According to a leaked draft of a U.S. Supreme Court decision, the 50-year period of reproductive freedom in the country may be coming to a close. Since 1973, pursuant to Roe v. Wade, a nationwide, constitutional right to abortion services could not be restricted substantially by individual states. If Roe is overturned, as the court is expected to do sometime this summer, U.S. states could severely restrict or prohibit abortion. Although Illinois women will retain their reproductive freedom, it's thought that 26 states would take some action to limit abortion rights – some of these outright bans.
What do women lose when their reproductive freedom is restricted? First and foremost, women without access to abortion lose the right to plan their lives and careers. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 45% of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned. That's almost 3 million of the 6.4 million annual pregnancies in the country. And the average age of first-time mothers is 26, women at the beginning of their careers. An unintended, unplanned pregnancy affects a woman in a variety of ways, including her education, career choices and financial status. Reproductive freedom, including access to birth control and abortion, improves women's socioeconomic status. A recent study showed that as access to free and low-cost birth control goes up, the percentage of young women who leave high school before graduating goes down by double digits. The increased access to family planning decreased the percentage of young women who left school before graduating by 14%.
The sheer number of women affected by an overturn of Roe is staggering. Today, abortion is a widely shared experience in the U.S. Women of all different ages, races and religions have abortions in the U.S. In 2017 about 860,000 abortions were provided in clinical settings in the United States. Currently, nearly 40 million U.S. women aged 13-44 (58% of the total number in the country) live in states that have demonstrated hostility to abortion rights. In contrast, 26 million women of reproductive age (almost 38% of the U.S. total) live in states that have demonstrated support for abortion rights. Access to abortion also varies by geographic region. As many of the hostile states are clustered in the Midwest, the South and the Plains, a woman may not be able to get the care she needs, even by traveling to a neighboring state.
The overturn of Roe would hurt some groups more than others. The women most affected by nearly 1,300 current abortion restrictions are those already facing overlapping systems of oppression. Restrictions disproportionately impact those who have limited resources to overcome financial and logistic barriers. This includes young people, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, people with low incomes and those in rural areas, as well as Black, Indigenous and other people of color. It's critical to remember that the majority of women who get an abortion are already struggling to make ends meet. Some 75% of abortion patients have low incomes, and the majority are already parents. In 2014, Black patients accounted for 28% of abortion patients, Hispanic patients for 25%. This means the majority of people who have abortions are also facing structural racism that is exacerbated by every logistic hurdle.
Those seeking abortions will find them more expensive and difficult to obtain. Abortion restrictions are typically designed to make the procedure too expensive or logistically challenging for an abortion provider to provide care, or for a patient to obtain an abortion. The average cost of an abortion at 10 weeks is around $550, and the cost goes up significantly later in pregnancy. This creates a vicious cycle in which someone might have to delay getting an abortion to raise the needed funds, only to have the cost increase. The Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funding for abortion, preventing people enrolled in Medicaid and other public programs in most states (not Illinois, thankfully) from using their health insurance to cover abortion care. In addition, 11 states have restrictions that keep people from using their private health insurance to pay for an abortion, and 25 states restrict abortion coverage in plans offered through the Affordable Care Act's health insurance exchanges. If a person has to travel a long way to get an abortion, she may have to arrange for time off work, find and pay for transportation and child care, and pay for food and lodging.
One of the country's legal principals, stare decisis, means "to stand by things decided." Fifty years ago, the Supreme Court established a constitutional right to abortion. Overturning Roe would affect plans women have made and will make in their lives. Even women in states retaining abortion rights will have their plans affected, if they have an educational or career opportunity in a state without abortion rights. Losing a constitutional right to abortion will affect women's opportunities and ability to plan their lives, and it will be devastating to women around the country.
Amy Armstrong Green and Rebecca Grummon are both co-presidents of the Springfield Branch, American Association of University Women.