True health care reform will only happen in the United States when everyone who needs to can access the health care they need and want, without restrictions based on ideology and misogyny. To this point, complete reproductive rights are critical for the realization of true health care reform. These rights have not been in more jeopardy since the verdict in Roe v Wade, and later Planned Parenthood v Casey.
The passage of the latest attack in Texas on abortion - SB8 - prove the protections of Roe v Wade are in serious jeopardy. In the almost 50 years since the Supreme Court decision which declared abortion a matter of privacy between a pregnant person and their doctor up to viability of the fetus - usually 22-24 weeks of gestation - Congress has failed to codify these protections into federal law. Those opposed to the protections of Roe have worked to maintain the status quo while they worked to put Justices on the Supreme Court who oppose the Roe verdict.
Since 1973, the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v Wade has maintained that women have the right to privacy in their reproductive choices under the Constitution and that states could not impose undue burdens on women seeking an abortion has been deemed the law of the land. And since 1973, issue groups, religious organizations, and ideological lawmakers have worked to erode that right by preventing access to health clinics, impairing access to birth control, passing laws that determine when and how a woman may decide to carry a pregnancy to term or not, and providing decision power and even visitation rights to rapists whose criminal assault resulted in an often unwanted pregnancy. Women and child-bearing people have become secondary to the potential life of a fetus, yet no social safety net for the care of the product of these pregnancies have been reinforced. In fact, these same actors have worked to reduce any potential help to mothers following the birth of a child.
The fetishization of the fetus has led us down a dark and dangerous road, that is yet again under attack from a new case that will be ruled on by the Supreme Court this spring. This case refers to the constitutionality of a new Mississippi law that would prohibit abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, significantly before viability that is outlined in Roe v Wade. The State of Mississippi has asked that the Court overturn Roe in its entirety.
In anticipation of the Court ruling the Mississippi law constitutional, the Texas governor signed into law a prohibition of abortion after 6 weeks, well before most child-bearing people even know they are pregnant. Above and beyond other ‘heartbeat bills’, this “... bill turns the reins over to private citizens — who are newly empowered to sue abortion providers or anyone who helps someone get an abortion after a fetal heartbeat has been detected.” Further misinformation about pregnancy abounds as media outlets continue to call these ‘heartbeat bills’, when at 6 weeks there is no heart or circulatory system existing in an embryo.
In 2021 alone, there were more anti-abortion laws introduced in states than in all of 2011 - the last year with the most proposed legislation to reduce access to reproductive care since the Roe decision in 1973. Laws passed have required invasive ultrasounds for women seeking an abortion, criminalized the act of performing an abortion, restricted access to contraception, prevented abortion after a incorrectly termed ‘fetal heartbeat’ is detectable, and one law even removes the right to an abortion from a state constitution.
We are also seeing lawmakers blur the line between contraception - medications that prevent pregnancy - with those designed to terminate pregnancy, and discussing banning coverage of birth control from Medicaid programs.
In 2021, as in every previous session since 2013, a Congressional bill has been introduced that would codify the protections delineated in the Roe v Wade decision. This bill, The Women’s Health Protection Act, would “protect a person’s ability to determine whether to continue or end a pregnancy, and to protect a health care provider’s ability to provide abortion services.” On September 24th, the House passed this bill and it now sits in the Senate.
Without the passage of actual legislation on the federal level that will codify the rights confirmed in the Roe decision, states controlled by those who seem to believe, as Monty Python posited, that ‘every sperm is sacred,’ will continue to pass more and more restrictive legislation aimed at reaching the Supreme Court to challenge the findings in both Roe, and even Griswold, which determined that women had the right to access contraception.
Without the passage of real federal legislation, women of color will continue to be disproportionately impacted by anti-abortion and anti-contraceptive laws. Women will no longer be able to make decisions about their own bodies, at least as far as current laws permit. Those who are lower or even middle income who live paycheck to paycheck will continue to be unable to access the care they may desire and need.
There seems to be a substantial number of especially state-level legislators that want to bring back the days of women as chattel, while ignoring that much of our national economy is dependent on women they refuse to acknowledge as having the rights laid out in our Constitution - the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Without full access to reproductive rights - access to no-cost contraception, the ability to terminate an unwanted or dangerous pregnancy, the ability to terminate a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest, the ability to terminate an unviable pregnancy, the ability to choose a tubal ligation during a C-section, the ability to have a hysterectomy without being asked if a woman truly understands the implications of the procedure -- even if it is medically necessary -- those rights will remain out of reach for over half of Americans.
What can you do? Call your Senators and urge passage of the Woman’s Health Protection Act. Join with other grassroots advocates in one or more of several organizations fighting for reproductive rights. Some groups include Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Men4Choice. There are also state and local organizations. Many Indivisible chapters have subcommittees focused on Choice. If you live in a state with abortion clinics, consider volunteering to help women and others seeking treatment there. Learn what you can do counteract false information being spread about abortion and reproductive rights.
Without full reproductive rights with no interference from the government, we can never have true health care reform in this country.