STATE ABORTION BANS ARE PAVING THE PATH OF REVERSING THE HISTORICAL ABORTION CASE
In May of this year, the Supreme Court announced its decision to review a 2018 Mississippi law that greatly restricts access to abortions after 15 weeks. This case comes at a pivotal moment, considering the Supreme Court currently holds a 6 to 3 Republican majority.
It is also sounding alarms for supporters of reproductive rights and the historic Roe v. Wade abortion case. For many women and other staunch supporters of reproductive rights, this decision is unsettling; it paves the path for the possibility of overturning a woman’s right to an abortion and has the possibility of placing the power to ban abortions into the hands of state governments.
The aforementioned Mississippi case — Jackson Women’s Health Organization v. Dobbs — challenged a set of laws and regulations in the state which limited access to safe and legal abortions. These regulations are said to violate reproductive rights and the standard set by the Supreme Court in the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case of 2016. Some of the restrictions being challenged in the Mississippi case include:
- 24-hour mandatory delay, which requires women seeking an abortion to delay their abortion for 24 hours upon receiving state-mandated information.
- TRAP licensing system, which singles out abortion clinics for extreme regulations not applied to other clinics providing medical care.
- A ban on abortions after 15 weeks, in which physicians can face penalties for providing an abortion after this time.
- A six-week ban on abortions, which would make it a crime to perform an abortion after a heartbeat is detected.
A restriction or even a complete ban on abortions will not prevent abortions from being performed. Rather, it will increase the number of unsafe and life-threatening abortions. You don’t need to imagine what life would be like if abortion in the United States was banned or significantly restricted, since this is already a reality in some developing countries.
A report published in 2018 titled Abortion Worldwide: Uneven Progress and Unequal Access highlights that in regions where abortion is outright banned or allowed only in the case of saving a woman’s life, abortions occur just as frequently as in the regions where abortion is allowed without any restrictions. On top of that, the report also stated that “the steepest decline in abortion rates occurred in Eastern Europe, where use of effective contraceptives increased dramatically; the abortion rate also declined significantly in the developing subregion of Central Asia. Both subregions are made up of former Soviet Bloc states where the availability of modern contraceptives increased sharply after political independence — exemplifying how abortion goes down when use of effective contraceptives goes up.”
Even with the evidence suggesting that an abortion ban is not the way to lower abortion numbers, many conservatives are of the opinion that abortion is immoral. With a conservative majority leading the Supreme Court, this opinion has been shared by that majority for a long while.
Justice Clarence Thomas has been a vocal supporter of anti-abortion laws and has wanted the court to revisit abortion for a while. He also wrote the dissenting opinion in the Lousiana case heard by the court which blocked an abortion law threatening to close nearly every clinic in the state.
“Our abortion precedents are grievously wrong and should be overruled,” Thomas writes. “The idea that the Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment understood the Due Process Clause to protect a right to abortion is farcical.”
Justice Amy Coney Barrett has also shared her opposition to abortion, but in a discussion at Jacksonville University, she stated, “I don’t think the core case [Roe v. Wade] holding that women have a right to an abortion — I don’t think that would change, but I think the question of whether people can get very late-term abortions, you know, how many restrictions can be put on clinics — I think that will change.” This highlights the possibility of a case like the Jackson Women’s Health Organization v. Dobbs being a catalyst to open the door for the restrictions Barrett mentions.
The Supreme Court justices have two options if they decide not to stick to the precedent created by Roe v. Wade: they can either overturn the ruling entirely or restrict it dramatically. Either way, the decision would be a huge blow for reproductive rights.
Restricting access to abortion has proven to be unsuccessful in limiting abortions; all it truly does is limit access to safe abortions and opens the door for women to seek other means to terminate a pregnancy. Too often, those means are unsafe and unregulated.
Abortions will never go away and the answer to at least limiting abortions does not lie in a ruling to ban or severely restrict them in the United States. The answer lies in sexual health education and access to safe, preventative measures like the various forms of birth control on the market.
Society needs to work toward the destigmatization of sex, as well as stop shaming women for choosing to either take birth control or to have an abortion. As of now, it seems that the United States may take the wrong path, and the greatest hope is that it does not lead to an influx of unsafe and deadly abortions.