May 24, 2022
In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court decided abortions were legal in the infamous Roe v. Wade case. Nearly 50 years later, a majority opinion from the Supreme Court may reverse this decision. But how would the overturning of Roe v. Wade affect states? While some states may enact abortion bans, others, like Illinois, likely will not. After this historic decision, abortion access groups are organizing for a future where access to abortions may be limited by location, distance and cost.
NEWSCAST: An early draft of a coming Supreme Court decision leaked to the public late yesterday suggests that by this summer, a majority of the justices will overturn Roe v. Wade —
HANNAH COLE: On May 2, Politico published a leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion that could reverse the constitutional right to an abortion under Roe v. Wade.
HANNAH COLE: With reproductive rights threatened, people across the country are wondering how we got here and what the future of abortion access will look like.
HANNAH COLE: From the Daily Northwestern, I’m Hannah Cole. This is The Ripple, a podcast exploring the effects of state and national politics on the Evanston and Northwestern community. Before the leaked decision, The Daily sat down with legal studies Prof. Joanna Grisinger, the director of legal studies at NU. She explained that abortion is protected both under Roe v. Wade, as well as under a 1992 case called Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
JOANNA GRISINGER: Particularly under Casey, states may not ban abortion entirely before viability.
HANNAH COLE: Despite this precedent, Mississippi enacted a state ban in 2018 that prohibited almost all abortions before 15 weeks. Since then, the case has been challenged multiple times, making it all the way to the Supreme Court. This case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, could reverse a decades-long precedent.
JOANNA GRISINGER: So this is in flagrant violation of Supreme Court doctrine of Planned Parenthood v. Casey. States have been passing these laws that are clearly in violation of Supreme Court doctrine, clearly in the hopes of getting the question of abortion back before the Supreme Court to give the Supreme Court an option to overrule Roe, overrule Casey.
HANNAH COLE: That tactic appears to have succeeded. Though the opinion has not yet been finalized, the leaked draft is a good indication of where the justices’ heads are at. If the Supreme Court moves to officially reverse the constitutional right to abortion, individual states can implement statutes that ban abortions. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a worldwide research organization committed to advancing reproductive health, 26 states are certain or likely to take advantage of the decision. While Illinois will likely continue to allow abortions, many of its neighboring states will likely enact bans.
JOANNA GRISINGER: In the Midwest, it may well be that Illinois is the state people come to to get abortions. On the West Coast, there’s probably going to be somewhat more states where abortion is widely available. In the South, it’s going to be incredibly restricted.
HANNAH COLE: This state-by-state model ensures that abortions will remain available, but certain groups will have more access than others. People that have the money to travel, the time to take off work and access to childcare can still get abortions. Meanwhile, low-income people will feel the consequences of a reversal the most. Madison Lyleroehr is a member of the Board of Directors of the Midwest Access Coalition, or MAC for short. She said her organization is a practical support fund aimed at mitigating the cost of abortion, as well as other barriers to care, such as transportation or information access.
MADISON LYLEROEHR: So that could be anything from booking a bus ticket, a plane ticket, providing a gas reimbursement, providing lodging, things like that, and also, so we’re kind of there every step of the way to help get them to their appointment and back home. We get calls from folks mostly in the surrounding states who have maybe visited a clinic in their area or have no clinic in their area, and either they were too far along, or some other circumstance led them to have to travel away from their home to access their abortion.
HANNAH COLE: The Chicago Abortion Fund, another abortion access organization, supports people living in and traveling to Illinois. According to the executive director, Megan Jeyifo, the group has noticed a significant increase in the need for services in recent years. In 2018, it supported fewer than 200 people; in 2019, when many bans were introduced, that number jumped to 824. In 2020, it helped about 1600 people and in 2021, close to 3000. So far this year, it’s heard from 2000 people already. Megan said this is a symptom of clinic closures in nearby states.
MADISON LYLEROEHR: When clinics close, there are only so many appointments available, and so that will also mean people having to wait longer to get appointments, and the longer you have to wait to get an appointment, the higher your gestational age is and the potentially more the procedure can cost.
HANNAH COLE: If more people are forced to travel to Illinois and wait longer to get an abortion, Madison said she predicts MAC will receive more patients with these compounding financing issues in the coming months.
MADISON LYLEROEHR: So many people who get abortions, the majority actually are already parents, and so it affects how they can care for their children. We definitely get callers who say, “I can either pay for this abortion, or I can pay for groceries this month.”
HANNAH COLE: Sarah Brown, the director of the Women’s Center at NU, said overturning Roe v. Wade might also impact college students, specifically their access to resources like contraception.
SARAH BROWN: I think it’s really important, especially at a school like Northwestern, where students come from all over the country, to recognize that there is going to be an impact for them, both in their access to abortion in other states and in how it relates to their sexual health more broadly.
HANNAH COLE: Sarah said it’s not just about abortion — she thinks the Supreme Court decision could impact other reproductive health issues. Abortion clinics like Planned Parenthood provide other resources like contraception and sexually transmitted infections care, so closing these health centers reduces access to other kinds of care.
SARAH BROWN: I think it’s just very important for us as a community, really the Northwestern community, to consider it our responsibility to help students find these national resources that wherever they go, they can feel safe and healthy.
HANNAH COLE: So, how are organizations mobilizing to ensure people retain access to services like abortions and sexual healthcare? The Women’s Center is gathering up-to-date, expansive resources on its website for students.
SARAH BROWN: We are looking to provide students with ways to do — not just students but really students, staff and faculty with ways to do a number of things: get abortions themselves, find sexual health care for themselves, or for people in their lives who don’t live here in Illinois, where it is at least a little bit more accessible, and to get involved in organizations, including but also beyond Planned Parenthood, which is the one that people tend to know, but there are so many different organizations fighting for reproductive justice.
HANNAH COLE: While the Women’s Center provides information to students, access groups like MAC are expanding their resources. Groups like Chicago Abortion Fund and MAC also recently received support from the City of Chicago, which pledged $500,000 to abortion access. Madison said additional staff helps broaden its impact, too.
MADISON LYLEROEHR: I, myself am a volunteer, I used to work with our clients as a hotline volunteer, and I’ve just recently started taking a couple of clients a week. Another big way is shoring up our partnerships. There are organizations all over the place that support folks accessing abortion, and we really rely on and value our partnerships all over the country.
HANNAH COLE: Joanna recognizes the importance of an inclusive framework when putting these resources together. For example, this decision could allow states to criminalize abortion. Policing and incarceration disparities already exist, and criminalization could increase the impact of law enforcement on already-overpoliced communities.
JOANNA GRISINGER: Policing is very racialized. It seems very likely that state attention, the policing attention, this would sort of be another tool for criminalizing a nonwhite population. So, you know, bringing the criminal legal system into all of this seems likely to bring all the prejudices and biases of the criminal legal system into enforcement as well.
HANNAH COLE: But increased policing is not the only barrier for communities of color. Medical racism places many pregnant people’s lives at risk. Sarah said the Women’s Center uses a reproductive justice framework to combat the white-centered narrative of abortion activism that often ignores these nuances. Reproductive justice addresses medical racism by ensuring people maintain the right not to have children or to have children and raise them in safe, healthy environments.
SARAH BROWN: When I had my own child, they gave me a hospital tour, and I remember very casually a nurse saying to me our preference here is “save the mother.” I literally just stopped walking because hearing that means that in some places, it’s not. That is something that affects in particular Black women and Indigenous women, and in really astonishing rates. So I think it’s just like, you can’t have these conversations and act like right now we’re going to talk about Roe and it’s going to be this very whitewashed thing and then tomorrow, we’ll talk about sterilization, or tomorrow, we’ll talk about maternal morbidity rates amongst African Americans. You have to say these things in the same breath.
HANNAH COLE: While putting these resources together, the Women’s Center also ensures its information and rhetoric remain inclusive of transgender and nonbinary students. Sarah said the language it chooses sounds simple but is critical.
SARAH BROWN: When we say pregnant people or when we say, when we even name that, like trans men may need abortions, right? Nonbinary people need abortions — that it isn’t simply people who identify as female or as women. I think that that’s actually really vital because the national rhetoric around abortion is so woman-focused, so people get erased in that conversation.
HANNAH COLE: Through their mobilization, these access groups recognize that abortions will continue regardless of bans and overturning Roe v. Wade.
JOANNA GRISINGER: People have always had abortions, people who’ve been pregnant have always had abortions, they will always seek abortions.
HANNAH COLE: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Hannah Cole. Thanks for listening to another episode of The Ripple. This episode was reported and produced by me, Hannah Cole. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Lucia Barnum, the digital managing editors are Will Clark and Katrina Pham and the editor in chief is Jacob Fulton. Make sure to subscribe to The Daily Northwestern’s podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or SoundCloud to hear more episodes like this.
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