On May 2, a draft written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito was leaked that proposed to overturn Roe v. Wade (1973), calling Roe “egregiously wrong from the start.” If Roe v. Wade was to be overturned, it would overturn Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) as well. This decision would take away the federal protection of abortion rights granted in 1973, and instead put the decision in the hands of state elected officials.
The leak prompted nationwide fears about the dangerous aftermath that would follow this monumental decision. Thirteen states already have trigger laws in place that would ban abortion effective immediately if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Angry and frustrated that women’s bodies are being politicized, protestors have organized immpassioned demonstrations, marches, and more across the country.
Diana Greene Foster, professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, remarked in an interview with Scientific American that, “the callousness of the decision is kind of shocking.” Like Foster, many others are outraged at how reproductive autonomy would be stripped away from women and uterus owners throughout America if this decision goes through, and feel that we are moving backwards. In an interview with TODAY, Dr. Georges C. Benjamin called the leaked majority opinion, “a dramatic reversal on the perspective of women’s rights in our country.”
A lot of this comes down to how removing the right to choose would be dangerously dehumanizing; women are people with complex emotions and needs, not just baby-carriers. Their well-being should not come second.
Carrying a baby to term is a physically and emotionally intensive task, often involving extreme symptoms, health risks, and more. The decision to raise a child — or birth a child and put them into a foster/adoptive situation that could be abusive or harmful — is life-altering and should not be forcibly made by the government. Overturning Roe v. Wade would cause enormous pain to many Americans, as women would be traumatized by forced pregnancy and giving birth to children into a world where they are unwanted and not able to be supported. For people who will be forced to perform back-alley abortions, there will be very dangerous risks to their lives as well.
If abortion was banned, children and victims of assault would not be spared from this harsh and objectifying policy. Many children who become pregnant (often as a result of rape) are not physically able to safely carry a child to term, and forcing them to keep it could kill them. Why should legislators with no personal connection to these cases get to make the decision that a fetus’s life is more valuable than the life of a young girl?
The attack on the reproductive rights of women and uterus owners would have an even more severe impact on women of color. In states with restrictive abortion laws, women of color often have limited access to health care and lack choices for effective birth control. As a result, Black and Hispanic women get abortions at higher rates than their peers.
Additionally, women of color face higher rates of poverty, which further exemplifies how the Supreme Court’s decision could disproportionately affect marginalized communities. If abortion becomes banned in certain states, pregnant people seeking abortions would need to travel out-of-state, which requires money, time off from work, potential childcare, and more.
The leaked draft represents not only an attack on women’s reproductive rights in terms of abortion access, but a dangerous threat to other kinds of bodily autonomy as well. Overturning Roe v. Wade could pave the way for the further policing of individuals — particularly women — by the state through the management of sexual activity, sexual orientation, and more.
According to Wendy Mariner, professor of health law, bioethics, and human rights at Boston University School of Public Health, in an interview with TODAY, “if there is no basis in the constitution for the right to abortion, then there’s no basis for the right to use contraception.” Furthermore, many people use birth control for other health-related reasons, such as treating polycystic ovary syndrome and acne. The right to make these basic medical decisions unrelated to abortions could therefore also be at risk.
Jean Bae, associate professor of public health policy and management at NYU School of Global Public Health, explains that “the right to privacy is not explicitly mentioned in the constitution…but it’s something that’s been codified in decisions over and over again for the last several decades.” Therefore, “undoing Roe v. Wade and eliminating the right to abortion access opens up the door to dismantling other rights that have previously been protected under that implied right to privacy.” Bae names the right to same-sex marriage, the right to interracial marriage, and the right to make decisions about one’s child’s education as some of the rights potentially threatened if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
These issues elucidate the many ways in which overturning Roe v. Wade would set a dangerous precedent about the (lack of) rights we have to make decisions about our own bodies, and could therefore put many liberties in jeopardy.