On June 24, 2022, the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the court case that legalized abortion in America. Roe v. Wade being overturned means that it is up to individual states to pass laws to make abortion legal or to ban abortion. Currently, abortion is banned (or will be banned) in 13 states. In addition, 3 states have laws banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy and 3 states have laws banning abortion after 15 to 18 weeks of pregnancy. The status of abortion access is uncertain in 10 states. Abortion is legal in 21 states.
About 36 million women are expected to lose their access to abortion, according to research done by Planned Parenthood, which provides healthcare services to poor and low-income women.
In states such as Georgia, which bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, this will also heavily restrict access to abortions. According to research done by the University of California – San Francisco, one in three people do not know they’re pregnant until after 6 weeks. Young people, people of color, and poor people are more likely to confirm their pregnancy later, suggesting that laws like Georgia’s will disproportionately hurt vulnerable communities.
In 10 states where the legality of abortion is currently uncertain — including Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Virginia — the fate of abortion access will be decided by future state elections or more legal battles. For instance, in Pennsylvania, the Republican-controlled state legislature has tried to pass laws banning abortion but it has been vetoed by the governor, who is a Democrat. Pennsylvania’s governor and state legislative officials are currently up for reelection in 2022.
How will abortion bans affect pregnant women?
States with abortion bans also have the highest rate of women dying during their pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to NBC News, the rate of maternal mortality is expected to rise with the passage of more restrictive abortion laws. Women who experience complications during their pregnancy will be more hesitant to get health treatments, or their doctors will be hesitant to treat them because of fear of breaking the law. The treatment for certain pregnancy complications, such as miscarriages, are also used for abortions.
Many states have harsh penalties for anyone who receives an abortion or administers abortions. In Texas, abortion is now banned, with no exception for victims of rape or incest, and abortion providers can be imprisoned for life. Women are also at the risk of being imprisoned — from 2006 to 2020, 1,300 American women were detained by law enforcement or jailed because their pregnancy was lost or harmed. Many of those women had miscarried. That number is expected to rise, according to NBC News.
What other rights are at stake as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision?
Overturning Roe v. Wade does not only affect abortion access. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who supported overturning Roe v. Wade, wrote that the Supreme Court should overturn its past decisions which have granted Americans the right to contraceptives, same-sex marriages, and privacy in the bedroom.
Prior to 2022, the Supreme Court interpreted America’s Constitution to mean that citizens were granted the right to privacy, and Roe v. Wade rationalized that abortion should be legal because it is a private medical decision between a woman and her doctor. The overturning of Roe v. Wade means that privacy is no longer recognized as a fundamental right. That means that other rights that were made on similar bases are now threatened — including the right to contraceptives, same-sex marriages, and sexual privacy.
Republican politicians have already announced their intention to attack people’s rights to contraception. Legislation has been proposed in Louisiana which would criminalize contraceptives such as an IUD or Plan B, since these laws could change the state’s definition of a person to a fertilized egg — certain birth control prevents a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus, which is what leads to pregnancy.
The Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe may also have implications for Americans’ access to fertility treatments and in vitro fertilization (IVF). Depending on the wording and interpretation of state-specific laws, which are usually written broadly, the legality of IVF may be threatened, especially if fertilized eggs are given the same rights as born children. The IVF process fertilizes multiple eggs in a laboratory and then certain eggs are implanted in a uterus while other eggs are frozen or discarded. Thus, people struggling with fertility may find their access to fertility treatments hugely restricted, particularly in states with laws that ban abortion from the moment of fertilization, such as Oklahoma and Texas.
The decision made by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade will have devastating consequences on millions of people across the United States. It is important to remember that abortion rights are not the only issue at stake. Many other rights — such as the right to privacy in the bedroom, same-sex marriage, or contraception — may be threatened as well.