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The Health Implications of Abortion Rights

By Ananya Vinay

Fresno, California

Abortion rights protestors outside of the Supreme Court. (Sarah Silbiger / Getty Images)

With Roe v. Wade overturned, the potential negative consequences for women’s health in the United States and its global standing are increasingly on the minds of academics and the public. Ana Langer, Professor of Public Health at Harvard University, says 23,000 women die from unsafe abortions annually. Additionally, a recent study found that an abortion ban in the U.S. would contribute to a 21% increase in the overall rate of pregnancy-related deaths and a 33% increase specifically among Black women. Not only is a moral position at stake, but the lives of countless women seeking abortions for various reasons.

With Roe overturned, only 21 states have the right to abortion intact. Meanwhile, in states where abortion rights were impacted, this will perpetuate economic inequality, as women who live in poverty would not have the resources to travel to obtain necessary abortions. There are few consistent policies that support women, and most view the overturn of Roe v. Wade as a bad omen for equality.

When the United States made abortion legal in 1972, it set a precedent for global abortion ranging from Thailand to Ireland. As liberalism recedes and the rise of authoritarian governments continues, the right to abortion is continually at risk. Yet, this battle is representative of the larger stigma toward reproductive health care. Services including Planned Parenthood are chastised for providing access to abortions, but these centers also provide a variety of services that benefit women in the long run.

To reduce abortions in the long run, ground-level work is required. First, social safety net programs require more investment to enable women to take advantage of more educational opportunities and be fairly employed. In the absence of these efforts, the right to abortion must be preserved to both save lives and the value of equality in a democracy.

Moreover, it puts doctors in the difficult position of attempting to interpret narrow laws. Many state bans, including those in Oklahoma, permit abortion only if the medical emergency “cannot be remedied by the delivery of the child,” and these bans now have no legal impediment to their implementation. In the case of a violation, physicians performing the procedure could face 10 to 99 years in prison, depending on the individual state’s laws. The law threatens the availability of reproductive health care, as physicians would want to avoid the risk of prosecution. In addition, women are being arrested at increasing rates for miscarriages in the United States, of which some cases include that of Brittany Poolaw and Adora Perez, charged with manslaughter for a stillbirth following drug use.

In the law and in society, there is no doubt that a fetus is given more value than the mother. This ethical issue is complex, but it is never really considered in terms of its impact on politics and legal decisions. Charging pregnant women accused of drug use is the first step toward a draconian future, perhaps even redolent of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. With Roe overturned, the risks for global women’s health are significant, and gender inequality will only continue to grow by exacerbating the lack of resources and support for those in need. These implications make the urgency of protecting abortion rights clear for women now and in future generations.


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