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On Monday, Texas became the first state to effectively outlaw abortion when the Supreme Court refused to issue an injunction on a new state law. Today, Texas women cannot access the medical procedure if they are more than six weeks into their pregnancy.
With conservative justices holding a super-majority on the Supreme Court, many fear that this may be the year Roe v. Wade is overturned. For decades, the Republican Party has worked to revoke a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. Were this to happen, it would undo generations of legal precedent and set America back decades in human rights.
Roe v. Wade, decided in 1973 and upheld in Planned Parenthood v Casey in 1992, made it unconstitutional for the federal or state governments to unduly restrict a woman’s right to access an abortion.
The decision came amid a sweeping push for women’s equality in America. America was electing more women to office and the country was on the cusp of passing the Equal Rights Amendment. With the women’s liberation movement gaining momentum, conservative activists turned abortion rights into a campaign issue. It worked.
Since the 1980 presidential election, the anti-abortion movement has used abortion as a tool to amass political power. From then on, the Republican party has fought to appoint conservative judges and justices in the hope of one day overturning Roe v. Wade. However, there has never been an answer to the most obvious question: “then what?”
Texas law gives a glimpse into an America without Roe
The Texas law, which is in full effect, even outlaws abortions beyond six weeks in the case of rape or incest. In addition, the law places what many are calling a “bounty” on anyone involved with helping someone to get an abortion. Under the law, individuals willing to sue someone for supporting an abortion can receive a reward of $10,000.
This beyond goes beyond the patient or her medical professionals. It includes loved ones who helped provide financial assistance or the taxi driver who provided a ride to an appointment. It is an example of overreach so profound and disturbing that some liken it to a scene from The Handmaid’s Tale.
But this isn’t new. In 2016, before becoming the GOP nominee for president, Donald Trump suggested women who have an abortion should be jailed.
Prior to Roe v. Wade becoming stare decisis, women in America were not guaranteed autonomy over their own reproductive systems. According to documentation from Yale University, women had to appear before “therapeutic abortion boards” to grant a request. In front of these largely male boards, women often had to plead their case before a medical provider could be allowed to perform an abortion.
Because receiving a safe abortion was so difficult and restrictive, many women chose illegal or at home abortions instead. Prior to Roe, hundreds of women were dying every year in the United States from unsafe abortions. These women were disproportionately Black. The Guttmacher institute suggests that as many as one million unsafe abortions were being performed in the United States each year.
Overturning Roe v. Wade will not reduce abortions
Data and reason both plainly suggest that ending Roe will do little to reduce the number of abortions. All it will likely do is make abortions far less safe for women across the nation. Instead, many studies and tangible examples suggest that increasing access to contraceptives and comprehensive sex education is the most effective way to reduce abortions.
In the Court’s decision not to block the Texas law, Justice Sonya Sotomayor offered a “scathing” dissent. “The court’s order is stunning,” she wrote. “Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand.”
The Supreme Court has had several cases come before it in recent months. Many expect the justices to issue rulings on these cases in the coming months. Should the Court rule in favor of any state seeking to effectively outlaw abortion, it would likely make the precedent set in Roe v. Wade a thing of the past.