May 5, 2022
Today, there is still a constitutional right to abortion, but just days ago, Politico reported on the leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case. If the Court finalizes the Dobbs decision in its current form as they are expected to do in June or July, Dobbs will overturn the 49-year old landmark decision in Roe v. Wade (410 U.S. 1973) and restore control to state legislatures to regulate people’s access to abortion care. In the short term, the Guttmacher Institute predicts that 26 states are certain to or will likely ban abortion. The Cut reports that “according to one estimate, 41 percent of women of childbearing age, mostly across the South and Midwest, would lose access to their nearest clinic, potentially increasing their average travel time by hundreds of miles.” People of color will be disproportionately affected. In other words, Dobbs will take us half a century back in time.
Policies supporting families and children in most states are also not so far from where they were 50 years ago. Despite a mountain of evidence about the benefits of economic and health investments in pro-family policies like paid family and medical leave, high-quality child care and income supports for poor and middle-income families with children, conservative lawmakers have repeatedly blocked investments in family-friendly policies; working parents and children in most states do not have access and key provisions in Congress are stalled or dead without a prayer of the level of bipartisan support sufficient to pass new laws and programs. That means that when Roe falls and state legislatures in places like Texas, Missouri, Mississippi, Florida and more than 20 others seek to regulate women’s access to reproductive health care and abortion services, pregnant people will lose their right to determine whether bringing a child into the world is the right path for them and will not gain the support or services they need to manage work and care.
The leak of the draft opinion and its timing were shocking, but the conclusion was not. Conservative lawmakers have sought for years to undermine Roe by passing restrictive laws, including regulating the types of health facilities that can provide abortion care, imposing waiting periods on people seeking abortions, and much more. They have also pushed for the confirmation of conservative judges at the state and federal levels.
Supreme Court watchers have been projecting for months that Dobbs would be the end of Roe, and ultimately the end to the constitutionally-protected right to seek abortion care through a portion of an individual’s pregnancy without undue government interference. Roe’s holding is grounded in the right to privacy — privacy rights that also underpin the right to contraception, to engage in intimate activities free from criminal prosecution, to marry someone of a different race or same sex, and much more. Dobbs as currently drafted explicitly overturns Roe as to the right to secure an abortion and calls into question the future of other privacy rights.
The racist, sexist, and classist effects of this decision will curtail the autonomy, dignity, and freedom of millions of people and the security, stability, and opportunities of their children.
The reasoning of the case is just as offensive as its conclusion; and its implications are frightening. The decision relies on dogmatic, originalist history, most especially state laws criminalizing abortion in the mid-1800s prior to the adoption of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment, to justify its position that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overturned.
Let’s be clear: The laws of the 1800s were adopted by propertied, white men who were elected to state legislatures by other propertied white men. If the Dobbs decision is finalized in its current form, their 19th century judgment will jeopardize the fortunes and freedoms of current and future people with uteruses in America and leave them subject to the decisions of current state legislators, many of whom are also not representative of the people they serve. Dobbs will return us to the have/have-not system of the pre-Roe era, wherein poor people and people of color will face significant hardships in securing reproductive health care or be forced to bear children they do not want, while women of means will be able to travel to seek the abortion care they need. The racist, sexist, and classist effects of this decision will curtail the autonomy, dignity, and freedom of millions of people and the security, stability, and opportunities of their children.
Fortunately, there have been some improvements since the pre-Roe era that will be important now and moving forward. Self-administered medication abortion is available as long as a person needing to terminate a pregnancy can access it; hopefully this means that fewer people will need to seek care under unsafe conditions as they once did. Abortion funds have been set up to help people in need of care manage expenses and secure care; social media, private messaging, and other electronic communications channels make it easier for people to find the help they need. The abortion access and reproductive rights and justice movements are more inclusive of people across race, class, sexual orientation, and gender such that the needs of poor people and people of color can be prioritized. The word “abortion” itself is easier and less stigmatizing to say. And the progressive movement across identities and communities of interest is more apt to lock arms to protect women’s rights and dignity, because — if the Trump years taught us anything — every community is vulnerable to attack.
The question now is what happens next? Will states that outlaw abortion out of a professed concern for the sanctity of life and the well-being of children actually enact the popular and long-overdue paid leave and child care policies? Will they invest in education? Will they regulate guns so that children and people are safer from gun violence just as they have regulated the rights of “the unborn”? History would say “no” to all of the above, because the same lawmakers that seek to regulate pregnant people’s access to care generally oppose regulations in other realms. President Biden has pledged to sign a federal law codifying Roe — which the House has already passed — but there’s no practical chance that this Senate will pass it, absent an exception to or the elimination of the Senate filibuster.
So we must interrupt the cycle. As we grapple with the potential of a post-Roe landscape, it’s essential to help support women and health care providers. It’s essential to vote in local, state, and federal elections and to make it clear that politicians and — where they are elected — judges, must be accountable to advance gender equity in every way, including reaffirming Roe. And it’s essential to call out hypocrisy, sexism, racism, and classism where we see it. Prior to the leaked decision, most people erroneously believed Roe would not fall. But now the future is here, and what lies ahead is ours to make.
There are mobilizations planned on Saturday, May 14, in several cities (more at bansoff.org), and here are some ways we can make the future more equitable:
Support People Needing Abortions and Abortion Providers
- Donate to Abortion Funds: A donation to the National Network of Abortion Funds brings abortion funds closer to a future where all people have access to abortion without shame or stigma.
- Keep Our Clinics: Support independent community providers who provide the majority of abortion care in the United States.
- Adopt-a-Clinic: Resources and tools to take action on abortion access as well as an "Adopt-a-Clinic" program.
Get Help if You Need an Abortion
- M+A Hotline: Confidential, private, and secure call and text hotline for people in need of support for self-managed miscarriage or abortion.
- If/When/How Repro Legal Helpline: Free, confidential source for legal advice and information on self-managed abortion.
- INeedAnA.com: Find a clinic and find vetted, up to date, and personalized info on how to get an abortion; no search or user data saved.
- Support/Share Practical Support Organizations (PSO's): PSO's help abortion seekers with travel and logistical support.
To Keep Informed and Take Action
- All Above All*: Read this action plan for reproductive justice.
- Liberate Abortion: Sign up for advocacy opportunities.
- Planned Parenthood: Receive policy and advocacy updates and mobilization opportunities.
- Vote.org: Check your voter registration, find your polling place, and/or track your ballot.
You May Also Like
Anti-Abortion Activists Take Their Fight to Small-Town East Texas (The Weekly, 2019): Joaquin, a small town nestled in the Bible Belt of East Texas, passed sweeping ordinance to declare itself a “sanctuary city for the unborn.” The town’s lone drug store doesn’t sell emergency contraception and the nearest abortion clinic is 50 miles away and across state lines.
Texas Passes Bill Banning Cities from Partnering With Planned Parenthood on Any Services (The Weekly, 2019): One of this session’s biggest anti-abortion bills would ban state and local governments from partnering with agencies that perform abortions — even for services not related to abortions.
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