2023 marks the first year in half a century that women in the United States do not have the Constitutional right to access abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark January 22, 1973 ruling on Roe v. Wade made abortion legal under the Fourteenth Amendment as a privacy protection and created a new opportunity for millions of women to finally have a say in their own futures and families. Last year, after decades of trying, anti-abortion extremists were finally able to overturn that right, turning back the clock by making abortion a crime in many jurisdictions and denying people basic decision-making power over their lives and health.
Today, abortion is unavailable in 14 states, and courts have temporarily blocked enforcement of bans in eight other states. States where abortion is available have seen an influx of patients from states with severe restrictions, which has created lengthy waiting times for all people seeking the procedure. Delays in abortion access have negative impacts for patients including increasing risk, escalating costs, and limiting options for care.
But anti-abortion extremists aren’t going to stop with delaying access and limiting options. Despite the fact that two thirds of Americans support the right to legal, safe abortion, anti-abortion crusaders are determined to eradicate all access to the procedure and to create criminal penalties for people who seek or get an abortion, as well as for the medical providers who administer it.
Nor is the rollback of abortion rights and access exclusive to states. In Congress, the new GOP majority in the House of Representatives passed two anti-abortion measures. The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act reaffirmed the existing rights that infants already have but added new punishments, including fines and prison time, for any health providers that don’t comply. The new penalties include fines or imprisonment of up to five years for healthcare providers who don’t comply. The second measure, a House Resolution titled Expressing the sense of Congress condemning the recent attacks on pro-life facilities, groups, and churches, was largely a symbolic vote to appease the anti-abortion extremists who claim they are being persecuted by the state while, in fact, persecuting others.
Thankfully, these measures are unlikely to become law while Democrats control the Senate and while President Biden, who has vowed to uphold abortion rights and access, continues to be in office.
Meanwhile, anti-abortion advocates will continue to attack abortion using every means possible. In addition to shutting down clinics, making abortion a crime, forcing pregnant people to travel long distances, and increasing risks for patients, the anti-abortion extremists are now taking aim at the most accessible and safe mechanism for abortion: medication abortion. Medication or chemical abortion is widespread, now accounting for over half of all abortions in the U.S. The procedure is extremely safe for people in the first trimester of pregnancy and does not require administration in a clinic. A physician may prescribe medication abortion so a patient can end a pregnancy in the privacy of their own home and provide telehealth support in the event of any questions. Complications for medication abortion are incredibly rare.
Since the FDA finalized a rule allowing mifepristone to be dispensed by retail pharmacies, CVS and Walgreens have signaled that they are applying for certification to dispense it. But doing so may prove complicated in states with abortion restrictions or where abortion is currently illegal. To complicate things further, anti-abortion extremists are organizing pickets outside CVS and Walgreens opposing access to these medicines as well as filing lawsuits to block the pharmacies. These are the same tactics they have used for decades to harass and intimidate people seeking abortion care at clinics and to ultimately overturn abortion rights in the courts. Their intention is nothing less than ending access to medication abortion which, in much of our country, is the only avenue people have to safe access.
Healthcare advocates and abortion rights supporters must step up now, more than ever, to protect and restore abortion rights and access to the millions of people who need it, particularly future generations of potential parents who deserve the right to decide for themselves if and when to start a family.