With all due respect, the United States of America, get your Supreme Court ruling off of my body and voice. Half a century after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade U.S. 113 (1973), women are once again at risk of losing their reproductive rights.
On Jan. 22, 1973, the Supreme Court voted that women in the United States have a constitutional right to choose whether to have an abortion without excessive government restriction. The week of May 2, Politico obtained a critical document that is an initial draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito Jr. showing that Justice Clarence Thomas and all former President Donald Trump’s nominees to the Court had voted to overturn a Mississippi law that would ban abortions after 15 weeks, which will essentially lead Roe v. Wade to be overturned.
Today, we are now walking in the same journey that our grandmothers have once walked, as we wait to hear if the the Supreme Court will essentially overturn “Roe” in their ruling on the Mississippi case, and as we are fighting for legislation that will soon impact not only the well-being of women, but the society we know. Women’s rights are defined as rights that promote a position of legal and social equality of women with men. However, in the current page of history, women across America are bracing for a possible ruling that strips away their element of choice when it comes to reproductive rights, including abortion.
According to CNN, if Roe v. Wade is overturned or significantly weakened, 26 states including Georgia have laws indicating that they intend to ban abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Nine states have “pre-Roe” bans that could potentially be enforced if the ruling is overturned, and 13 states have “trigger laws” in place, meaning laws that are designed to be “triggered” automatically to ban abortions almost immediately if Roe is no longer in effect.
In 2019, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law the “Heartbeat Bill” which bans abortions in this state after a fetus’ heartbeat can be detected and will become law if Roe is overturned. As said by Governor Kemp in the press conference when he signed the legislation, “(The bill) is very simple but also very powerful: a declaration that all life has value, that all life matters, and that all life is worthy of protection.”
The debate of the overturning of Roe v. Wade comes down to equity and morality. In early May, President Joe Biden told the nation, “This is about a lot more than abortion.” Roe v. Wade will become a spiraling effect of culture, dignity, respect, all because the United States of America’s politicians live for power.
According to the publication the Guardian, Justice Alito argues in his draft decision that Roe is a “faulty law.” However, Roe is based on the 14th Amendment which states, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Other Supreme Court decisions are also based on the 14th Amendment, like Obergefell v Hodges on same-sex marriage, Loving v Virginia on interracial marriage, and Lawrence v Texas on consensual sex.
Not only will Roe v. Wade impact the LGBTQ+ community, but it will greatly impact marginalized women specifically, people of color and low-income families. A study estimating the effects of an abortion ban on maternal death by the University of Colorado, Boulder, found that among Black women, maternal deaths could increase by one-third.
A recent story published in U.S. News and World Report puts Georgia atop the list of states with the highest maternal mortality rates, with 46.2 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births and an even more alarming 66.6 (per 100,000 live births) maternal deaths per 100,000 live births for Black women. Black women are already three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than white women.
The overturning of Roe v. Wade, could very likely increase poverty rates, Black women mortality rates, increased risky illegal abortion procedures performed by non-medical persons, and increased mental health impacts to women. The U.S. has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country. In total, about 700 women die every year of pregnancy-related complications in the U.S., and about 3 in 5 of those deaths are preventable, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As a VOX ATL journalist, I had the great privilege to interview Dr. Lynnell Thomas, who received her Ph.D. at Emory University and now works as an Associate Vice-Provost for Inclusive Excellence and Professor of American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Dr. Thomas has an extensive academic background in African American studies, American literature and culture, and New Orleans culture and history. She also holds the great honor of being an author of “Desire and Disaster in New Orleans: Tourism, Race, and Historical Memory.”
VOX ATL: What is your understanding of Roe vs Wade both in the past and present?
Dr. Thomas: I understood Roe v. Wade as an important but imperfect safeguard of women’s reproductive autonomy. Increasingly, I have seen those protections chipped away, having a disproportionately negative impact on Black women whose reproductive healthcare is already woefully inadequate, as evidenced by maternal mortality rates. In the present, I see Roe v. Wade as a fragile and incomplete effort to ensure access to safe, quality reproductive healthcare.
VOX ATL: What do you think will be the long-lasting impacts of the overturning of Roe vs Wade?
Dr. Thomas: The protections that Roe v. Wade provided are important, but never equitable [for] poor women facing more and more barriers (money, transportation) to access reproductive care. With the threat of it being overturned, those inequities will be compounded, especially for Black women who obtain abortions at a higher rate than white women. Without addressing the structural inequities that result in disproportionate poverty rates among Black women, discriminatory healthcare, and criminalization of Black women’s parenting and reproduction, the end of Roe v. Wade may have long-lasting devastating effects.
VOX ATL: How will the current banning of birth control, abortions, plan B’s, and etc impact the youth and non-prepared parents to be?
Dr. Thomas: Low-income, marginalized womxn seeking birth control, abortions, etc. will have a much more difficult time accessing those services and defending themselves against legal and political attacks, particularly in states with more draconian laws banning or severely limiting abortion and birth control. They are already relying on grassroots organizations, many spearheaded by Black women, who have been fighting for Black and poor women’s reproductive rights for decades. They will persist even (especially) if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
VOX ATL: With your academic background and as a woman, how will you make a change?
Dr. Thomas: One of the immediate ways that I plan to help is by contributing money to grassroots organizations that provide reproductive health care and advocacy.