What Choice?

Abortion-rights activists won an epic victory in Roe v. Wade. They've been losing ever since

  • Jamie Chung for TIME

    (8 of 10)

    When her name is called, a surgical-abortion patient descends a set of stairs and steps into a room where a technician performs an ultrasound. Afterward she enters an exam room and is met by the physician on duty. On this Wednesday it's Dr. Kathryn Eggleston, who informs the woman that she's reviewed her chart and asks, "Are you confident in your decision to have an abortion today?" If the woman says yes, the abortion begins; the whirring of the vacuum aspirator used to extract the fetus can be heard in the hallway. Within 15 minutes, Eggleston emerges from the room and enters another where the removed contents are examined and photographed for the medical record.

    In the recovery room, where patients rest in overstuffed leather recliners, Kromenaker chats with a 20-something woman who declined Eggleston's offer to go on birth control. "Do you have a boyfriend?" Kromenaker asks. No. Kromenaker runs through a few ancillary health benefits of birth control anyway, hands the woman some condoms and pats her shoulder.

    A 24-year-old patient who drove 80 miles (130 km) alone to reach the clinic says she and her boyfriend decided together not to continue her pregnancy, which was six weeks along. "Neither of us is anywhere near baby time right now. We argue over who will take the dog out some days, so I don't think the diaper changing would go much better." Another young woman at the clinic that day is less sure. When Eggleston asks if she is confident, the patient says no. Eggleston questions her further, and once it's clear that the woman is conflicted, she gives her prenatal vitamins and sends her home. The woman returns a week later. This time she does not change her mind.

    About three-quarters of the patients at Red River are under 30. More than half have at least one child; about one-third have had a previous abortion; fewer than 4% are minors. These statistics roughly mirror national data. In all, more than 50 million legal abortions have occurred in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-rights group whose statistics are cited by both pro-life and pro-choice activists, nearly 1 in 3 American women will have an abortion by age 45. Some 90% of abortions occur in the first trimester of pregnancy.

    The abortion war, like many other political fights, is largely waged on the margins of reality. Review the policies that have stoked widespread national debate and it's easy to assume that late-term abortions and those performed on underage girls or women impregnated by rape or incest constitute the bulk of terminated pregnancies. In truth, these are mere slivers of the abortion story in America. And on the whole, there is little public disagreement on the merits of abortion in such cases. Most Americans support access to abortion in cases of rape or incest or when the mother's life is threatened, along with a raft of common state abortion restrictions. Gallup data shows that 79% of pro-choice Americans believe abortion should be illegal in the third trimester of pregnancy and that 60% support 24-hour waiting periods and parental consent for minors.

    1. 1
    2. 2
    3. 3
    4. 4
    5. 5
    6. 6
    7. 7
    8. 8
    9. 9
    10. 10