On June 24th, my phone screen lit up with notifications. The postdoc at the lab where I worked over the summer ran out of the sterile room, still dressed in her lab coat and goggles. My heart sank in my chest. Doctors and researchers streamed out of their offices, faces ashen.
The Supreme Court had struck down Roe v. Wade, ending constitutional protection to abortion that had endured half a century. Barely five minutes later, I got an email from the hospital I was working at saying that abortion is enshrined in the Massachusetts constitution, and is safe. As of that day, more than 64 million Americans of childbearing age have less power over their bodily autonomy than they did on the 23rd. Less power than their parents, and for some, less than even their grandparents.
When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Roe in 1973, legalizing abortion across the nation, the National Association of Evangelicals released the following statement: “We reaffirm, as evangelicals united, our position that the moral issue of abortion is more than a question of the freedom of a woman to control the reproductive functions of her own body. It is rather a question of those circumstances under which a human being may be permitted to take the life of another.” Women were murderers, and there were no rights for the unborn. While laws forbid religious bodies from directly endorsing political candidates, the message from the church was clear: abortion violates God’s law, supporting abortion was sin.
This rhetoric differs from the majority of Americans, who support the pro-choice movement. Despite this, abortion and reproductive healthcare have increasingly been part of the larger fight to enforce religous beliefs on a secular country.
Americans are now facing a rollback of rights. The last time this happened — when women were forced out of the workforce after WWII — a new generation took to the streets, bringing out the second wave of American feminist movement.
The fight to make a choice about one’s body has been handed over to individual states. They may choose to enshrine abortion rights into law, severly limit the circumstances under which one may receive an abortion, or ban it altogether. At the state level, this will only deepen inequity, marginalizing the poorest and most vulnerable Americans. Government officials cannot push legislation to protect abortion rights because of a fillibuster, preventing a simple-majority vote.
Reproductive rights have been on my mind since taking Constitutional Law with Stephanie Manzella. I am mad that this country has been thrown into a new era of struggle, one that will be marked by chaos and suffering. I am frustrated that I have to come of age into this post-Roe era. I do not understand why or how somebody else can decide what you do with your body. People can be forced to carry pregnancies to terms, non-viable pregnancies, pregnancies that they do not want, cannot afford, and pregnancies caused by rape or incest. People are going to die from non-viable pregnancies and life-threatening complications. People are going to resort to unsafe means to abortions. People with the means to travel to “abortion-haven” states can be prosecuted, doctors can go to jail for performing medical procedures. Why should a person who tragically miscarries worry about being called a murderer? Without full control of our bodies, how can we call ourselves a country of equals when we have stripped half the population of their rights to bodily autonomy? Never mind physical health, how will this impact mental health? What happens if the next generation of OB/GYNs don’t learn how to provide critical and potentially lifesaving care to pregnant people? What happens after Dobbs?
Sitting in the lab, I opened my phone. Someone had sent me a cartoon that read “July 4th is canceled due to a shortage of independence for women.” This bitter truth and irony was not lost on me. Battles will be fought in the court and in the hospitals, in underground clinics, and secret rooms. Passing this law will not save lives, it will only drive those in need to seek alternative means to an end. Reproductive rights have slid back decades and everything we have fought for — our right to vote, our right to birth control, everything we have strived for in the Equal Rights Movement — are in jeopardy. It is as if someone threw a switch and undid the progress of the last century.
While the biggest battles are fought in the courts, the real battlegrounds are our bodies. This fight is far from over.
For more information, see https://reproductiverights.gov/ .