A look into the overturning of Roe v. Wade and what it means for America going forward.
BY ADELAIDE PETRAS ’24, THEA POSTALAKIS ’24 AND SAFIA MALHOTRA ’24
In 1970, a Texas woman, under the pseudonym Jane Roe, filed a lawsuit against the district attorney of Dallas County, Henry Wade, challenging a Texas Law that outlawed abortions unless the mother’s life was endangered.
Roe alleged that the state laws violated her right to personal privacy, and the Supreme Court found that this right to privacy was protected by the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
This case was prodigious in many ways: not only did it grant people the right to have an abortion, but it also established a constitutional right to privacy for Americans that would influence future cases.
In 2018, Mississippi passed a law called the “Gestational Age Act,” which prohibited all abortions, with few exceptions, after 15 weeks gestational age. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the last remaining licensed abortion facility in Mississippi, filed a lawsuit in federal district court challenging the law and requesting an emergency temporary restraining order (TRO). The case reached the Supreme Court, with Mississippi asking initially for the Court to uphold its ban arguing that it was consistent with Roe v. Wade, but later asking the Court to overrule Roe v. Wade outright.
On June 24, 2022, the court ruled in favor of the state of Mississippi in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning Roe v. Wade and revoking the federal right to an abortion for Americans, leaving it to the regulation of the states instead.
Initially, the reproductive rights movement wasn’t widely supported in the United States. At the time, information about birth control was considered obscene and was therefore outlawed.
The stigma and secrecy surrounding birth control are evident in reflections from people such as Kaye Martin, who is a member of a liberal political activism group called the ReSisters.
“[Sex] was something nobody could admit to doing, and there was no birth control because nobody had heard of birth control,” Martin said.
Upper Arlington resident and fellow ReSisters member Elaine Long concurred, describing the subject of abortion as “hush-hush” in the years before Roe v. Wade.
Legal restrictions surrounding reproductive issues were weakened with a court ruling in 1936 that decriminalized the transfer of birth control information in New York, and birth control was protected with the decision in Griswold v. Connecticut. By the early 1970s, contraceptives were com-
pletely legal and much more widely available. Additionally, after the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, abortion was determined to be constitutionally protected.
However, before Roe, abortions weren’t nonexistent in states that banned it; illegal abortions were frequent occurrences. According to the Guttmacher Insitute, an organization that researches reproductive health, estimated numbers of illegal abortions range from 200,000 to 1.2 million per year in the United States in the 1950s and ’60s. Additionally, it was common for people to receive abortions from unknown and potentially unsafe sources out of necessity.
“I had several friends. These were nice girls. These were popular girls from good families, and they got pregnant,” Martin said. “I suspect that one that I know probably had an abortion; she just disappeared…They would either go somewhere and have an abortion, or they go live with a relative and have the baby.”
Additionally, due to religious reasons and societal standards, many women without access to birth control or abortion were pressured into getting married. For some, this is viewed as a consequence of one’s decision to engage in sexual intercourse. But to others, it is seen as an unfair loss of autonomy in making life decisions.
“[The girls who had babies in high school] weren’t able to finish school,” Martin said. “It was just the end of choice for them and what their lives would be like. And the ones that married ended up divorced. So I just couldn’t think that that was a good solution.”
However, others disagree with this so-called end of choice.
“I realize that rape happens, but for the most part, it’s completely your decision to get pregnant. Right? You’re able to stop that from happening,” senior Jim Butz said. “Excluding rape, I think [that] if you get pregnant it is your fault and you should be forced to have the baby.”
According to a study by the National Library of Medicine, an estimated 32,000 pregnancies in America result from rape each year. 32.2% of those kept the baby whereas 50% had abortions, 5.9% placed the baby for adoption and 11.8% had miscarriages or spontaneous abortions.
After the repeal of Roe v. Wade, women in some states will lose the right to terminate their pregnancy or not, no matter the situation in which they were impregnated.
Before the reproductive rights movement gained momentum, especially before Roe, the figureheads of the movement were white women such as Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood. Alongside her progressive views on reproductive rights, Sanger was a supporter of eugenics, the notion that certain demographics should not reproduce in order to “improve” the human genome. In some ways, she
used her advancements in reproductive justice as a way to spread the idea that a fetus should be aborted if it were going to be born disabled or of color. She endorsed the forced and non-consensual sterilization of those deemed “unfit” to have
For reasons like this, some still argue that abortion is used as a tool of eugenics and that the reproductive rights movement is more harmful than beneficial to minority groups. In fact, some consider the unborn to be a minority group themselves due to their lack of power and decision-making ability.
Planned Parenthood has run advertisements reading: “BABIES ARE LOUD SMELLY, AND EXPENSIVE. UNLESS YOU WANT ONE.”
The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform’s Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) describes pro-choice advertisements like this one to utilize “the dehumanizing rhetoric of genocide.” The project urges readers to substitute a racial group for the word “babies,” claiming it would induce public outrage.
Additionally, GAP points out that minorities are most likely to choose abortion, arguing that abortion contributes to the erasure of these groups.
A Summer of Dissent
Prior to the official SCOTUS ruling for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Politico published a leaked draft majority opinion penned by Justice Samuel Alito on May 2, 2022. Thus began what has since been coined as “the summer of dissent.”
Within 10 days of the draft leak, UAHS students were met by protestors holding large, graphic signs depicting aborted fetuses and words such as “eternity is a long time to be wrong” and “never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal” in front of the school following the
These protesters were members of the organization Created Equal, a non-profit, pro-life organization inspired by Mark Harrington’s vision of uniting human rights defenders.
Harrington and the other members of the Created Equal organization compare themselves to the anti-racist Freedom Riders movement of the 1960s, a historical group of protestors dedicated to abolishing segregation. Their website reads: “like the Freedom Riders, we’re focusing the attention of America on injustice — this time, it’s the ageism of abortion, by which young humans are killed daily for reasons we would not permit the killing of older (born) humans.”
Created Equal was only one of many organizations holding protests over the summer. Planned Parenthood alone organized more than 400 “Bans off our Bodies” protests the day following the draft leak and has since continued to organize protests and rallies in defense of abortion rights.
On June 24, the court released the official ruling for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, only slightly altered from the leaked draft Politico had published. The ruling overturned Roe v. Wade and revoked the constitutional right to an abortion for Americans after half a century of precedent.
Junior Shira Bohrer, who is interested in political activism and works at the Ohio Center for Sex Education, recounts the day Roe v. Wade was overturned.
“I think when it happened, a part of me and a lot of other people just sort of shut down. I remember being really frustrated with Instagram. I didn’t want to see it on the stories. I didn’t want to see people posting about it,” Bohrer said. “I was just, like, kind of over it. And it was just kind of a frustrating thing to be around because you just see all of this and it’s like, ‘Well, what can we do?’”
Meanwhile Created Equal, and other anti-abortion Americans, experienced that day much differently.
“It was very surreal at first. I couldn’t even believe it. And then, once it kind of sunk in, I had tears streaming down my face — we all did. This joy, that Roe had fallen— this unconstitutional policy that was in place for so long— that was saying that it’s okay to kill innocent little boys and girls,” Created Equal program coordinator Evangeline Abaffy said. “It was just a great moment to see this stone be
turned over and to look to what’s next.”
The controversial ruling released this summer has further polarized an already extremely polarized country, as some people mourn the loss of Roe v. Wade and others celebrate it. Tensions run high between pro-abortion and anti-abortion Americans.
“Created Equal has added to a lot of harm to Ohioans here. They’re the group that stands outside high schools or on college campuses or outside the statehouse, with really graphic images,” Planned Parenthood Advocates of Ohio director of communications Aileen Day said.
There is tangible hostility between those holding the pro-choice and pro-life standpoints.
“I’ve talked to plenty of people… [that] would look at the evidence of embryology and they would come to the conclusion that that’s wrong to do because they have some basic morality,” Abaffy said.
Seeing as abortion is such a sensitive topic, some may believe that the decision to have an abortion should be left to individuals, rather than legislation.
“If you don’t want to have an abortion, don’t have an abortion. But you know, kind of like hands-off making that decision for others. You know, everybody should have the right to make their own decision,” Long said.
Ohio State Bill 23, which passed July 11, 2019, prohibits abortions once a detectable heartbeat is found— typically within six weeks of conception. This can cause most abortions not to be performed, since, at six weeks, many people don’t know that they are pregnant, according to the Abortion Fund of Ohio.
According to the bill, illegal abortion, classified as a fifth-degree felony, entails “knowingly performing or inducing an abortion once a fetal heartbeat has been detected unless designed or intended to prevent the death of the pregnant woman.”
This bill has no exceptions for rape or incest. This ruling has not been changed since the case of Dobbs v. Jackson.
To combat this bill, organizations that are pro-choice, such as Planned Parenthood, have been using resources such as patient navigators. Patient navigators help people who want abortions to obtain the help that they need, whether it be directing them out of state or connecting with health centers that could. Planned Parenthood can connect people seeking abortions with these patient navigators and steer them in the desired direction.
“One out of 10 people in Ohio is having an abortion at under six weeks, so we’re sending around 90% of people out of state,” Day said.
However, the topic of patient navigators is becoming increasingly controversial as states adapt to a post-Roe life.
Recently, an anonymous ten-year-old girl became a key point in abortion topics. The girl was pregnant due to rape and was denied an abortion in Ohio. She was directed to Indiana, where Dr. Caitlin Bernard administered her medication for an abortion.
Bernard underwent tremendous backlash for this decision, mostly from fervent Republicans in Indiana, but she said she hoped that her decision made a difference.
“I think people realize how important our voice as physicians as advocates for access to care can be,” Bernard said in a July interview with NPR. “I hope it will be inspiring and not deterring.”
However, shortly after, Indiana passed a new Senate bill restricting abortion. The bill was passed on Aug. 5 by the state House 62-38 and the state Senate approved it 28-19.
Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb stood in favor of this bill, outwardly declaring his opinions on the anti-abortion side.
“Following the overturning of Roe, I stated clearly that I would be willing to support legislation that made progress in protecting life,” Holcomb said in a statement.
Indiana’s Senate Bill 1 will be effective Sept. 15, 2022. It prohibits the licensure of abortion clinics, as well as banning abortion unless in cases of rape or incest before the tenth week of pregnancy.
The differences in elected officials’ opinions are also being shown throughout the country, as many other states decide what they will do in a post-Roe society.
On Aug. 2, 2022, voters in Kansas, a primarily Republican state, rejected a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the legislature to restrict abortion rights.
Kansas’s situation is now seen to those on the pro-choice side as a glimmer of hope, encouraging them to not give up.
Long agreed that the best way to resist is to speak one’s mind.
“If you’re unhappy, stand up,” Long said. “Have your voices heard.”
This same sentiment is held among many across the pro-choice spectrum.
“Abortion should not be stigmatized,” Day said. “One out of every four people who can become pregnant will have an abortion in their lifetime. But the majority of Ohioans don’t think that they know anyone who has been impacted by abortion.”
A Post-Roe Future
On the surface Roe v. Wade appears to just protect the federal right to an abortion; however, it runs much deeper than that. Roe v. Wade protects an individual’s constitutional right to privacy under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Roe v. Wade also set a precedent that other SCOTUS cases rely on, such as Obergefell v. Hodges, legalizing same-sex marriage.
“I think this does kind of set the precedent of, you know, the national government, they have more power to take away people’s rights now. [But] I think most rights have been around since the beginning of the country; like everything the Bill of Rights said,” Butz said. “I don’t think there’s any danger of that going away… I am not personally worried about that.”
“This also opens the opportunity for justices to take away other rights like gay marriage and contraception and things like that,” Day said. “So it’s just really scary, especially because it’s opened the door to be able to further take away other rights.”
In its majority opinion, the court stated that “[n]othing in this opinion should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion.” However, Justice Clarence Thomas, in a concurring opinion, stated that the court “should reconsider” its rulings in cases protecting same-sex marriage, same-sex intimacy and contraception access.
The Biden Administration has backed contraception rights, issuing a warning to U.S. businesses and health insurance providers that limiting coverage of contraceptives is a violation of federal law. Moreso, The United States Department of Health and Human Services recently clarified that the Affordable Care Act requires insurance plans to provide free birth control to insured individuals. Democrats in the House of Representatives attempted to pass a bill protecting access to contraception, but were unsuccessful.
“That’s a crazy thing to do, in my opinion,” Butz said. “I feel like having no abortions and no contraceptives, or I guess having fewer abortions and fewer contraceptives, means that there’s going to be tons of babies showing up all over the place.”
Same-sex marriage is also vulnerable to the ministrations of the SCOTUS, and the House has preemptively passed a bill to repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which states that marriage may exist only between one man and one woman. The act remains on the books, but is legally
unenforceable due to court’s decision in the Obergefell case.
These are only some of the impacts that may follow the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling, although some will vary based on certain demographics.
“Some states have completely banned abortion, while some states are completely fine with it, and it creates this huge discrepancy where the people that are the most affected by it are people that are unable to afford to go out of state to get the care that they need,” Bohrer said. “Abortions are still going to happen. That’s the reality. And it’s only affecting the people that aren’t as privileged as others and it’s kind of like a theme I think, in a lot of legislation in the US.”
Certain demographics will be impacted differently by this court ruling than others. For example, low-income individuals and minorities will likely have less access to abortions and other forms of reproductive care.
“It’ll be harder for people who need an abortion who cannot afford to travel to other states, who can’t afford to travel to other countries,” Long said. “There’ll be people that will have to have these babies and have a hard time raising them or not have the resources to raise them. It’s going to have a huge impact on people living in poverty.”
Some, such as Butz, present adoption as a viable option for handling unwanted pregnancies. “If worst comes to worst, you can always put him up for adoption or take him to an orphanage because you don’t have the money to care for him,” Butz said.
Others don’t view adoption as an effective solution, citing issues within the adoption and foster care systems.
“I think that we know the statistics about the number of people that are adopting kids. I mean, there’s so many kids in the foster care system; that’s not a solution,” Long said.
According to Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children of Ohio (CASA), there are more than 400,000 children in foster care in the United States, as well as more than 16,000 in Ohio alone. Additionally, 1,000 of those children in Ohio age out of foster care every year without having somewhere to live.
Oftentimes people who do not trust the adoption or foster systems will opt to terminate a pregnancy if they cannot afford to carry it to term.
According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, 25.1 million unsafe abortions are performed each year worldwide, and that number is predicted to increase drastically following the overruling of Roe v. Wade.
“People are either going to have to self-manage abortions by ordering pills online… and it’s actually very safe to self-manage your own abortion, but people just shouldn’t have to take healthcare into their own hands,” Day said. “So it’s either forcing people to take healthcare into their own hands or we’re forcing people to — if they even can — travel out of state a hundred miles to get healthcare.”
The SCOTUS overturning Roe v. Wade will have a drastic impact on American history going forward for dozens of reasons, one such reason being that the SCOTUS does not often overturn former court proceedings. “Stare decisis” is a Latin term that means “to stand by things decided” and is the legal principle of determining points in litigation according to precedent, as defined by The Oxford Dictionary. The court adheres to stare decisis, and values precedent in general. It rarely overturns former court proceedings. Typically, when a court overturns a former ruling it is to invoke rights, rather than revoke them — as demonstrated in Brown v. Board of Education, Gideon v. Wainwright and Lawrence v. Texas. Hence why the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization took many pro-
choice Americans — who believe the right to an abortion to be a fundamental human right — by surprise.
“Losing the right to abortion is a human rights crisis,” Day said. “The impacts are really drastic, and they’ll, unfortunately, be never-ending.”