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An Abortion Rights Advocate Explains Why The Fight for ‘Roe’ Has Just Begun

"Roe is essential, and it has not been enough. It is not enough."

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Shaina Goodman has been the director for reproductive health and rights at the National Partnership for Women & Families for the past three years. It’s no easy time to take the job. To put it lightly, she’s been busy. There are some 7 million people in the U.S. who have children without support,2.2 million people in the United States who live in counties with zero access to care during their pregnancy, and if Roe is overturned, people in the state of Texas will likely continue to have to travel some 500 miles, on average, just to get an abortion. (Or rely on getting abortion pills before their 10th week of pregnancy.)

Those who cannot travel will not be able to, and the outcomes of their lives will be profoundly changed by their inability to access a basic right — to choose how to live their lives in dignity. The socioeconomic, and mental health, consequences for those who cannot get the abortions they want — historically people who are already parents — will be dire. And today, the Supreme Court will weigh in on the lives that many Americans — not just Texans, as some 26 states are likely to pass their own abortion bans if the Supreme Court protects the abortion law — will live.

Their prospects have only grown more dire, now that the Supreme Court has allowed SB 8, the now-infamous Texas abortion ban that ends the practice at six weeks and deputizes citizens to sue people they believe helped others get abortions to take place since September 1st. And with that, Goodman’s job has become a fight to keep Roe alive — and make sure that there’s so much more than Roe regardless.

At 9:30 a.m., today, November 1st, 2021, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear oral arguments about SB 8 for two hours, starting at 10 a.m. Last week, the Court agreed to hear arguments on the constitutionality of SB 8 on a fast-track basis — meaning that today, the future of Roe could be litigated in the highest court in the land. It’s a hard time to fight for basic rights. But the fight is far from over. 

Goodman refers to Roe as “the floor.” It is, per the mind of her and many other activists, experts, and policymakers, the bare minimum protection people who need abortions can get. To Goodman, the only way to move is forward, by passing federal laws that enshrine the right to abortion, by fighting to ensure those whose access to abortion has been cut off can still figure out how to get them. The alternative is to force hundreds of thousands of people alongside the many millions of people who cannot access abortion already, who cannot access meaningful pregnancy care when they are pregnant, whether or not they want to be, to live a life they did not want to lead.

Surprisingly, Goodman is somewhat hopeful about the future of reproductive rights in the United States, even as she acknowledges the fight is far from over. And her hope lies with the activists in reproductive rights who have been pushing for equality for decades.

Shaina Goodman spoke to Fatherly about SB 8 and the fight for abortion rights going forward — and how the fight is far from over. 

What are your immediate thoughts or takeaways about SB8, from a legal and policy perspective, and what it means for the fate of Roe v. Wade?

Access is a real problem for the millions of women and people that need abortion care that live in Texas. The procedural legal questions, and all of the technical legal stuff that’s happening with this case, are beside the point. People need abortion access and they’re not getting it right now. And that’s a huge problem.

A couple of months ago I spoke to a historian of the anti-abortion movement and she had said something along the lines of, “Yeah, Roe’s going to be overturned in the next two years.” Then she had said, “But I’m not sure what’s going to happen if the movement turns to punish women, because the way that the anti-choice movement often works is [the rhetoric anti-choice activists use is that they are saving women from abortion.” And then I remember seeing this SB 8 law and being like, oh, it doesn’t [directly] punish people who are getting the abortion. It directly punishes every other person.

Right, exactly.

The anti-abortion movement has been somewhat savvy in that way. They know that [punishing women legally] is probably a bridge too far. From their perspective, I think they’ve been savvy enough to understand that actually punishing the people seeking abortion care would not be quite so tolerable. So yeah, but you’re right. The Texas law, especially, and with its bounty hunting scheme, goes after literally everybody else.

Do you see other states starting to craft their own legislation that looks like SB 8?

Florida has already publicly said that they’re interested in pursuing similar legislation. And I think a number of other states have already started the process, or have plans to do something similar. 

That’s consistent with what we’ve seen before — one state pushes forward something and tests the boundaries of what’s possible, and then other states replicate it. 

Mississippi passed a law banning abortion care after 15 weeks. That law is actually currently not in effect because of the pending litigation. The Supreme Court agreed a number of months ago to hear that case. Oral arguments will happen sometime in the late fall, and we anticipate a decision by summer 2022 at the latest. Advocates all that as the inflection moment, where the court would rule on Roe one way or another. So this Texas case has just, again, accelerated that process and brought what we thought was going to be nine months from now, happening right now.

I can’t read the tea leaves, and I don’t want to give up the fight on Roe because it is so important. But I think if you actually care about protecting a fundamental constitutional right, you don’t treat it with this much disregard and allow a law that is so blatantly unconstitutional under Roe to go into effect. The damage is already done.

That’s what I was going to ask you — if you would describe Roe as effectively over?

For Texas, absolutely. And it’s important to understand the broader context. Roe is vitally important and having the Supreme Court say that the constitution recognizes our right to abortion is very important. 

But a legal right without meaningful access doesn’t really mean very much. Even prior to this Texas case, for millions of people, practically speaking, Roe didn’t have much meaning in their lives because abortion care has already been made so inaccessible by numerous laws and policies. 

Roe is essential, and it has not been enough. It is not enough. It won’t be enough going forward. It’s the floor, it’s not the ceiling. So many people did not have meaningful access to the promise of Roe [already].

Given that focus on access to abortion care — how has your work, and the work of the National Partnership shifted in Texas and nationally since early September? Or has it at all?

Yeah, I think it has, in some ways that actually make me feel hopeful, despite how devastating the consequences of what’s happening in Texas are for people.

I think, given how obviously unconstitutional and egregious the Texas situation is, it’s really lit a fire under people in a way that is galvanizing and mobilizing. And I think we’re seeing people really trying to think creatively about what some solutions are that would make access more meaningful in people’s lives. And it is unfortunate that it has taken something as extreme as Texas to get us all there, but let’s take advantage of the moment [and] build the policy solutions and infrastructure that’s really necessary, to make sure that people have meaningful access.

Think about the action the federal government has taken in the last couple of weeks since Biden asked for a whole of government response [to SB 8]. They’re mobilizing in response to what’s happening in Texas. That creative thinking, and problem-solving, [and wondering] what levers we have at our disposal now that we can put into effect, be it at federal or state or local levels, is really critical. Part of that is then building longer-term infrastructure that we really do need to make sure that people have access.

When Elizabeth Warren was running for president, she had called for a federal abortion law that would enshrine the right to abortion legally. Could that be a viable path forward to help enshrine the right to abortion?

There are actually two pieces of federal legislation that are pending with Congress right now that are really essential to shoring up, again, meaningful access to abortion care. 

The House is voting on The Women’s Health Protection Act — a really essential piece of legislation that would stop some of these really egregious bans that we’ve seen, again, over the last couple of decades. [Editor’s note: this interview was held on Monday, September 21st, days before the House passed the Women’s Health Protection Act. It is not expected to pass the Senate or become law.] 

That law is really critical to shoring up federal protections for abortion access. And then the other really critical piece of federal legislation is called the EACH Act, which would permanently repeal the Hyde Amendment [Editor’s Note: The Hyde Amendment is the piece of federal law that doesn’t allow any federal funding of abortion services.] and other similar restrictions on the use of federal funds to provide abortion care. 

One of the things that we talk about a lot in terms of Roe being the floor and not the ceiling, is that that’s especially true for low-income folks, and people of color who are disproportionately low-income and get their health insurance through Medicaid. [Editor’s Note: The Hyde Amendment blocks people on Medicaid from having their abortions covered by insurance.] The Hyde amendment, since the seventies, has been a practical barrier for people because abortion care is — 

Expensive.

It’s not astronomically expensive. But if you’re low-income, that financial cost can be an insurmountable barrier. And so the limitation from the Hyde amendment is hugely problematic for people. The EACH act would address that and would be a really critical step forward.

So federal law — both the WHPA and Each Act — is the best path forward to enshrining legal access to abortion? 

Thinking realistically about what the political landscape looks like at the federal level, I don’t think we can count on any [single] solution. We should look at every lever that we possibly can. This is really important to people’s lives. Let’s make sure that our policies at all levels reflect that.

That holistic approach is really a reproductive justice framework. All credit to the reproductive justice organizations and leaders in this movement who are women of color, who have really led the charge in shifting the framework and the narrative toward that comprehensive understanding, that abortion is of a piece with all of these other important pieces of someone’s life. So I just want to be very clear that that comes straight from the reproductive justice movement and we owe a lot. As a white woman, I am not of the reproductive justice movement, but I believe deeply in those values and that framework. And that’s really a credit to those women of color leaders that have led that charge.

Earlier, you said that the passage of SB8 has caused in many ways a lot of damage already since SB8 has taken effect 19 days ago. Right now, if you have a sense of what’s happening on the ground in Texas, what are the real-life implications of this taking place for families and kids and people who can get pregnant?

From what we’re hearing, people are just not getting abortion care. [Editor’s Note: the Dallas Morning News noted that abortions have fallen by half in the state of Texas.] Stories are coming out of people who think that they might be able to get an abortion, and they show up and the provider determines that they’re now past the limit under the Texas law. And they’re not able to get the care that they need. And some of those people are able to travel out of state, but many of them aren’t. And what we know from the data is that people who want abortion care and are not able to access it, that results in negative health costs or health outcomes, negative economic impacts.

Those people are less likely to be able to complete the education that they want. They have less workforce attachment. They’re more likely to fall into poverty. There’s a negative impact on the financial security, and even socio-emotional development of their existing children, because so many people who seek abortion care already have kids. 

Those pregnancies tend to be less healthy, and those people tend to have worse postpartum health outcomes and have other negative health impacts, like higher rates of anxiety. So, just from the macro level, in terms of the data that we have, we know that there are really serious costs to people being denied abortion care. We know what’s coming and we know that it’s not good for all of these people.

It’s hard to reckon with the fact it’s not just the right to an abortion, but also affordable childcare and paid leave, and fair wages. The thrust seems to be that working parents are on their own to deal with these problems and the government will let solutions go away.

Exactly. The same states that have the most restrictive abortion laws are the same places that don’t have paid family and medical leave or paid sick days, that didn’t expand Medicaid, that don’t have affordable childcare. And people don’t live their lives in silos. 

So it really is about the totality of these people’s experiences. It’s about abortion care, but it’s also exactly as you pointed out — it’s about, do they have a stable job where they’re making minimum wage, let alone a livable wage? Do they have access to good health insurance for themselves and their families? Do they have the support that they need to live healthy, full lives in all of those dimensions? Do they have safe communities and safe housing?

And it’s so often that these barriers are compounded in people’s lives, and it becomes self-reinforcing or intertwined in these ways that can make it really impossible to find any sense of economic stability, or health, or to thrive in your life and in your family, for your family. It’s one critical piece, but it is so connected to all of this other stuff.

I think one thing that gets lost in the conversation is that access to abortion is really popular. It’s so often painted as this incredibly divisive, polarizing issue. And it does have that narrative around it, which is real, but polling consistently shows that the majority of people in this country support access to abortion. We should work toward galvanizing that broad support that we do have for this issue and channeling it into policies like WHPA or EACH that put teeth behind the support that we say we have for this.