The draconian future that awaits increased restrictions on abortion, as told by an El Salvadorian activist

On Thursday, the pro-reproductive rights research organization Guttmacher updated a report on abortion laws across the country. It presented a grim image of the state of reproductive rights in the United States.

Previous research published by the organization revealed that a quarter of all abortion restrictions enacted since the Roe v. Wade ruling of 1973 have been passed in the last five years, and as of April 2017, state legislatures across the country have introduced some 1,053 reproductive-health-related provisions since January. Of those proposed measures, 431 would restrict access to abortion services, while 405 would expand access to reproductive health services.

As access to abortion services becomes increasingly narrow, an op-ed by El Salvadorian women’s rights activist Jeannette Urquilla of Organización de Mujeres Salvadoreñas por la Paz (ORMUSA), the Salvadoran partner of Donor Direct Action published in the Los Angeles Times is certainly worth a read. Urquilla describes precisely what happens when abortion is sweepingly banned, as it is in El Salvador and many other Latin American nations.

“Because our laws are so draconian, so tilted in favor of the rights of fetuses over those of living women, pregnant women experiencing difficulties may not feel safe in El Salvador’s hospitals,” Urquilla writes. After all, in regions with particularly strict policies on abortion, it’s not uncommon for women to be punished for miscarriages.

“The U.N. committee stated that the country violates the basic human rights of women and girls, including their right to life, health, nondiscrimination, human dignity and the right over their own bodies,” Urquilla continues.

But the ultimate consequences of a sweeping abortion ban, beyond a tarnished global reputation on human rights, is shouldered by the country’s women, whose health and safety are severely jeopardized.

“Those who call for continued restrictions on safe and legal abortion in El Salvador fail to realize that making the procedure illegal does not reduce its prevalence. The country’s Ministry of Health has estimated that 19,290 abortions took place between 2005 and 2008,” Urquilla wrote. She continues:

“Lack of choice means that women tend to seek out dangerous covert methods, which put their lives at risk. These women are also reluctant to seek post-operative medical care after their abortions have taken place.”

The phenomenon of dangerous, back-alley abortions taking place in countries when abortion is illegal is not exclusive to El Salvador. “The World Health Organization estimates that 68,000 women die around the world every year as a result of unsafe and illegal abortions, and millions more are living with health complications,” Urquilla wrote. “The vast majority of these are in the economically developing world in countries such as El Salvador.”

Sure enough, even in the United States, where abortion has been legal on a federal level since 1973, restrictions on abortion are in no way correlated with a decrease in abortions. Study after study reveals that they continue at the same rate as women who travel out of state or attempt to perform their own abortions.

Rather, restrictions merely serve to delay or potentially endanger women’s health rather than prevent abortion from happening. Objectively speaking, the most effective way to lower rates of abortion seems to be increasing access to birth control and sexual health education. Conservative efforts to defund Planned Parenthood because the organization provides abortion services directly undermines this task.

At any rate, restrictions on abortion in the United States may seem minute on the surface — 20-week bans, mandated waiting periods or counseling sessions, TRAP laws (expensive, medically unnecessary hospital requirements that shut abortion clinics down), second-trimester bans, and others, may seem far from sweeping bans on abortion.

However, while abortion remains legal in name, a combination of economic, legal and even geographic barriers to the procedure render it inaccessible to many low-income women. This is especially true as a result of the Hyde amendment, which prohibits women on Medicaid from receiving federal funding to have an abortion.

In this sense, Urquill’s op-ed detailing the dangers of a society in which abortion is totally illegal can be read as a warning of the fate that could befall American women, if state legislatures and the federal government continue to undermine reproductive rights.