How Involved Should the Government Be in


College Women Aren’t Sure.


There’s some cognitive dissonance when it comes to making ideals about reproductive rights a reality.

About half of the college women who took our survey supported some sort of restriction on abortion—a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, for example, or a ban except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother. However, these women seemed unsure how to put these restrictions in place. They didn’t want the government to be involved, but they also didn’t think abortions should be available to anyone, at any time, for any reason.

We followed up with these women to ask them three questions:

  • Who should enforce restrictions on abortion, if not the government?

  • If a woman has an abortion that should have been banned under the restrictions, who should be punished, and what is an appropriate punishment?

  • How did you come to your views on abortion?

Most of the women interviewed believe that medical professionals should be the people making decisions on any abortion restrictions:

I think that there should be some sort of overarching enforcement within the healthcare system. Now, I understand that there are associations with religion within many healthcare systems, however, I think in this era, especially with the refugee crisis in the Middle East, we need, even the religious, to redefine what the term ‘life’ to us means, which is why I think 20 weeks is a proper enforcement.
— Freshman, St. Louis University
The hospitals or Planned Parenthood, wherever the person is getting the abortion will be able to tell how far along they are and know not to provide the abortion.
— Senior, Montana State University Billings
I do not think that the government should have a say in whether a woman can get an abortion or not. But I do think that a woman should really think about getting an abortion after 20 weeks. I feel like she would know if she wanted to keep the baby or not before that point in her pregnancy. In extreme situations where things in her personal life change and she is not able or no longer feels comfortable having a baby, she should still be able to do what she wants with her life and her body. But I do think that in most cases she would probably know before 20 weeks if she wanted to have a child or not. I still don’t think the government should have a say no matter how far along her pregnancy is, I just feel like there would be personal or moral restrictions after one has already been pregnant for 20 weeks.
— Kim, Sophomore, University of Utah
The clinics that offer this procedure should determine these restrictions and abide to them. Also, the gynecologists should recommend whether it’s a good choice or not. They should not be restricted by their gynecologist though because they are not the end all, do all. But now that I think about it, I don’t think there should be any restrictions unless it’s in the third trimester, where it’s unsafe for the baby and the woman. The clinic should face the consequences.
— Brittney, Senior, University of Hartford
I believe that healthcare clinics and individuals should draw the line at when an abortion can occur. This would still allow for mothers who are pregnant and their lives have been compromised from the pregnancy to make the decision to end the pregnancy at a later date. Having the government come in and make regulations might leave out these medically relevant issues which might require an abortion late in term. Healthcare individuals are better equipped to evaluate a situation in which the woman wants an abortion. I also fear that women who miscarry after 20 weeks could be charged for illegal abortion if the government were to set restrictions.
— First year student, A.T. Still University
The people in the government have no academic preparation whatsoever in Psychology, Sociology or Medicine. Thus, by not being medical professionals they have no right to rule over a woman’s desire to abort or not. Only a medic should examine a woman and how far along she is so that she can decide for herself. The doctor should also be neutral.
— Gabrielle, Sophomore, University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez
The government should not have any say in restrictions on abortion. So, when I say that there should be restrictions on abortion, as in not allowing them after a woman has reached the 20th week of pregnancy, I mean that it should be taught in medical school as a standard practice. These are restrictions that should be regulated through people who know what they are talking about (doctors, practitioners, etc).
— Junior, University of South Florida St. Petersburg
These restrictions should be enforced by the medical community. Abortions should not necessarily be banned after one specific date, but healthcare professionals should be allowed to refuse abortions to situations when they feel performing the procedure would be unsafe. So, while the government should not be able to enforce restrictions, there should be medical regulations to ensure safe abortions.
— Grace, Freshman, Southern Methodist University
I think medical staff should advise the patients on the risks and damages that can be done for an abortion after 20 weeks. Ultimately, though, I feel it should be the woman’s choice. I feel most women would not wait to be as far along as knowing the sex of the child until deciding to abort, but again, it is their body, their choice.
— Angela, Junior, Syracuse
I think doctors understand and care about your health a lot more than the government. An abortion is a big decision that should be made between a woman and her doctor, the only two people who can truly understand the implications this decision has on your life. I personally disagree with abortions, I think they’re wrong. However, I respect the rights a woman has to decide what happens to her body, given that she has consulted a health professional and it is an educated decision.
— Samantha, Junior, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Some college women who supported restrictions still didn’t support any punishment for abortions that violated those restrictions. But those who did have a consequence in mind gave interesting answers. One common idea was a fine of some sort.

It should be both the woman for knowingly violating the law and for the person who helped the abortion, therefore violating the law. [The punishment should be] Jail time, but is a topic to be discussed.
— Senior, Montana State University Billings
I think that, for example, if a woman had had an abortion after 20 weeks, she should be able to plead her case, but not be charged with murder, but create a whole separate process for abortion violations (not sure if that has or hasn’t already existed). In addition, I would hope that the healthcare and/or government system would have a system in line to be sure that the woman is healthy after obtaining an illegal abortion, with or without a punishment. I believe an appropriate punishment for violating an abortion restriction is something similar to being on house arrest. I would like to believe that nine times out of 10 a woman who violates an abortion restriction does not have cruel intentions, sometimes like those in the system do. And the system can be pretty cruel to people; I read the book Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson this past summer, and the system can do truly awful things to the innocent who are sentenced, especially those that are younger, which may be the case in abortion restriction violations.
— Freshman, St. Louis University
I believe that women who chose to abort their child after a certain period of time should have some kind of repercussion. After the time that a child can be born and have a chance of survival outside the womb is too late to have an abortion. I do not think I can come up with an appropriate punishment as each situation is different.
— First year student, A.T. Still University
It all depends on the ‘why’ the woman aborted. However if the cause is not necessarily life or death, perhaps there should be a monetary fee. Not so high because after all, it is her body and her choice...It’s her choice and her body! Nothing else should matter here!
— Gabrielle, Sophomore, University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez
Since I consider these restrictions specific to the doctors who carry out abortion operations, I would say that the doctor who performs the operation should be held accountable. But this question doesn’t quite fit because it assumes that abortion after 20 weeks would be a law, but I say that these restrictions should be up to doctors, not the government. In other words, I consider the restrictions to be prohibited, but not illegal. [The punishment should be] Probation/Suspension: The doctor should be suspended for a period of time. The suspension period should increase in length the further along the woman was in her pregnancy when she had her abortion.
— Junior, University of South Florida St. Petersburg
If a law regarding abortion restrictions is violated, the woman that received the abortion as well as the doctor that performed it should be punished. Both of them, especially the doctor, would have been aware of the law before the operation and knew they were breaking it and therefore should face the consequences. Just like when a doctor does any other illegal operation or malpractice, he or she should have their license revoked/suspended or have to pay a fine. It seems extreme to me to make a woman serve jail time for violating a restriction on abortion; so, making the woman pay a fine along with the doctor seems reasonable.
— Junior, Concordia University Chicago

As you can see, there’s a lot of agreement on two points—that doctors should be more involved than the government in helping women make reproductive decisions, and that punishment for abortion should generally avoid harsh consequences like prison time. But restricting abortion is tough. While most people have a general idea of when abortions are right and wrong, it’s hard to translate that into policy ideas that make sense.