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Roe v. Wade: Then, Now, & Forever 

Last week, a majority draft opinion by the Supreme Court was leaked, stating that Roe v. Wade should be overturned. The historic 1973 ruling has protected awoman’s right to an  abortion without government restriction for nearly 50 years. The ruling has fueled debates between “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” often rooted in the argument of whether abortion is suggestive of “killing” a living being, and therefore  murder or if abortion is ultimately a right to bodily autonomy. It has been scrutinized from the purview of political, evangelical, and scientific communities, with the overlap and distinction of one or more often informing an individual’s opinion on the matter. Regardless, the ruling has enabled countless women to have safe and accessible abortions over the past few decades, especially since 1992, when parameters regarding viability within each trimester were lifted, making it less burdensome for one to obtain an abortion. However, if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, the ramifications are much more perennial than the immediate emotional and physical trauma a woman could endure.

Roe v. Wade started with a woman whose pseudonym was Jane Roe. Her real name was Norma McCorvey, born and raised in a poor and abusive household in Texas. She first became pregnant at fifteen years old, and gave up her second child for adoption. During her third pregnancy, she sought an abortion, only to be told by doctors that it was illegal in Texas. She was then approached by two lawyers seeking to fight the Texas ban on abortion. The case ultimately made its way to the Supreme Court,  which ruled that the U.S. Constitution protects a woman’s right to abort an unborn child. There were certain parameters regarding the extent to which the fetus had grown by each trimester, but in 1992, Planned Parenthood v. Casey upheld Roe v. Wade and removed the trimester framework, ​​for “the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.” Since then, abortion has been legal in all 50 states; however,  several states still have  pre-Roe abortion bans that are currently unenforced. These bans may be reinstated in law with an overturn of Roe v. Wade.

Mississippi has had the “Gestational Age Act” in law since 2018, banning most abortions (including pregnancies that had resulted from rape or incest) after the 15 week gestational stage. Being the only licensed abortion facility in the state, Jackson Women’s Health Organization challenged the federal district court on the law, and the Gestational Age Act was consequently declared unconstitutional. However, the State decided to appeal to the Supreme Court to uphold the law, and furthermore overturn Roe v. Wade, resulting in the current case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In the leaked draft opinion to Politico, it was seen that the majority opinion of the Supreme Court results in Roe v. Wade being overturned.

Pro-choice and pro-life can render the debate of abortion as black and white; one can either make a choice or is  subject to the government regulation of  their body. However, the ripple effect of a Roe v. Wade overturn extends to not just the woman’s body, but to societal, class, and race ramifications as well. Abortion should be legal for the same reason anyone has the right to have sex without desiring to birth and raise a child, and without the longstanding implications the inability to do so safely and legally woud cause.

If states were to reinforce abortion bans, illegal and often unsafe abortions may be performed, due to current abortion centers not being protected by the law. In a country that annually spends $4.1 trillion, or nearly 20% of its GDP on healthcare – the highest amount and percentage of any nation on the planet, one would think that the United States would  be able to provide abortions to those seeking care, compared to nations with significantly fewer liberties under their governments. Unsafe abortions can involve infection, hemorrhages, uterine performation, and even damage to internal organs if dangerous sharp objects are inserted to remove the unborn embryo or fetus.

Oftentimes, a woman has an abortion because she is not in a position to raise the child. If the woman does end up giving birth, she then will incur the financial and mental cost of raising the child. The phrase “it takes a village” suggests not only that the woman needs a physical support system, but one that is emotionally and financially supportive. Unsupported by a family or partner, the woman may be unable to continue her education or career, be forced to cut hours at work to care for the child, or be forced to neglect the child because she needs to work and cannot afford childcare. The future suddenly revolves around bringing up the child, and hinders a woman from continuing her life as it was before an unintended pregnancy. Furthermore, an inability to continue education and/or earn a job will create additional  barriers to economic stability, and continue to widen the gap between the ultra-rich and the middle and lower class.

This gap is particularly poignant between different races, where the average Black household has just 1% and the average Hispanic household has 8% of the average white family’s wealth. “High-wealth families, regardless of income, are in a better financial position to navigate tumultuous life events, like a divorce or becoming disabled. For low-wealth families, those same events often prompt struggles to pay for food or health care,” according to a study by the University of Michigan’s Center for Inequality Dynamics. Underserved children grow up with higher rates of mental and physical health issues, lower levels of education, and also face astronomical barriers to qualify for jobs and support themselves and their families, through no original fault of their own. Furthermore, women of color, in particular African Americans, are “disproportionately affected by limitations to abortion and experience elevated rates of maternal and infant mortality compared with non-Hispanic white mothers.” While many companies are rolling out programs to pay for their employees’ travel to states where abortion is accessible, again, the people most at risk from  abortion restrictions are likely already underserved and not employed by corporate giants like Tesla, Citigroup, or Salesforce. Thus the gap continues to widen with perpetuated socioeconomic divides, systemic racism, and critical health implications, if women aren’t offered the ability to remove an unintended pregnancy in a safe and legal manner.

So why should you care? To largely protect a woman’s right to decide what to do with her/their body and not be regulated by a government largely run by people who will never endure the undertaking of giving birth, let alone dangerously or without resources. To ensure access to safe abortions so a woman may continue to live life as she/they wish. To reduce the stigma around abortions that yet again lead to misinformation, stress, and an undesired/unresourced life raising a child and perpetuating the cycle of poverty. To promote safe sex and sex positivity without fear of the dangerous repercussions of an unsafe or illegal abortion. To promote maternal health. To continue to fight against systemic racism that allows the wealthy and white able to travel to states where abortion is obtainable, and leaves communities of color with significantly less wealth, education, and higher levels of maternal health risk, at further risk of marginalization.

To get involved, you can volunteer to escort women to abortion centers, donate to local abortion funds that don’t have as much funding as Planned Parenthood, and contact your local leaders urging them to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would protect the right to abortion across the United States.

Photo credit: Greg Nash, https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/3476919-jane-roe-daughter-overturning-roe-v-wade-could-take-us-back-50-years/

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