Abortion was a polarizing issue a century ago during the progressive era, and it remains so. In fact, you may have a firm perspective on whether abortion should be legal always, in certain circumstances, or never.
Modern perspectives on abortion have been influenced by the pivotal Roe v. Wade case. In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court deemed a state’s banning of abortions unconstitutional. How did that case affect the nation and social work practice? How has it continued to inform public and private discussions about women’s rights?
For this Discussion, you examine the Roe v. Wade case and its effects.


Explain how the landmark ruling of Roe v. Wade affected women’s right to an abortion.
Reflect on the benefits and challenges for women talking about abortion.

 Name at least one benefit and one challenge.

Explain how you would support a client whose perspective on abortion differs from yours.



Stern, M.J., & Axinn, J. (2018). Social Welfare: A History of American Response to Need (9th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education. 

Chapter 5, “Progress and Reform: 1900-1930” (pp. 115-147)

Ely, G. E., & Dulmus, C. N. (2010). Abortion policy and vulnerable women in the United States: A call for social work policy practice Links to an external site.. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 20(5), 658–671.
Garrow, D. J. (2014). How Roe v. Wade was written Links to an external site.. Washington & Lee Law Review, 71(2), 893–924.
Smith, A. (2005). Beyond pro-choice versus pro-life: Women of color and reproductive justice Links to an external site.. NWSA Journal, 17(1), 119–140.
Exhale Links to an external site.. (n.d.). Retrieved December 21, 2016, from https://exhaleprovoice.org

 Baker, A. (2015, May). Aspen Baker: A better way to talk about abortion Links to an external site.[Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/aspen_baker_a_better_way_to_talk_about_abortion#t-646750 

 Gates, M. (2012, April). Melinda Gates: Let’s put birth control back on the agenda Links to an external site.[Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/melinda_gates_let_s_put_birth_control_back_on_the_agendaReproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without
permission.Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 20:658–671, 2010

Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

ISSN: 1091-1359 print/1540-3556 online

DOI: 10.1080/10911351003749177

Abortion Policy and Vulnerable Women
in the United States:

A Call for Social Work Policy Practice

College of Social Work, University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky

School of Social Work, Buffalo Center for Social Research, University at Buffalo,

Buffalo, New York

Repressive abortion policy in the United States creates undue

burdens for groups of vulnerable women, including adolescents,

women of color, women living in rural areas, and women with

economic disadvantages. Repressive abortion policy creates a two-

tiered system of access to reproductive health care that is a par-

ticular disadvantage to vulnerable women. In this study, current

policy is discussed with examples of such policies outlined in three

areas: insurance coverage and Medicaid restrictions, mandatory

waiting periods, and mandated state counseling. Social workers’

role in policy practice is emphasized in regard to advocacy and

abortion policy.

KEYWORDS Abortion policy, abortion access, vulnerable women,

undue burdens, forced pregnancy, policy practice

Lack of access to abortion is arguably the most important barrier to economic
and social equality for women in the United States (U.S.). Legal access to
abortion ensures that women will not be forced to continue pregnancies
against their will, which is necessary if women are to enjoy a level of
human rights equal to those afforded to men. Elective abortion in the U.S.
was decriminalized in 1973 in the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v.

Wade and, in 1992, the Planned Parenthood v. Casey court case upheld the

Address correspondence to Gretchen E. Ely, College of Social Work, University of
Kentucky, 639 Patterson Office Tower, Lexington, KY 40506, USA. E-mail: [email protected]



Abortion Policy 659

right to abortion while also allowing individual states to enact restrictions
as long as they did not create an ‘‘undue burden’’ to the women seek-
ing the service (Harper, Henderson, & Darney, 2005). Despite the court’s
ruling that states could not create ‘‘undue burdens’’ for women seeking
abortions, current public policy efforts consistently seek to restrict access
to abortion in ways that do create undue burdens to women, especially
vulnerable groups of women. Thus, much of the current abortion policy
in the U.S. essentially violates the law yet is overlooked owing to a moral
agenda present in many lawmakers. Examples of such policies include the
imposition of parental notification laws, mandatory waiting periods, and
mandatory state-scripted counseling (Kaplan, 1998). These abortion policies
reflect a punitive ideology and a moral perspective rather than evidence-
based science (Fried, 2006). Though laws that impede access to safe, legal
abortion reflect a moral preference that is

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