Jan. 22, 2022 marked the 49-year anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that is known for legalizing abortion based on a trimester system. Prior to this decision being made, a Texas law made abortion illegal except when done to save a person with a uterus’ life.
This year, arguably more so than in the past, Roe v. Wade is in danger of being overturned, which would be a major setback in terms of both human rights and reproductive health care rights. Abortion is a major part of reproductive health care and overturning Roe v. Wade means leaving this aspect of reproductive health care up to individual states.
Overturning Roe v. Wade without any plans to support families raising children, such as making contraception more accessible, improving adoption and foster care systems and improving paid family leave — all of which would help reduce the number of abortions as they provide support for those who can become pregnant — is not emphasizing a “right to life;” rather, it is a measure used to control the lives and bodies of those with uteruses.
If people are so interested in reducing the number of abortions that occur, they should focus on the best ways to support families and those who have uteruses. However, many of the people who argue that there are alternative options, such as adoption and the foster care system, are the same people who are not interested in improving those systems. Making abortion inaccessible and illegal for many across the nation is taking away health care and bodily autonomy from those with uteruses.
The court case that could potentially weaken or overturn Roe v. Wade, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, involves a clinic in Mississippi that offers abortions. The clinic is currently challenging a Mississippi state law that bans abortions after 15 weeks’ gestation — approximately nine weeks before a fetus is viable. If the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of the Mississippi law, it has the potential to overturn Roe v. Wade as it reverses the precedent stating the right to an abortion cannot be interfered upon by state laws.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, it will not make abortion illegal everywhere; however, it will severely limit access to abortions depending on laws in individual states and will be especially felt by lower-income communities. A study published last month highlighted this fact as it found that those who often receive abortions after 12 weeks’ gestation tended to be people who lived in communities with a moderate or higher level of economic deprivation as well as those who had limited geographical access to reproductive health services. Limiting access to abortions will not improve reproductive health care; instead, it will further divide socioeconomic classes and will force those in lower-income communities to find alternatives, regardless of how unsafe these alternatives may be.
Many argue that making abortions illegal will not stop abortions, but instead will stop safe abortions. And this is absolutely true. Unsafe abortions are abortions performed by someone who is not qualified or when an abortion is performed in a location that does not adhere to minimum medical standards. Having an unsafe abortion could potentially cause a uterine perforation, infection, heavy bleeding, damage to the genital tract or an incomplete abortion which can lead to sepsis and death. The consequences of limiting access to abortions are clearly horrifying and alarming; however, the reality is that if Roe v. Wade is severely limited or overturned, many people with uteruses may have no choice but to take these risks.
Already in many states, including Mississippi, it is difficult for people to get an abortion. According to Michelle Colon, the executive director of SHERO Mississippi, a group that focuses on the reproductive rights of Black and Brown people, it is especially difficult for those with a lower socioeconomic status to get an abortion, especially because Mississippi only has one clinic that provides abortions. When abortion clinics are this difficult to access, there is an unfair advantage for those who have their own transportation and can afford to take time to travel far enough to get the care they need. This once again shows how having the already insufficient current system under Roe V. Wade overturned will severely impact those in lower-income communities.
Access to abortion should be a part of reproductive health care and this should not change. Although certain states, such as New Jersey, are passing laws to ensure that the right to an abortion is protected statewide, much more must be done to enforce nationwide access to abortion. If Roe v. Wade is indeed overturned or limited in the next year, it will be devastating especially to those in lower-income communities in states without statewide abortion protections. Abortion must be recognized as an integral part of reproductive health.