NPWF President: "Robust interventions to address the substantial racial inequities in maternal health in the United States are long overdue and require immediate action." WASHINGTON, D.C. – September 19, 2023 – Today, the National Partnership for Women...
After Dobbs: Finding Optimism Amidst the Devastation
*This is the first in a series of blogs we’ll be sharing throughout the summer about what has happened in the year since the Dobbs decision, and how the attacks on reproductive health, rights, and justice are connected to other issues that matter deeply in the lives of women – and all people.
The last year has been devastating. Even though advocates in the reproductive health, rights, and justice movement have been sounding the alarm for years – decades, even – about what the fall of Roe v. Wade would mean, I wasn’t prepared for what that would actually look like. Even though the promise of Roe had long been illusory and abortion care out of reach for millions of people, it still felt like a punch to the gut when that formal right was stripped from us.
In the year since Dobbs, dozens of states have passed or enacted abortion bans, or are soon likely to do so, directly impacting more than 36 million women of reproductive age living in those states. This includes 15.4 million women of color; 2.9 million disabled women; 12.5 million women who are economically insecure; 15.8 million women who are mothers with children under 18 at home; and 400,100 are veteran women.
Across those states, abortion care has been decimated, forcing people to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to get the care they want or need – and that is if they can overcome the numerous and costly hurdles that come with arranging for transportation, child care, time off work, and more. People seeking abortions have to navigate a confusing and chaotic landscape of legality – intentionally made so by anti-abortion extremists in an effort to undermine access. And while abortion funds, practical support networks, community-based full spectrum doulas, and other advocates are doing heroic work to connect people to accurate information and necessary resources, many people are left to figure it out on their own.
Thousands of other women have been forced to carry pregnancies to term, and to parent without the policy and structural support necessary to help ensure that they and their children can thrive. Despite Justice Alito’s assertion that abortion is a singular, isolated event in a pregnant person’s life, we know that the consequences of having been denied abortion care are significant – from health to well-being to economic security, across every indicator, people who were not able to get the abortions they needed or wanted fare far worse. These forced pregnancies are especially egregious in light of our country’s worsening maternal health crisis. Black and Indigenous women, as well as disabled women, are doubly harmed, as they are significantly more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes and are also disproportionately subject to abortion restrictions and bans.
And while abortion bans are horrible in their own right, what we have seen in the year since the Dobbs decision has been truly harrowing: story after story after story of women being denied miscarriage care, of pregnant people being turned away from emergency rooms until their health deteriorated even further, of women with severe fetal diagnoses being left to suffer rather than offered compassionate care, of doctors terrified to run afoul of state abortion bans and being forced to provide far less than the standard of care to their patients. Hospitals have closed their maternity wings entirely because of the uncertainty of the legal landscape, compounding an already dire lack of access to high quality maternal health care. Providers are leaving states with abortion bans, making difficult choices to uproot their families and sacrifice their livelihoods. Many new residents are choosing not to train in ban states – but those that do are likely to miss out on learning essential skills in caring for pregnant people, which will inevitably lead to worse maternal and reproductive health outcomes. And people who wanted abortions were not able to get them, instead left to make choices they never should have had to make like whether to pay rent or buy diapers, with their economic stability and life goals undermined by the politicization of what should be a basic human right.
As if this wasn’t enough, Dobbs has raised the specter of criminalization – and all of its attendant far-reaching harms – for pregnant people and people seeking abortion care. While women have long been subject to criminalization related to pregnancy, the last year has seen heightened anxiety and stress about data security and the privacy of health information. Whether it is loopholes in HIPAA that allow health data to be turned over to law enforcement, search engine tracking of sensitive location information, apps that store and share health and health-adjacent data, and more, pregnant people understandably feel increasingly vulnerable to having their information weaponized against them. This is especially true for Black women and other women of color, as well as immigrants and low-income women, who are subject to over-policing in general and are also more likely to be subjects of investigations and proceedings related to their pregnancies.
And the attacks, unfortunately, are not letting up. Legal challenges to medication abortion are ongoing, new states are enacting abortion bans, and anti-abortion extremists continue to test just how far they can push restrictions on our reproductive freedom.
But really good things have happened in the last year, too. The Biden-Harris administration has taken seriously the charge to do what it can within the federal government’s power to protect reproductive rights. They are enforcing federal laws that protect access to emergency reproductive health care and strengthening privacy protections for health information. They have expanded access to abortion care for military servicemembers and veterans. And they have enabled retail and mail-order pharmacies to dispense medication abortion, paving the way for many more people to be able to access care.
States have passed new legislation enshrining the right to abortion in state law, expanding access, and protecting providers. People who have needed or wanted abortions are speaking out and pushing back against the laws that have harmed them. Voters have made their voices heard loud and clear. In every state where reproductive rights was on the ballot in the last year, abortion won – from Kentucky voters rejecting anti-abortion language in the state constitution to Wisconsin electing a vocally pro-choice judge to their state Supreme Court, and more. Furthermore, polling shows that the public overwhelmingly, and increasingly, supports abortion access. That support is translating into action, too, as more people become engaged in the fight to protect reproductive rights and activists at all levels link arms across our movements to join forces in our advocacy. And policymakers and politicians are taking notice of our collective power.
So as we mark one year since the Dobbs decision, I am choosing – despite everything – to lean into optimism, to believe in and build toward a future where abortion is truly available to everyone. I find hope in the resilience of the providers who are still offering care to as many people as they can, in the resourcefulness of abortion funds and practical support networks who keep making a way for people to get care, in the courage of policymakers who are vocal champions, in the strength of the advocates who never let up in the fight – and most of all, in the dignity of the millions of people who have had or are seeking abortions, who share their truths and stand tall in their humanity.
I hope you’ll join us in taking up the work ahead – whether by donating to abortion funds or reproductive justice organizations in your states, or by letting your legislators know you support abortion access and reproductive rights, or by getting engaged in your local community. We all have a role to play in turning our vision for abortion justice into reality.
This post is part of our blog series examining what has happened in the year since the Dobbs decision. Read more: