In the summer of 2018, the Wall Street Journal published “The Abortion Scare Campaign,” an editorial. It read: “the liberal line is always that Roe hangs by a judicial thread, and one more conservative justice will doom it.” The conservative but highly influential editorial writers argued that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case affirming that access to safe and legal abortion care is a constitutional right, is unlikely to be overturned.
I don’t say this often, but I wish the Journal were right. I wish their assessment of Roe’s vulnerability held up. Sadly, as we recognize the 48th anniversary of that landmark decision — even with a Democratic president and Congress -- Roe is more vulnerable than ever.
In the course of just four years, former President Donald Trump appointed three stridently conservative and anti-abortion justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, cementing a 6-3 conservative majority and putting the right to choose in serious jeopardy. The addition of Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett poked holes in the Journal’s analysis big enough to drive a truck through.
But it is Justice Barrett’s recent appointment, filling the seat held by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that has particularly turned the tide.
In a 5-4 decision issued in June of 2020, the Court struck down a Louisiana law that, with no basis in medical science, sought to limit the number of abortion providers able to practice in the state. What has changed since then? Justice Ginsburg, who sided with the majority, passed away, and Justice Barrett joined the Court.
Justice Barrett was a signatory of an anti-abortion letter that appeared as an advertisement in The New York Times in 2006, and has the support of vocal anti-abortion organizations. Mere months into her tenure on the high court, she is already toeing the anti-abortion line, siding with the majority in a decision handed down last week that places medically unnecessary restrictions on access to the abortion pill. With more than a dozen cases making their way through the lower courts that have the potential to overturn Roe v. Wade (if taken up by the Supreme Court), the new composition of the Court leaves no ambiguity as to the threat abortion rights face in this country.
All of which begs the question: what can be done to protect access to abortion care in America? Plenty. Here are six actions our leaders must take right away.
*Congress must codify Roe v. Wade in federal law. Federal legislation will ensure that access to abortion care is available across the country, and that all patients will be able to receive the care they need.
*Congress must repeal the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funds from being used to pay for abortion care in most cases. It has hindered the ability of low-income people to access abortion care and has disproportionately impacted people of color, contributing to economic and racial inequality.
*President Biden must restore the Title X family planning program to its original purpose of supporting the reproductive health care needs of low-income individuals, and fully fund it. By politicizing and gutting this program that was first introduced by President Nixon and has long enjoyed bipartisan support, the Trump Administration negatively impacted the health outcomes of people seeking birth control, cancer screenings or any of the other vital services covered by Title X.
*The Biden administration must get federal money out of crisis pregnancy centers, fake women’s health centers that peddle in lies and misinformation regarding abortion care. Trump directed federal funds to a number of these fake health centers, preventing people considering abortion care from receiving the information and services that they need.
*Congress and the Biden administration must support comprehensive, medically accurate sex education that includes accurate information for LGBTQ+ youth. When young people have access to safe, supportive, and inclusive information, health outcomes improve.
*Congress and the Biden administration must lift the global gag rule also known as the Mexico City policy, which harms women’s health throughout the world. Every indication is that Biden will follow the lead of past Democratic administrations and lift this ban swiftly.
On this 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a cloud hangs over the future of reproductive rights in our country. But dark days need not be ahead if our leaders in Washington act in the interest of public health and reproductive freedom.
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