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In light of the recent election, many have begun to question what might happen if Roe v. Wade is to be overturned. The outcome would be a reversal of progress made allowing women’s rights to control issues of their reproductive rights and their bodies, and to create a biased and unsafe society for women seeking abortions.
Roe v. Wade was the challenge to an 1857 Texas statue that criminalized abortions at all stages unless the mother’s life was in danger. In January, 1973 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a woman has a right of privacy under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, to make her own medical choices, including to have an abortion, but that the decision must be balanced with the state’s interests to protect maternal health and potential life. This ruling was significant because it was based on a right to privacy, and not on the equal protection clause. This distinction in legal reasoning created a privacy right not specifically articulated in the 14th Amendment, and has resulted in numerous challenges and a somewhat weakened foundation for a woman’s rights to have an abortion because this privacy right is not recognized as an individual liberty.
If Roe v. Wade was to be overturned there would no longer be any Federal Constitutional protection of a woman’s right to an abortion, and jurisdiction over abortions would return to be subject to each individual State’s laws. Some States already have abortion laws on the books, legislated both before and after Roe as a measure of either encouraging the Supreme Court to overturn the ruling, or legislated as challenges to Roe. According to the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL), 13 states have unconstitutional and unenforceable near-total criminal bans on abortion and four states have “trigger” bans, which are laws that would go into effect if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, that would impose near-total criminal bans on abortion. If the authority to determine the legality of abortions devolves back to each state, the result will be a hodgepodge of law, that will in the apparent majority of states severely limit or totally curtail a woman’s right to choice. In the current political climate in America it appears that women seeking abortions in a probable majority of states will be completely denied access, while in a few states woman’s right to chose will continue to be protected. The variation in access and the different levels of protection would mean that a woman’s ability to access safe and legal abortions would be determinate by where she lives. As a result, those who would suffer in states denying the right of choice will overwhelmingly be poor women.
Women of low economic status in states that ban abortion would be disproportionately effected because they would need to travel to another state in which abortion remained legal. Therefore, in addition to the fees needed to pay for the abortion service, additional finances to pay for travel and lodging would be necessary. For some, this could result in needing to have the procedure later in the pregnancy, when there is more risk for health complications. This is an additional disadvantage that low-income women would face if Roe v. Wade was overturned. In the year prior to the decision of Roe v. Wade, “just over 100,000 women left their own state to obtain a legal abortion in New York City.” These women were of a small percentage able to afford abortion. Interestingly, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, “…it is the states with the poorest populations that are most aggressively trying to make abortion illegal. …Notably, these states are also comprised of large populations of color, creating a reality where poor women of color will have the most difficulty obtaining an abortion in a post-Roe world.”
Women of color have historically been the most oppressed group of women in regards to reproductive rights. “Estimates of the number of illegal abortions in the 1950s and 1960s ranged from 200,000 to 1.2 million per year.” Between 1951 and 1962, the maternal mortality rate of white women doubled compared to previous decades, and the rate of black women quadrupled. This was reflected in the maternal mortality rates which showed that 14% of maternal mortality was due to abortion complications in 1928, which rose to 42% by the early 1960’s. In 1977, the Committee for Abortion Rights and Against Sterilization Abuse was formed in hopes of combatting the issues marginalized women faced. They were aware that female reproduction issues did not affect all women the same way, particularly regarding culture, social status and economics. If Roe v. Wade was to be overturned, these issues of racial and economic inequality will be highlighted in the fight for reproductive justice for all women. The inequality of wealth will result in poor women, particularly those of color, being forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term or resorting to illegal, and often unsafe, means of obtaining abortions.
Through history, it can be observed that banning abortions does not mean women will not still get them. One of the benefits of Roe v. Wade was the overall drop in maternal mortality rates, in New York the rate fell 45% the year after legalization. By overturning Roe v. Wade, the rate of maternal mortality would drastically increase as women would seek abortions illegally. It is likely that an underground service like Jane will reemerge to meet women’s needs for abortions. Jane, officially known as the Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation, was an underground service in Chicago that performed abortions and connected women to abortionists. It aided many women is receiving abortions and provided between 11,000-12,000 in Illinois with no deaths. While this is the ideal scenario for underground abortion clinics, the reality is that there is no guarantee that successful underground abortion providers could even exist in the fundamentalist states that outlaw abortion. Even if underground facilities were to be created, the risk of law enforcement and questions of safety are serious unknown challenges. It is more likely that not all underground practices would be this effective and the maternal mortality rate would increase due to the lack of regulation. If Roe v. Wade was to be overturned, a group like Jane would be important in helping many women who would have no other means of obtaining abortions, to safely end their pregnancies.
Due to the current widespread use of technology, one platform that a group like Jane may use would be the internet. Even if abortions were to be banned in certain states, the internet could enable a broad audience of women to obtain information about how to terminate their pregnancies, as well as where. The ease of access to information over the internet would be critical for many since information would be relatively unobtainable elsewhere.
The largest problem with overturning Roe v. Wade would be a reversal of progress. Throughout the history of reproduction, many have dedicated their lives to ensuring women protection over their bodies, like Margret Sanger. By overturning Roe V. Wade, much of their work would also be overturned. Every day, pro-life activists challenge this right and considering the recent election, our democracy has shifted from liberal democratic to fundamentalist republican control. According to data from the NARAL, as of 2015, 29 governors are anti-choice, 15 are pro-choice and seven are mixed choice. Therefore, those in power are mainly anti-abortion and have worked to enact TRAP laws and other burdens for women attempting to gain abortions. The “…increasingly hostile Supreme Court and anti-choice legislatures have allowed more and more restrictions on [women’s reproductive] rights, infringing on private medical decisions in many ways.” This can be seen in the 2013 case of Ms. Beltran, who was arrested in Wisconsin while pregnant for potentially endangering the unborn life. At the time of her arrest, Ms. Beltran was no longer using pills. While she was not attempting to gain an abortion, the infringement on her rights is exemplar of how the government inserts itself in women’s matters in hopes of “balancing” decisions with state interests. If Roe v. Wade was to be overturned, states like Wisconsin would revert to criminalizing abortions which would cause women and their health to suffer, and would also increase the maternal mortality rate. Regardless, a separation of government and female reproductive rights needs to be enforced, acknowledging them basic human rights.
In conclusion, the overturn of Roe v. Wade would be detrimental to the reproductive rights of women. All women’s health, privacy and equality would be hurt but poor women would be most critically impacted. It is important that all women are educated about their reproductive rights, and the measures that threaten them, in order to avoid this potentially reality. Through being informed, advocated are able to fight oppression and ensure a future of life, liberty, health and equality.
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