On Friday, June 24th, the Supreme Court released an opinion on Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning Roe, the Supreme Court ruling that establishes a ’s right to privacy in abortion. The draft opinion leaked early in February, the news is no real surprise, especially considering the slow march of anti-abortion laws that have become legislation over the past year, from Texas’s Senate Bill 8 outlawing abortion at six weeks and deputizing private citizens, to Oklahoma banning all abortions with the same enforcement mechanism, and Supreme Court inaction in between. But it is shocking nonetheless. This is a massive reversal of the federal civil rights of people who would get abortions and reverses 50 years of long-standing policy. Abortions are expected to be quickly or immediately outlawed in any from 22 to 26 states, per varying estimates.
Specifically, the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that the right to an abortion is not constitutionally protected. As for the dissent? "As of today, this Court holds, a State can always force a woman to give birth, prohibiting even the earliest abortions. A State can thus transform what, when freely undertaken, is a wonder into what, when forced, may be a nightmare.”
That means that the right to an abortion will now be turned over to the states, where over half of states are expected to outlaw abortion. Where a person lives will determine whether or not they will be able to get an abortion — and in the dozen-plus states that have abortion trigger laws that would automatically ban abortion in the first and second trimesters if Roe is overturned — millions will immediately be without any access to abortion, at all.
In a solo concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas said that due to this decision, the Supreme Court should reconsider rulings decided under the right to privacy that allow people to access contraception, and have same-sex relationships and marriages.
22 states (including the 13 trigger law states) already have laws that could be used to restrict the legal status of abortion, per The Guttmacher Institute. 9 states have previously-unconstitutional Roe restrictions that could be brought back into effect with court orders; 7 states have laws “that express the intent to restrict the right to legal abortion to the maximum extent permitted by the Supreme Court”; and 4 states have constitutional amendments that declare that their state does not “secure or protect the right to abortion,” or allow the use of public funds for those abortions. Guttmacher reports that 26 states are “certain or likely” to move quickly to ban abortion.
These bans make aiding or abetting an abortion felonies; they make them punishable by decades in prison, they fine providers or “abettors” from $10,000 to $100,000 for the “crime,” and they would punish people who give abortions with years of jail time.
Only 16 states in America protect the right to abortion. 4 states and D.C. codify the right to abortion “without state interference,” and a dozen states “explicitly permit abortion prior to viability” or when a pregnant person’s life is in danger.
Now, some Americans will have to travel 200 miles to get an abortion depending on where they live. In some places, people will have to travel 400 miles or more. An Axios cheat sheet notes that in Florida, for example, the average one-way driving distance for an abortion will be 575 miles. Louisiana residents will have to drive more than 660 miles. Before Roe was overturned, people in those states had to travel 8 and 37 miles, respectively, on average. The average American will have to travel 125 miles to reach the nearest abortion provider — that’s 100 more miles than right now.
Prior to Roe, access to abortions was already hard to come by for many. Axios reports that in the central region of the US, most people already didn’t have options within a 250-mile drive. Some counties are 350 miles away from a provider.
6 in 10 people who have abortions are already moms — 26 percent have one child, and 33 percent have two or more. Research shows that 75 percent of women who obtain abortions already have incomes at less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level; it is most often a financial decision. Women who are denied access to abortion as a family planning method are four times as likely to have their incomes fall below the federal poverty level.
Children and single mothers are the poorest groups in the United States. Not letting parents family plan will further push families into poverty, make existing children live in tougher conditions, and will rip the potential of economic prosperity out of people’s hands. People who are denied abortions now because they cannot make a 400, 500-mile drive to a clinic outside of their state will be condemned to a life they could not decide for themselves, they will struggle financially, and they will have to deal with pregnancy — a dangerous, life-altering condition — that they do not want for themselves. It strips away a fundamental right: the right to govern our lives, to shape our families as we see fit, and to live our lives in privacy.
Not being able to have a legal abortion will affect people who want to be pregnant as well. For people who have high-risk pregnancies or develop conditions like ectopic pregnancies, in states with total abortion bans, they may not be able to get lifesaving care. There is virtually no ectopic pregnancy that is viable, and they kill pregnant people. There are many many other physical conditions that make pregnancy dangerous or not viable. Letting a state government dictate what is or isn’t life-threatening will leave countless pregnant people in crisis stuck in limbo, and even unable to access life-saving care. People will likely die.
Ahead of Roe’s overturning, doctors who ran IVF clinics were beginning to move embryo’s over state lines. In states that will legislate that life begins at exception, fertility and legal experts believe that discarding embryos could be criminalized by states that “ban abortion from the moment of fertilization or that grant personhood rights to embryos,” per Wall Street Journal. 2% of babies born in 2019 were conceived through IVF. A valuable family planning tool for people who want children desperately may no longer be on the table depending on where you live.
Miscarriages, a traumatic event for a pregnant person, may be further criminalized than they already are — people were already getting arrested for manslaughter when they happened — making even the mere act of pregnancy something subject to state investigation, surveillance, and punishment.
This is all despite the fact that 61 percent of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
With this decision, the future of millions of American women and people who can get pregnant has been altered in the most major way since 1973, 50 years ago, when these persons were given the very right that allowed us to govern our lives. In the days to come, as that right is retracted, the lives of everyone in this nation will change fundamentally.