America Will Lose More Than Abortion Rights If Roe V. Wade Is Overturned

Personhood laws have been on state ballots before, but the point has been largely moot: Roe’s broad protection of abortion rights means that they can’t be implemented. Without that safety net and if more personhood laws pass — especially if the Griswold contraception case falls in addition to Roe — we will have ceded scientific ground to unscientific ideological claims. Women might find that IVF and some of the most common forms of contraception are no longer legal in their state because of how anti-abortion legislators claim they work.

Should Roe be overturned, anyone who helps a woman obtain an illegal abortion — including doctors — and even the women themselves may also become subject to punishment. Anti-abortion activists and law enforcement officers swear up and down that they would never criminalize women for having abortions. This is belied by the fact that they already criminalize women they suspect of inducing their own abortions. Trump himself said that “some form of punishment” should befall women who end pregnancies.

What a post-Roe America could look like

Too many women die or are seriously injured from unsafe, usually illegal abortion; annually, there are 25 million unsafe abortions around the world, according to the World Health Organization. Outlawing abortion in much of the U.S. will add to those numbers.

But American women won’t return to the days of coat hangers and back alleys, and we largely won’t be in the same position as women in rural villages in impoverished and underdeveloped countries. Medical technology has progressed significantly, and the medications that induce miscarriage are now, at least in much of the developed world, increasingly accessible; so too are treatments for unsafe abortion. These medications have allowed women to self-induce their own abortions, even clandestinely. Given their prevalence and overall safety, there is unlikely to be an epidemic of women dying of sepsis in hospitals across the nation as there was pre-Roe.

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That doesn’t mean the abortion landscape will be safe. We know that the legality of abortion doesn’t track with instances of abortion — that is, women have abortions whether it’s legal or not, and outlawing the procedure doesn’t mean that abortion rates are significantly lower. (Some of the countries with the highest abortion rates in the world are places where it’s largely outlawed, and many of the countries with the lowest rates have legal abortion on the books). Tens of thousands of women die every year from unsafe illegal abortion, nearly all in developing countries.

In a post-Roe America, thanks to Misoprostol, the most common abortion-inducing medication, and a growing network of people who can help pregnant women determine appropriate dosing, some illegal abortions will be safe — or at least safer than pre-Roe procedures. But many won’t be. Despite its many uses — Misoprostol is also a life-saving treatment for maternal hemorrhaging — anti-abortion forces will do their best to make the drug hard to procure. Women will do whatever they’ve heard works, whether that’s inserting a foreign object through their cervix, buying black-market god-knows-what drugs, throwing themselves down stairs, douching with bleach or taking up whatever method they’ve heard about through the grapevine or read on an Internet message board. Many American women already self-induce their own abortions, because the anti-abortion movement has so effectively restricted abortion access in many states. The U.S. also has the worst maternal mortality rate in the developed world; if women are forced to carry medically unsafe pregnancies, more of them could die in childbirth.

The case’s larger meaning

If Roe goes, every woman will hear the message that her body is not her own. That she should feel ashamed for believing that she alone should make this most fundamental, life-altering decision of whether or not to bear a child. That she isn’t a woman making a decision like so many others, but that she is a criminal.

If anti-abortion advocates get their way, and women will involuntarily carry unwanted pregnancies to term because the law forces them to. Many of these women will be poor and already vulnerable, and thanks to existing research, we have a good idea of what will happen: Those who are unable to access abortions will be more likely to remain in poverty and less likely to leave abusive partners.

As American women now face the prospect of restricted abortion access, much of the rest of the world is moving in the opposite direction. Having witnessed the harms of illegal abortion, countries from Ireland to Chile have liberalized their abortion laws in recent years. We are one of the only prosperous, developed democratic nations still fighting over whether women should control what happens in their own uteruses. Soon enough, we may be one of the only prosperous, developed democratic nations where the law will treat women like criminals simply for wanting sovereignty over our own bodies and our own futures.

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