Friday's bombshell announcement reversing the Constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy in the U.S. came as no surprise. After all, news leaked two months ago of the impending decision from the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. But the warning did little to reduce the shock. Within hours, protests sprang up across the nation, decrying the devastating loss – after nearly 50 years – of the fundamental right to a safe, legal abortion.
Since 2019, generations of women fighting side by side in Iceland, Ireland, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand, Argentina, and Colombia have secured the right to safe, legal abortion. Yet here in the United States – the so-called "land of the free," – today's young women enjoy fewer rights than their mothers or grandmothers. It is a tragedy for anyone in America who has – or loves someone who has – a uterus.
It bears noting that mortality rates from giving birth are higher than those from abortion. And in a significant number of cases, pregnancy itself is a life-threatening condition. Pregnant women – particularly adolescents and women who become unintentionally pregnant – are at increased risk for domestic violence. In fact, almost 20% of women are victims of violence during pregnancy, and each year, domestic violence is the number one cause of death for pregnant women.
Ectopic pregnancies, which account for two percent of pregnancies in the U.S., are the leading cause of maternal death during the first trimester. Miscarriages, which occur naturally in 10% of pregnancies, can lead to excessive bleeding and dangerous infections, including sepsis. Left untreated, these conditions can – and do – cause hemorrhaging and death. The approved treatments for these conditions – abortion-inducing medication and surgical uterine extraction – are the same procedures as abortion.
With 26 states poised to ban abortion following the recent ruling by SCOTUS, 40% of U.S. women will no longer have access to safe, legal abortion care in their home state, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Some pregnant people will find the time and money to travel to states that still allow the procedure, including Oregon, California, and Washington. Others will seek FDA-approved drugs to undertake medication abortions in the privacy of their own homes. But there's no guarantee they'll be able to procure them. Despite campaign promises to carve out exceptions to protect the life of the mother, vaguely-written legislation in Texas has prompted some pharmacies to refuse to fill prescriptions written to treat miscarriages, in order to protect themselves in case the medication is used to terminate a viable pregnancy. Without access to timely abortions, more pregnant women will die at the hands of their abusers, and people who experience miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies will be at higher risk of death.
Out of desperation, many people will resort to unsafe attempts to terminate their pregnancies, just as an estimated 1.2 million women did annually before the 1973 passage of Roe v. Wade. Those illegal abortions caused hundreds of preventable deaths each year, plus many more infections and medical emergencies, some of which resulted in infertility.
Lack of access to safe, legal abortion care threatens not just individual lives, but also family livelihoods, and public health. As the American Public Health Association explained in a recent statement, "Pregnant people pushed to carry unintended pregnancies to term face higher risks of poverty and poorer health."
Maternal health complications will increase, as patients are forced to carry high-risk pregnancies, and late-term miscarriages, to term. More families – and more communities – will be drained of financial and emotional resources as more medically fragile infants are born, particularly in states with limited access to prenatal care, affordable health care, and social supports for high-needs children. According to Carolyn Sufrin, MD, PhD, an associate professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, "It's hard to overstate how detrimental this will be for people with the capacity to be pregnant and for their families and children."
It is not lost on us that four white men and one white woman eliminated a fundamental human right that nearly 60% of Americans support. We also note that the reasons cited by anti-abortion politicians to ban the procedure are hypocritical at best. If they truly cared about the sanctity of life, they would respect the rights of living, breathing pregnant people to safely terminate pregnancies that threaten their life, their health, or their ability to bear future children. If they truly cared about children and families, they would support paid parental leave and the child tax credit. If this were about states' rights, GOP leaders wouldn't already be calling for a federal ban on abortion.
These glaring inconsistencies make it clear that overturning Roe v. Wade is not about life, liberty, or family values. Instead, it is about controlling women. Make no mistake: abortion bans will kill women, weaken families, and plunge more children into poverty. But perhaps this flawed decision by SCOTUS will prompt pro-choice politicians to pass federal legislation that guarantees safe, legal abortion care for anyone who needs it, for any reason. Because no matter where we live or what we believe, someday, someone we love will need an abortion.