seated, with hand raised to face, wtih three children pressed against her, looks tired and sad.

Photo by Dorothea Lange


One discriminatory impact of the law is that all of the eight remaining clinics are concentrated in only four urban areas, all in the eastern half of Texas, and thus not accessible to many rural and low-income women.







This illustrated map shows where the clinics are located (Basset, L., 2014b). None are in the poorest south and west sections of the state.



While we can’t say for sure what the true motivation of the authors of HB2 may have been, we can say that we know the negative effects this law can have, outcomes that are associated with restricted access to family planning resources. These outcomes show that the “ability of women to plan and space pregnancies through access to birth control is linked to their greater educational and professional opportunities and increased lifetime earnings” (National Women’s Law Center, 2014). Fewer children, with adequate spacing between pregnancies, means that women can earn more and provide a better future for their families.



The Texas law not only restricts  access to reproductive services, but hits lower wage earners especially hard. As the map above shows, the lowest income areas of Texas have no access to providers who conduct abortions unless they have the money and time to travel long distances (Basset, L., 2014b).   With their lack of social capital, combined with reduced family planning services, the women with the least economic mobility in the state are the ones that are being most negatively impacted by these laws.



The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all people have the right to adequate medical care. It also states that everyone should be considered equal under the law, regardless of nationality, birth, gender, status, or any other qualifying characteristic (United Nations, 1948).   Why is it that women are not afforded access to medical care when it concerns their reproduction health? And why is that poorer women in Texas have the least access?



Banner held in a march reads, "Health Care is a Human Right"

Photo Credit: National Economic and Social Rights Intiative (NESRI)



The question now is whether the United States, as a nation, is willing to recognize this struggle as one of human rights. Health care needs to be regulated in order to provide the utmost safety for those accessing these services. However, a person’s healthcare is solely up to that individual, and the responsibility of which belongs solely to that person. We must, as a nation, balance safety with the rights of the individual, and be unwilling to accept anything that unduly restricts the rights of a person to safe and sound health care services.


If you’d like to learn more about women’s reproductive health, visit the following websites:






Let us know what you think.



Sarah Deegan will receive her MSW degree in May 2015.



American Civil Liberties Union (2014, October 9). Full Fifth Circuit Refuses to Reconsider Law Blocking Abortion Access Across Texas [Press Release]. Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/reproductive-freedom/fifth-circuit-refuses-hear-law-blocking-abortion-access-across-texas.


Associated Press (2014, October 9). Appeals Court Declines to Reconsider Decision Upholding Texas Abortion Restrictions. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/08/texas-abortion-access-is-_n_5952968.html.


Basset, L. (2014, October 8). Map Shows Abortion Access In Texas Now Only for Wealthy. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/08/texas-abortion-access-is-_n_5952968.html.


Bassett, L. (2014, October 3). Situation in Texas is “Urgent” After 13 Abortion Clinics Close Overnight. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/03/texas-abortion-clinics_n_5927698.html.


Center for Reproductive Rights (2013). Center for Reproductive Rights. Retrieved from http://www.reproductiverights.org/.


Grimes, A. (2014, October 3). No Undue Burden? What Texas’ HB 2 Means for Maria. RH Reality Check. Retrieved from http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2014/10/03/undue-burden-texas-hb-2-means-maria/.


McBride, A. (2006). Landmark cases, Roe v. Wade. The Supreme Court. Retrieved from http://pbs.org/wnet/supremecourt/rights/landmark_roe.html.


National Women’s Law Center (2014). Reproductive Health Is Part of the Economic Health of Women and their Families. Retrieved from http://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/military_women_family_planning_factsheet_7.30.pdf.


Pollitt, (2014, October 16). The abortion conversation we need to have. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/katha-pollit/abortion-conversation-katha-pollitt-pro_b_5989136.html.


Planned Parenthood (2014). Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Retrieved from http://www.plannedparenthoodaction.org/.


United Nations (1948). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/history.shtml.


Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) Retrieved from: http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=410&invol=113





  • Sarah –

    You do an excellent job of laying out the differential impact of the Texas legislation on women in the state, and how women who are most vulnerable are likely to face the most negative impacts of this legislation. I also think you do a very nice job of identifying the disconnect between the stated purpose of this legislation and its practical impact on people’s lives.

    Human Rights are, without a doubt, powerful morally, politically, and rhetorically. However, I wonder if they are strong enough to support your case here. Opponents of legal access to abortion are likely to respond with a human rights claim on behalf of the entity which is aborted and arguing for the great vulnerability of this entity (I don’t want to make assumptions and bias my comment either way by using the terms “embryo” “fetus” or “baby” here).

    Consequently, I don’t know if human rights are enough to decide this case, first because human rights claims can be made both for and against the Texas legislation, but second, and perhaps more powerfully, because the power of human rights rests on assumptions of who/what counts as “human” – assumptions that not everybody shares.

    As powerful and important as they are, unless – and until – we as a community can agree upon who/what counts as “human”, appealing to human rights won’t be enough to resolve these difficult ethical questions. As both individuals and social workers, we need a richer ethical toolkit to help us navigate rough waters when we sail to the frontiers of human rights.

    So, thank you for writing this post and sailing unapologeticly into such difficult, controversial, and emotionally-charged territory. It raises a lot of important points that we need to consider deeply and critically if we are to promote human flourishing. These are conversations that I think everybody needs to engage in, and social workers especially.

    As a final note, social workers interested in promoting reproductive justice may be interested in checking out Social Workers for Reproductive Justice at http://swrj.org/

  • A #MacroSW twitter chat will be held 9pm tonight, Jan. 22, 2015. Watch for a summary of the chat to be posted here in the future.

  • Hi Steven,

    First, thank you for your input.

    I agree that the point you bring up is an important one, and that many people could argue on behalf of the rights of the child. It is a very complex and difficult subject to discuss and I wonder if there will ever be consensus on that point. I thought about that while writing this and one question kept coming up for me.

    I asked myself: when can we justify suppressing the human rights of someone in order to protect another’s?

    I’m not sure, and I don’t know if we will ever have an answer. Either way I know that this law is infringing upon the rights of women in Texas and we as social workers do need to examine these issues.

    I like what you said about a richer ethical toolkit and I’m wondering if you can elaborate on your thoughts regarding that?

    Again, thanks for the great input!

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