US abortion advocates vow to fight expected Roe v Wade decision
Los Angeles, California, US – Dazon Dixon Diallo says she felt mixed emotions when she read the US Supreme Court’s draft decision.
While not final, the majority opinion – first published by Politico on Monday evening – showed the country’s highest court had voted to strike down Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that guarantees the right to abortion in the United States.
“In a matter of seconds I went through a number of emotions,” said Dixon Diallo, founder of Sister Love, a sexual and reproductive health advocacy group in the US state of Georgia.
While she was not surprised, given the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, she said she felt “absolute rage at the almost judicial vitriol in terms of the language that went into the opinion”.
Georgia is one of the states that is likely to enact a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy – a point at which many do not know they are pregnant – if Roe v Wade is rolled back, reproductive rights groups have said.
Dixon Diallo said people of African descent and young people will face the brunt of such a decision. Families and communities around pregnant people will also be affected.
“Having the children that you want to have at the time you want to have them is tied to your own aspirations for your own destiny, and if you don’t have the ability to make decisions around that, then you could be locked into poverty for longer,” she told Al Jazeera.
“We know that having more unintended pregnancies and more children than we can afford, or have planned, or have the capacity to raise, is a detriment to our whole community, economically, politically, culturally.”
Abortion still legal
While the Supreme Court is only expected to deliver a final decision by late June, the draft opinion leaked on Monday has prompted abortion providers to emphasise that abortion is still legal in the US – and that they will continue providing care.
“We intend to continue providing care, even if in Georgia the worst-case scenario happens and it’s a six-week abortion ban,” said MK Anderson, who uses they/them pronouns and is the director of communications at the Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta.
“We’re definitely not going to close our doors,” Anderson told Al Jazeera.
“We already have abortion bans, two of them, a 15-week ban and a six-week ban, that are being litigated in the courts, but they’ve been held up in anticipation of this [Supreme Court] decision. So what the Georgia courts do with those bans is going to depend on the particulars of the decision.”
About half of US states are likely to ban or restrict abortion if Roe v Wade is overturned. Centre for Reproductive Rights data shows that 24 states are likely to outlaw the practice, while the Guttmacher Institute puts the number at 26 states. Most can be found in the centre and south of the country.
The Guttmacher Institute also says 36 million women of reproductive age may soon need to cross state lines, headed for the US coasts, to access abortion. That number is higher when transgender and non-binary people are included, although exact data is unavailable.
Lisa Haddad, an obstetrician-gynaecologist living in Georgia and medical director of the Center for Biomedical Research at the Population Council, said if Roe v Wade falls, the ruling will primarily affect communities of colour.
“These disparities are often felt more by individuals who are already in vulnerable situations,” Haddad told Al Jazeera.
She said people will not be able to easily access care if they cannot take time off work, cannot find childcare or cannot afford to travel, and noted that most insurance in Georgia does not cover abortion.
Haddad said it is impossible to know what people will do if they are out of options, but historically, people have turned to physical harm, intoxication or suicide as a last resort.
“It breaks my heart for all the young individuals who are going to struggle now to obtain safe and appropriate healthcare because they now have politicians making decisions for them,” she said.
‘Dismantling of democracy’
Tech may provide one possible solution to access. Rachel Rebouche, interim dean and professor of law at Temple University Beasley School of Law who focuses on abortion policy, pointed to virtual health providers that are filling the void.
There are two ways to access abortion in the US: either through a procedure in a clinic, or by taking abortion pills, which can be done safely at home. New US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules allow telehealth facilities to send the pills by mail, making abortion accessible in cases where people are unable to drive long distances to clinics.
For years, the FDA has required people to pick up the abortion pill mifepristone in person, but when the coronavirus pandemic hit, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) successfully asked a court to lift the in-person requirement because it could put patients at risk of contracting COVID-19, Rebouche explained.
In December 2021, under a more liberal Biden administration, the FDA permanently lifted the in-person restriction. “From there, you saw the growth of virtual abortion clinics, which are entirely online services. You log on, you have counselling online, medication for abortion was mailed to you,” Rebouche said.
For states that allow virtual abortion services, telehealth providers can ship abortion pills to any state where the practice is permitted. “At the same time, a lot of states have become really galvanised and have banned telehealth abortion within their borders,” she said.
Dixon Diallo agreed that abortion pills and telehealth are already game-changers in helping people access abortion. But she cautioned that everything depends on what the court officially decides.
Still, she hopes the draft decision will shake up those who have become complacent. “If Roe goes away completely, I guarantee you there will be fights in the street — I mean from a political standpoint,” she said.
“The dismantling of democracy starts with the dismantling of individual rights, including the right to abortion … That’s what this is really all about, and women are now the biggest and most affected collateral in all of this.”