On July 24th, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued its opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization: “The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.” With that, for the first time in US history, SCOTUS revoked a right that it had previously granted. No matter your views on abortion, this decision was a big shock.
In the past 50 years since Roe v. Wade was decided, advocates on different sides of the issue have fought to expand or restrict access to abortion. While some states sought to codify Roe and increase the availability of a wide range of reproductive and sexual health services, others have doubled down on making access to these services as difficult as possible. Since Roe, 1,381 restrictions have been imposed on abortion, with 46% of those being enacted in the last decade alone. And now with the Dobbs decision finalized, over half of US states are expected to restrict or completely ban most abortions. This decision and the policies enacted across the country are an embarrassment in the global arena, and reflect the steep turn American politics has taken away from public health and basic science. But we’re not here to examine how the government at all levels has continued to divest from public health. We’re here to discuss the public health case for abortion and reproductive freedom as a whole, and the implications of Dobbs on the health of all Americans.
The University of California in San Francisco led the Turnaway Study, a 10-year longitudinal study that “followed nearly 1,000 women who either had or were denied abortions and tracked their mental and physical health and financial impacts.” The study found that these women experienced greater violence from the men who had fathered these children and faced more health problems than the women who were able to obtain abortions. The long-term impacts of the trauma from violence and serious health problems is well documents, so there is little doubt that restricting access to abortion will only exacerbate health inequities in the United States.
Public health experts often tout that a person’s zip code is a large determining factor in their overall health. Beyond reproductive health, this will surely be the case in the post-Roe world. No states that ban or are likely to ban abortion offer paid family leave. The opposite is also true: every state that offers paid family leave has protected the right to an abortion. Without social nets and accessible reproductive healthcare, the financial burden on families is exacerbated. The effects also go beyond an economic impact. The Turnaway Study demonstrated that children birthed to people who sought abortions showed worse child development when an abortion was denied as opposed to when a mother was able to receive one. Women who were denied abortion were more likely to develop life-threatening complications during child-birth. As it stands, maternal mortality in the US is higher than every other so-called “developed nation.” Denying access to abortions will only worsen the maternal mortality crisis.
Even amidst all of these existing issues (and there are far more implications of the Dobbs decision on reproductive health in the US), more than half of US states will clamp down on restricting access to abortions. The only justification they have for taking such action is a lack of interest in truly addressing population health issues that are worsening the health of the nation. The public health case is very clear: restricting abortions will not decrease the loss of life, it will only exacerbate it.
While it may seem as though there is no hope, there are still many ways to receive the reproductive and sexual healthcare you or someone else may need. You can find a verified abortion provider at abortionfinder.org, and there are still options to obtain an abortion pill and use mail forwarding to get it to you (even if you’re in a state that bans or is planning to ban abortions) at PlanCPills.org. For those who need it, there is financial assistance available at abortionfunds.org and practical support, such as transportation, childcare, etc., at apiarycollective.org/pso-list.
And you can advocate for reproductive justice by supporting organizations such as Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity (URGE), Access Reproductive Care, National Abortion Federation Hotline, the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Abortion Care Network. Finally, checkout resources the Student Government Association (SGA) at Tech has put out for reproductive justice by visiting https://linktr.ee/gtsga.
Get involved at Georgia Tech by visiting the Women’s Resource Center, Stamps Women’s Health Clinic, VOICE, Health Initiatives, and joining different student organizations that support sexual and reproductive health on campus including the Public Health Student Association, People Against Unwanted Sexual Experiences (PAUSE), Stamps Health Services Ambassadors, Support Health and Education (SHE) for Women, Buzz Mobile Health and the SGA Public Health Committee. The Dobbs decision will surely be studied and debated for many years to come, and maybe in the near future the decision will be overturned. But for now, the best we can do is reignite the fight for reproductive freedom.