It was in disbelief that I read of the leaked United States Supreme Court draft opinion to overturn Roe. V. Wade, thereby removing federal constitutional protections of abortion rights.
I, along with millions of other Americans, cried and pounded my fists in frustration at the injustice of rendering women utterly powerless over their bodies, minds, hearts and futures.
Politicians immediately responded to the news. President Joe Biden said that the basic fairness and the stability of our law demand that the U.S. Supreme Court not overturn the 1973 case that legalized abortion nationwide. In its ruling, the court recognized for the first time that the constitutional right to privacy “is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” Biden also said he would work to codify the right to abortion into federal law.
In Washington state, Governor Jay Inslee, U.S. Senator Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen all released statements in support of women’s right to choose. Larsen called on the Senate to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act to prohibit restrictions on access to safe, affordable reproductive health care.
If the landmark ruling is reversed, it means individual states would decide the legality of abortions. The Center for Reproductive Rights has forecasted the following 25 states would be likely to ban abortion: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Those seeking abortions will be forced to get them in ways like traveling to a different state, ordering pills online or finding illegal, and likely dangerous, providers. In 1965, it was so unsafe that 17 percent of all deaths due to pregnancy and childbirth were the result of illegal abortion.
This past September, Texas banned abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected, which is around six weeks. According to the New York Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/05/03/upshot/abortion-united-states-roe-wade.html), “Abortions at Texas clinics fell by half. But many women were able to obtain abortions in neighboring states or by ordering pills, resulting in an overall decline of only around 10 percent. Without Roe, abortion would probably decline more because women would have to travel farther to reach a state where it was legal. Many women who get abortions are poor, and long travel distances can be insurmountable. The states likely to ban abortion are concentrated in the South, Midwest and Great Plains. Because of the expected increase in interstate travel, remaining clinics would most likely have less capacity to treat the women who were able to reach them.”
Studies indicate around one in four U.S. women will obtain an abortion in their lifetime. While this includes women of all backgrounds, statistics show that they are more likely to be unmarried; to be in their 20s; to have low incomes; to already have a child; to be Black and to live in a Democratic-leaning state.
In 1992, in a 5-to-4 decision, the court reaffirmed Roe in the case “Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey.” At the time, the court noted, “the ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.”
Murray, who is also Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, gave an impassioned speech on May 3 on the Capitol steps, saying, “We will not be still. We will not be silent. We will not back down.”
“In a matter of days or weeks, the horrifying reality is that we could live in a country without Roe. A country where women are forced to remain pregnant no matter their personal circumstances — and yes, we’re also talking about situations like rape or incest,” Murray said. “A country where extreme politicians will control patients’ most private decisions. And let’s be clear — abortion bans won’t actually end abortions, they will just make them unsafe, and they will hurt the women with the least resources and the tightest budgets. I remember life before Roe. I knew people who didn’t have somewhere to turn for a safe abortion. Who weren’t wealthy — so even if they could find one, they might not be able to afford it. People who got unsafe procedures that left them at a very young age, unable to give birth. I know how big of a difference it has made in the lives of so many women across our country, which is why I am furious at the idea that Republicans are going to take us backward—that this will be the first generation of women with fewer rights than their mothers.”
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, we’d be among a very small group of countries that has recently tightened abortion laws instead of relaxing them. I feel hopeful that our elected officials who are publicly decrying this major step backward will continue championing the cause. And it’s up to us, as voters, to elect pro-choice officials this November.
As U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the Seattle Times, the impact of the situation extends far beyond a woman’s right to choose. It could set a precedent that threatens other constitutional rights like marriage equality. This is a human rights issue. The government should not be permitted to interfere with our personal liberties.