Saturday marks the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that protects the right to legal abortion in the U.S. It is one of the most consequential years for communities and abortion rights advocates across the country as we await the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization later this year. This case challenges the ban on abortion after 15 weeks in Mississippi – a state law that is in direct conflict with people’s constitutional right to abortion under Roe v. Wade.
Although the majority of U.S. residents support the right to abortion, historically marginalized communities today face unprecedented attacks and barriers to this essential reproductive health service. For the past five months, since the enactment of S.B. 8, Texans desiring abortion care have been forced to cross state lines to terminate their pregnancies after the six-week mark. The Texas law is one of the most restrictive in the country and prevents pregnant people from accessing abortion care beyond six weeks – before most people are aware they are pregnant. This not only jeopardizes the lives of pregnant people seeking safe access to abortion, it also sets a dangerous precedent by granting private citizens the right to sue anyone who performs an abortion or “aids and abets” the provision of abortion.
Despite this clear danger, in December 2021, the SCOTUS refused to block S.B. 8, and did so yet again on Thursday. In addition to S.B. 8, , since January 2021, approximately 561 abortion restrictions, including 165 abortion bans, have been introduced in legislatures across 47 states (as of June 7, 2021). Of those legislative proposals, 83 restrictions, including 10 bans, have been enacted across 16 states.
The weight of these burdensome abortion bans is carried by the most vulnerable in our communities. LGBTQ+ people, women,Indigenous, Black, Latino/a/x, low-income, rural, immigrant populations, people with disabilities, and those who live at the intersection of these identities often suffer the most. In Louisiana, abortion clinics are struggling to keep up with the patient load of those who travel from neighboring Texas. In fact, one Louisiana clinic has seen an increase in their Texan patient population, increasing from seeking abortion care, to more than half. Some of these patients even travel more than 200 miles. This puts a tremendous financial and emotional strain on pregnant people and their families.
An American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology shows transgender, nonbinary, and gender-expansive patients who have abortions often prefer medication abortion over surgical abortion because medication is viewed as less invasive and is more private. Placing restrictions on abortion care can lead to further discomfort for patients who already face discrimination in health care settings, forcing them to carry a pregnancy they do not want, or one that does not align with their gender identity.
Women, too, need this crucial access to care. According to Guttmacher Institute, about half of women who had an abortion in 2014 lived below the poverty level. In fact, data show that low-income women have accounted for an increasing share of . These abortion restrictions pose an undeniable threat to those who do not live in close proximity to clinics, and cannot afford travel, lodging and abortion services.
The attacks on communities across the country also significantly impact BIPOC patients. According to the , in 2019, white patients accounted for 33% of abortions while Black, Hispanic, and patients of other races accounted for over 60%. If Roe v. Wade is overturned by the SCOTUS, that will complicate the opportunity for many people of color to decide when and if parenthood is something they wish to pursue. This is particularly important for Black women, who face racism and other forms of provider discrimination, leading to poor maternal outcomes, and .
This pivotal Roe anniversary creates an opportunity for us to reflect on and advocate for the right to legal abortion. It also compels us to urgently fight alongside our reproductive health, rights and justice partners at the state and national levels to protect this right so many of our communities need.