Washington, DC (June 27, 2022)—On Friday, June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that gave people with uteruses the right to obtain a safe and legal abortion. This ruling turns back the clock and effectively decimates not only a woman’s right to personal bodily autonomy but is an appalling attack on basic rights to privacy and paves the way for states to make abortion care illegal.
We are devastated but not surprised by the Supreme Court’s ruling. Roe—which, for nearly 50 years, has ensured that child-bearing people can decide how, when, and under what circumstances they have children—has been under attack since it first went into effect. Repeated attempts over the years have chipped away and weakened protections, including the passage of the Hyde Amendment, which took effect just three years after Roe and bans coverage of abortion through federally funded programs. These programs include Medicaid, which covers one in four Black women, and Tricare, the health care program for uniformed service members, retirees, and their families. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia also bar the use of their state Medicaid funds for abortions except in limited cases and several other states enforce onerous restrictions such as 24-hour waiting periods, parental consent and notification laws, and vaginal ultrasound requirements.
With Friday’s ruling, 26 states are expected to move swiftly to fully ban abortion, leaving 36 million people without access to abortion care. Many states already have laws that could restrict or ban abortion, including “trigger laws” (laws designed to take effect immediately following a Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe), pre-Roe abortion bans in place that have not been enforced, or laws that express the intent of the state to restrict abortion once permitted by the Supreme Court.
But the destruction of Roe isn’t simply an issue of gender and reproductive rights—it is also one of equity and race. Because of how racism has shaped public policies and systems, Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other people of color—as well as non-binary and transgender people who have historically been oppressed, marginalized, and surveilled by systems—will undoubtedly be most impacted and harmed by the reversal of Roe. Black and Brown women in particular will shoulder the burden of this decision. Black women have poorer health outcomes than White women and are three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as White women. Many states where abortions are now nearly impossible to obtain are in the South where the majority of women of color live. In states that have restrictive abortion bans, women of color often have limited access to health care generally and lack choices for effective birth control. These are the same states that have refused to expand Medicaid. These inequities drive the current disproportionately high rate of abortions for Black women. The reversal of Roe is yet another attempt at controlling the reproductive health and autonomy of people of color and undermining the freedom of women and their partners to shape their own futures.
Overturning Roe will not end abortion. Rather, it will end access to safe abortions in regulated health care facilities. It will make safe, affordable abortion care nearly impossible for people of color, people with low incomes, and other marginalized populations.
High quality, respectful, and comprehensive health care services—including affordable and safe abortion services—are part of a continuum of care that all people should have access to regardless of income, race, or location. Some states are already taking steps to protect abortion rights via law. Several governors have signed laws protecting reproductive rights and announced their intention to provide abortion services to people who live in states where the procedure is restricted. Congress can also act by passing the Women’s Health Protection Act which would protect a person’s ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy, and a health care provider’s ability to provide abortion services.
We must trust and affirm the rights of people with uteruses to make their own decisions about their own bodies and their families’ futures. Rather than attempting to dictate what people can or should do with their bodies, our focus should be on ensuring people have the supports and resources they need—including access to abortion services as part of comprehensive health care. This ruling is the first in what will likely be many more attempts to chip away at basic civil rights for Americans; in fact, the Court has already signaled their interest in and receptiveness to dismantling existing rulings on LGBTQ+ equality and birth control access. As such, we must recognize this ruling for what it is—a harbinger of future policies that will effectively return this country to a state where only hetero, White, wealthy, able-bodied, cis people are counted. A country where individual rights are not only overlooked but dismantled through law. A country where the state has more authority than the individual and where many, including lower income people, people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, and those with uteruses are legally considered “less than”.
The decision handed down in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health should frighten all of us—not just those of us who are capable of becoming pregnant. When a country is comfortable stripping freedoms and rights away from more than 50% of their population, it is dangerous for the entire population—because it will happen again.