7 of the most important abortion stories of the decade

January 3, 2020

From 2010 to 2019, abortion continued to be one of the most divisive issues in America. Here are seven of the most important events related to abortion over the last decade.

1. The Kermit Gosnell scandal

In January 2011, late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell was charged with eight counts of murder for a patient who died under his care after a botched abortion, and seven infants born alive whose spinal cords Gosnell allegedly severed with scissors.

According to the original grand jury report, the clinic reeked of animal urine, and the furniture and blankets were stained with blood. Medical instruments found in the practice had not been properly sterilized. State officials had failed to visit or inspect his abortion clinic since 1993.

In 2013, Gosnell was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder. Despite the gruesome nature of the story, Gosnell’s arrest and trial received almost no coverage by the national media.

2. Supreme Court overturns law on abortion regulations

In 2016, the Supreme Court issued one of the most significant rulings on abortion in decades. The Court ruled in a 5-3 decision on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt to overturn state laws designed to regulate abortion clinics in a way that would protect women’s health.

After the Gosnell scandal created an awareness of the unsafe, unsanitary, and largely unregulated conditions in abortion clinics in America, the State of Texas passed House Bill 2, which mandated that abortion facilities adhere to ambulatory surgical center requirements common to most outpatient facilities, and required abortionists to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion facility to be able to handle emergencies when something goes wrong. Whole Woman's Health, an abortion provider in Texas, challenged the law in federal court, claiming it was expensive, not medically necessary, and interfered with women's health care.

3. Undercover videos revealed Planned Parenthood sold aborted fetal organs

Beginning in July 2015, the Center for Medical Progress began releasing a series of videos that showed national-level executives of Planned Parenthood admitting that the abortion provider sells intact fetal body parts. The videos shocked the conscience of many Americans—and many more were shocked to learn the practice is legal under current federal law.

While no one from Planned Parenthood was ever charged with a crime, a jury recently handed down a multimillion-dollar verdict against David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress. Planned Parenthood had sued Daleiden for fraud, invasion of privacy, and trespassing.

“This lawsuit is payback for David Daleiden exposing Planned Parenthood’s dirty business of buying and selling fetal parts and organs,” said Peter Breen, lead defense attorney of the Thomas More Society in Chicago. “Rather than face up to its heinous doings, Planned Parenthood chose to persecute the person who exposed it.”

4. Taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood

Throughout the first half of the decade, Planned Parenthood received over a half billion dollars in government funding each year—an average of $60,319 every hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Republican lawmakers made various attempts to prohibit taxpayer funding of abortion, but their efforts were blocked by Democrats. Funding disagreements between Republican legislators and the White House even threatened to lead to a government shutdown in 2011, and President Obama repeatedly threatened to veto bills aimed at defunding Planned Parenthood.

Several states also attempted to defund the abortion provider. In 2011, Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN) signed a law to prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving any Medicaid funding from the state of Indiana. Soon after, lawmakers in Arizona, North Carolina, Kansas, Tennessee, and Texas also attempted to exclude funding of the abortion provider from their states’ pools of public insurance providers.

In response, the federal courts have blocked all of those efforts, ruling that states cannot deny women access to providers who meet the federal requirements to qualify for Medicaid. (Planned Parenthood is classified as a “qualified medical provider” and is thus eligible for Medicaid reimbursement.)

In 2019, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a new final rule to reinstate Title X regulations that separate taxpayer dollars from funding abortion. The new rule shifts funding from abortion providers—such as Planned Parenthood—and steers some of it toward faith-based care providers.

5. Democratic party codifies support for unlimited abortion

In 2016, the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee released the 2016 platform which called for increased access to abortion, including federal taxpayer funding and opposing efforts to defund Planned Parenthood. The Democratic National Committee said that the proposal “goes further than previous Democratic platforms on women’s reproductive rights.”

The new wording of the Democratic platform states:

Democrats are committed to protecting and advancing reproductive health, rights, and justice. We believe unequivocally that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured. We believe that reproductive health is core to women’s, men’s, and young people’s health and wellbeing. We will continue to stand up to Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood health centers, which provide critical health services to millions of people. We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment. We need to defend the ACA, which extends affordable preventive health care to women, including no-cost contraception, and prohibits discrimination in health care based on gender.

A significant new change is an expressed determination to overturn the Hyde Amendment, a legislative addendum that in various forms has been routinely attached to annual appropriations bills since 1976. The Hyde Amendment prohibits any federal funds from being used to directly pay for abortions.

6. The HHS Contraceptive-Abortifacient Mandate

To fulfill the requirements of the Affordable Healthcare Act (aka ObamaCare), the federal government passed a regulation (often called the “HHS Mandate”) that attempted to force groups into providing insurance coverage for contraceptives, sterilization, and abortifacients.

Some religious groups, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor and Wheaton College, objected on the grounds that the requirement violates their religious liberty as protected by the First Amendment and the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). HHS offered an accommodation that the Little Sisters found to be insufficient.

In 2016, the Supreme Court avoided issuing a major ruling today in a combined religious liberty case, Zubik v. Burwell. In a unanimous decision, the justices wrote that the Court “expresses no view on the merits of the cases” but were instead sending the case back down to the lower courts for opposing parties to work out a compromise.

The Trump administration attempted to expand the exemption for the contraceptive mandate, but those are now been blocked throughout the U.S. by the federal courts.

7. State level restrictions on abortion

Throughout the decade, individual states passed laws to increase restrictions on abortion.

Some states attempted to limit abortion to the first trimester, such as Missouri’s ban on abortion after eight weeks, but all such efforts were rebuffed by the courts. More than a dozen states also attempted to implement “fetal heartbeat” legislation, which bans abortions within a state after the point where the heartbeat can be detected.

Several states also prepared for the day when Roe v. Wade is overturned and the issue will once again be decided at the state level. For example, earlier this year Tennessee signed a “trigger law” that would criminalize abortion after Roe while New York passed a law to remove any restrictions on abortion.