OPINION: Pro-choice or no choice: The war on Roe v. Wade

Posted on Mar 28 2019 - 5:50am by Olivia Hawkins

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant is no stranger to waging warfare on women’s rights. Just last year, he signed the Gestational Age Act, one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, into law. After much controversy and judicial intervention, a permanent block was imposed, effectively nullifying the act.

However, on March 21, barely a year after the signing of the Gestational Age Act, Bryant signed Mississippi Senate Bill 2116, a law that criminalizes abortion once a heartbeat is detected. This law includes exceptions for life-threatening or injurious situations but very notably neglects to include exceptions for rape or incest. It’s expected that this law will meet the same fate as the Gestational Age Act, as the Center for Reproductive Rights intends to pursue it in court.

Considering the blatant unconstitutionality of Senate Bill 2116, one might wonder why Mississippi, and at least 20 other states, are so intent on legislating against access to safe abortions. The answer can be found on the United States Supreme Court. With the recent appointments of judges Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, the Supreme Court has seen an ideological shift to the right. This shift is central to the war being waged on Roe v. Wade.

While engaging in a slew of court cases may not seem to be the most favorable outcome, this is exactly what politicians like Phil Bryant want. It reflects a broader ideological war on women’s right to safe abortions. By introducing and enacting legislation that is antithetical to Roe v. Wade, politicians hope to have their cases brought to the court in the hopes that the process will take them all the way to the Supreme Court. The now conservative leaning of the Supreme Court is what pro-life advocates and politicians are clinging to as their only hope of toppling the 46-year-old legal precedent.

Regardless of one’s stance on abortion, a world without legal access to abortions as enshrined in cases such as Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood is an ugly prospect. Prior to the decision of Roe v. Wade, an abortion was not something that could be easily or safely accessed. The urban legend of coat-hanger abortions was a reality, as women in desperate situations sought the procedure from unskilled abortionists, or took the responsibility upon themselves and attempted self-induced abortions. It is estimated that, in the 1960s, complications from illegal abortions comprised at least 17 percent of all pregnancy-related deaths. This statistic does not account for the vast socioeconomic and racial disparities experienced by abortion-seeking women.

Even after the ruling of Roe v. Wade, state-level restrictions on abortion procedures and costs led to an extreme racial disparity in access to abortions. In the 1970s, the mortality rate from illegal abortions was estimated to be 12 times higher for women of color than white women.

A return to the days prior to Roe v. Wade would not mean that pro-life advocates would achieve their goal of banning abortion. Rather, it would mean that only those of the right status and race would have access to safe abortions, while women of low socioeconomic status and women of color suffer.

Olivia Hawkins is a junior political science and biology major from Fountain Run, Kentucky.