The Supreme Court's June overrule of Roe v. Wade denies women the right to control their bodies. Those privacy rights are constitutionally guaranteed—to women and men—by the 14th Amendment, the same amendment that underpinned the Court’s original decision affirming women’s right to abortion.
“When states coerce and force women, girls, and people with the capacity for pregnancy to remain pregnant against their will, they create human chattel and incubators of them,” says Dr. Michele Goodwin, professor of law at the University of California, Irvine. “By doing so, state lawmakers force their bodies into the service of state interests.”
Women of color, especially black women, will suffer most.
Republicans need win only two more seats in the N.C. Senate and three in the House to attain a supermajority that could override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes of anti-abortion legislation; two contested N.C. Supreme Court seats could change that court’s current composition of four Democrats and three Republicans.
Polling reveals that most N.C. voters support abortion rights; anti-abortion Republican candidates are now backtracking from abortion-ban positions, but don’t be fooled by these softened stances.
The barbaric restrictions on this fundamental freedom not only hurts women, but also democracy, already plagued by voter suppression and gerrymandered districts by the same minority of political extremists attacking women’s right to control their bodies.
Stakes are high. In North Carolina, it’s not easy to get an abortion. The abortion ban at 20 weeks was reinstated by U.S. District Judge William Osteen Jr. Fetal viability typically falls between 24 and 26 weeks of pregnancy.Patients are forced to wait 72 hours after counseling (though not required in-person); state Medicaid coverage of abortion care is restricted to very limited circumstances; the state bans the use of telehealth or mail for medication abortion; parental consent or notice is required for a minor's abortion; only physicians, and no other qualified healthcare professionals, may perform abortions.
As abortion bans in states take effect, chaos and confusion prevail, whether intended or unintended. Legislators know little about healthcare; their laws reflect ignorance or deliberate obfuscation or both, and only lead to more questions:
As many as 30 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, the spontaneous loss of a fetus; while some resolve naturally, risks such as infection or excess bleeding may require treatment with the same drugs used in abortion. Similar confusion has arisen around ectopic pregnancies, which cannot produce viable embryos under any circumstance; such pregnancies occur when a fertilized egg implants and grows outside the uterus, often in fallopian tubes. The embryo does not develop into a baby.
Delaying or denying treatment for such common complications risks women’s lives. Providers have no time to consult lawyers before treating a patient’s emergency.
Anti-abortion activists are resorting to civil lawsuits. In Arizona, an ex-husband sued a clinic and doctors, claiming wrongful death, for prescribing an abortion pill four years ago. Allowing an ex-partner to pursue a woman after the fact, using the court system, is tantamount to abuse. Legal experts say such civil suits may become more common: The National Right to Life Committee has released model legislation, a playbook for state lawmakers.
Those most vulnerable in restrictive states are women of color, poor women, young women, rural women, and women in abusive relationships. Carolina Commentary has already detailed economic consequences not only for these women but also society. Maternal mortality rates will climb; more children will be born into single-parent households, and fewer will graduate from high school and college. The economy will suffer as fewer women of any color are able to plan families, successfully enter the workforce, and stay employed.
Abortion foes sow fear through vague and ignorant language combined with false narratives; this creates a chilling effect for the women who need medical care the most. Women are scared to talk about medical needs, pregnancies, and medical histories; they fear using period-trackers; they fear medical records may incriminate them.
Any criminalization of pregnancy, or even the threat of it, is a national shame. The U.S. already ranks highest among developed nations in maternal mortality—death from any cause related to or aggravated by conditions related to pregnancy. States with the strictest anti-abortion laws have the highest maternal mortality rates. Think Mississippi.
The loss of privacy rights can be deadly for girls and women of reproductive age; black women are 3.5 times more likely to die from pregnancy-or-birth-related causes than white women.
That’s a shame, but there’s no time to cry. Even women’s right to prevent pregnancy is coming next: the right to use contraception.
Betty Joyce Nash reported for the Greensboro News & Record and the Hendersonville Times-News before moving to Virginia where she worked as an economics writer for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. She co-edited Lock & Load: Armed Fiction, an anthology of literary short stories that probe Americans' complicated relationship to firearms. (University of New Mexico Press, 2017.)