Roe v. Wade Mattered

On the week of the would-be 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion on the federal level and prohibited states from banning “pre-viable” abortions as a matter of law, it is hard not to feel angry. The decision in Roe had been upheld as precedent numerous times over the last several decades but was erroneously overturned after the far-right Christian nationalists on the Supreme Court consolidated their power in a 6-3 majority decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in 2022.

Since that time, Congress has not passed a law that would codify the federal protections that the decision in Roe provided, although such a bill has been introduced and endorsed by the American Humanist Association, along with the Abortion Justice Act, as a priority piece of legislation. This bill, The Women’s Health Protection Act, codifies Roe v. Wade protections. Instead of passing these critical pieces of legislation, the Christian nationalist-controlled House has its eyes on pushing through a national abortion ban and eventually a “personhood” ban.

In the last nearly two years, we have seen a public health crisis emerge as people who want and need abortions are denied them, and as patients and providers are thrust into a dubious post-Roe legal landscape that has intentionally made the practice of medicine a minefield to discourage medical providers from continuing to provide abortions. Noting the increase in the amount of people who have taken to safely self-managing their abortions at home, the Christian nationalist movement decided to target abortion pills and the Supreme Court will soon be weighing in.

We’ve seen an unsettling increase in the number of individuals who are being prosecuted for the outcomes of their pregnancies, as well as the targeting of abortion providers. One such example is that of Dr. Caitlin Bernard who provided an abortion to a 10-year old victim of rape who had to leave her home state of Ohio to get care due to Ohio’s extremely restrictive abortion laws since the fall of Roe.

Although advocates for reproductive justice and abortion access have rightfully long warned that Roe does not go nearly far enough and that hinging a right as fundamental as abortion on “privacy” is insufficient, there’s no question that without the basic protections Roe v. Wade gave us and with no replacement, we find ourselves in a dystopian reality where pregnant people, like Kate Cox of Texas, are being forced to flee their home states to terminate even pregnancies that directly threaten their lives. Even fleeing the state is a right that many folks do not have access to, especially as states ramp up their threats to attempt to prosecute or sue on a civil basis abortion patients, providers, and any who assists a patient in leaving the state.

Restrictive abortion laws and lack of access to safe abortion can lead pregnant people who want to terminate their pregnancies into dangerous situations, further contributing to a maternal mortality crisis. The US already had one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world even prior to Roe being stricken down, due to disparities in access to health care, inadequate prenatal care, systemic racism in the health care system, and other factors. Now that the most basic protection afforded to us under Roe has been gutted, we can only expect that number to grow. Comprehensive reproductive health care is an absolute necessity to improve maternal health outcomes, but the chilling effect of pregnancy criminalization has made accessing abortion difficult and potentially risky, and has given reason for pregnant patients in many states to think twice about seeking care for any pregnancy-related symptoms due to fear of prosecution.

Access to abortion is not only a matter of autonomy and dignity, but also a religious freedom issue. Abortion may be considered impermissible in some interpretations of Christianity, but the good thing about living in a secular democracy is that our constitution is not based on the Bible or any other religious book. Therefore, attempts to impose narrow religious beliefs onto the rights and bodies of well over 150 million people must also be seen as a direct attack on democracy and a warning sign of a nation spinning toward a theocracy. Unfortunately, as long as the Supreme Court keeps its supreme tilt to the far right, we stand to “celebrate” many other unhappy anniversaries in the future.

The Christian nationalist takeover of the Supreme Court directly threatens every issue progressives fight for–from abortion access to contraception to environmental sustainability to public health to civil rights, and so much more. We can’t simply allow for a group of unelected individuals to roll back civil rights without holding them accountable. While we reflect on this solemn anniversary, it’s critical we rededicate ourselves to the fight to rid the Supreme Court from the influences of far-right dark money interests and unite as a progressive movement in favor of taking back the Supreme Court at this critical moment in history.