We Need to Do More Than “Protect ‘Roe’”

Supporters of abortion rights have reason to worry. Texas’s SB 8, which effectively bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, is still in force, despite legal challenges to the blatantly unconstitutional law. And the conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court is expected to overturn Roe v. calf in its ruling on Mississippi’s 15-week ban in the coming months, opening the door for more abortion bans nationwide.

Many supporters of abortion rights have responded with calls to “Protect roe” Yet, while these new laws—and the prospect of similar bans in other states—surely mean that pregnant people will be forced to continue their pregnancies when they do not want to, this has already been happening.

People have always struggled to access abortion even with roe in place, a fact reproductive justice activists other abortion funds have long called attention to. The rallying cry to “Protect roe” is insufficient to ensure that people in the United States have the right to abortion. To achieve reproductive freedom, we must address the structural barriers that prevent people from accessing their right to an abortion, including systemic poverty and racism, alongside codifying roe through federal legislation such as the EACH Act and the Women’s Health Protection Act.

Right now, existing federal and state restrictions make it impossible for some pregnant people to choose abortion. But these laws don’t operate on their own. Existing abortion restrictions leverage other inequalities, particularly race and class inequalities, to put abortion out of reach.

The experience of Tyler (a pseudonym), a 26-year-old Black woman in Louisiana I interviewed for my recent book No real choice, shows how. From 2015 to 2017, I interviewed pregnant women who considered but did not obtain an abortion to understand why they were continuing their pregnancies. Tyler and many others explained that they wanted an abortion but the barriers to obtaining one were insurmountable.

At the time she discovered her pregnancy, Tyler was a single parent of two elementary school-age children and working an hourly wage job. She knew right away that she wanted an abortion. And right away, she faced obstacles.

Of the many abortion restrictions in Louisiana, two were important for Tyler. Tyler relied on Louisiana’s public health insurance (ie, Medicaid), which prohibits coverage of abortion care in most cases. Thirty-two other states have similar Medicaid bans on abortion coverage thanks to the federal Hyde Amendmentwhich Congress first passed three years after the roe decision, and state-specific versions of Hyde. Because of this ban, Tyler would have to pay for an out-of-pocket abortion. Finances were tight for Tyler, but she was able to scrape together the money for a first-trimester abortion (which averages around $644 in the United States), seemingly surmounting that obstacle.

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