The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing a case today that could overturn Roe v. Wade, and with it, women’s right to an abortion. Regardless of the outcome, it will have little effect on most American women. And in a strange way that makes it more dangerous.
The effects will be limited because of two other factors. One is the simple truth that one cannot put the toothpaste back in the tube. The other is the calendar. This is the 21st century and a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions has been recognized nationally for almost 50 years.
Two generations of women have grown up believing themselves free to decide their own fate. They are not likely to change that thinking because of a court ruling. Nor are they likely to abandon the last half-century of cultural and technological change.
The court is hearing a case called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. It concerns a Mississippi law limiting abortions to the first 15 weeks of pregnancy – a time when many women do not yet know they are pregnant. Under a 1992 Supreme Court ruling, states could not put “substantial obstacles in the path of a woman seeking an abortion” before fetal viability, which is at about 24 weeks.
Upholding the Mississippi law would not directly affect all American women. It could, however, have several disastrous consequences.
For starters, a win for Mississippi would probably encourage other states to follow its example. Republicans now control 23 state governments, many of which can be expected to enact similar restrictions.
That a resurgence of back-alley abortions would follow is certain. And just as certain would be the reappearance of the phrase “botched abortion” as cause of death.
Such a decision would also further erode Roe. That could both allow and encourage further diminution of other examples of women’s rights.
Perhaps the worst result of a ruling for the state would be its overall effect on our society. If other states were to follow along Mississippi’s path, it would divide the nation in two – and then further divide the states restricting abortion.
The world has changed since 1973, when Roe came down. Travel is cheaper, and with the internet and cellphones, communication has exploded. Information about where abortions are offered, how to get there and even where to stay should be readily available.
There is nothing to keep a pregnant woman in one of the states that curtail abortion rights from getting an abortion in another state. Nothing, that is, except money. Which means that the effects of laws like Mississippi’s really fall on the poor.
A woman with resources will be inconvenienced, but not denied. That does not necessarily mean rich. It could be nothing more than help from a family member or friend. Nor in 21st century America does it mean all that much money.
What laws like Mississippi’s would mean is that only the truly poor would have their right to choose curtailed. That is unfair, unhealthy and wrong.