SCOTUS Abortion Ruling Op Ed
Note: This Op Ed was prepared by the new PACG Women's Equity Forum in advance of the ruling by the Supreme Court. We submitted it to the the Quad-City Times last week and hope that it will be published soon..
Date: June 21, 2022
The recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to deny women federal protection to control their own reproductive choices and bodily autonomy, and to allow individual states to enact widely varying laws regarding abortion, represents an enormous setback for women.
As individuals within a collective society, we will never fully agree on the question of when life begins because personal beliefs dictate and shape that thought. But a more readily answerable question might be this. Whose life is more important and valued: an autonomous woman already navigating her adult life, or a dependent fetus whose continued growth and delivery may pose grave physical, personal, and economic risk to that woman?
Another perplexing question is whether we trust women to make informed decisions regarding their own health and welfare - what is best for them in their own unique set of circumstances – or if we believe that remote legislative bodies in a state or national capitol know better.
Maternal mortality rates are often used as a sentinel measure of a society’s well-being, and cultures that do not value women suffer a higher percentage of maternal deaths. The United States is a sad outlier among high-income countries, with one of the highest rates of maternal mortality. A woman is substantially more likely to die from a pregnancy-related complication or in the first year postpartum if she lives in the United States than if she resides in Canada, Australia, or Europe. Contributing factors include our highly fragmented medical system and lack of universal health care, among others. Enforcing pregnancy, while simultaneously failing to provide nationally funded, comprehensive prenatal and postnatal care, and denying free and universal access to effective contraception is unfathomable.
It is much safer to undergo an abortion than to continue a pregnancy. In 2020, the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists stated that the risk of death associated with pregnancy and childbirth is 14 times higher compared with abortion. Legislation within a democracy typically exists as a means by which the health and welfare of its citizens is protected, not abandoned. But the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision reversing nearly a half-century of reproductive health protection is abandonment. Similarly, the recent decision by the Iowa Supreme Court, ruling that our state constitution does not protect the right to an abortion, endangers women’s health.
Overturning Roe will not end abortion in the U.S. Banning abortion will only stop safe abortion. Women will die.
Since 1935, when maternal mortality rates in the U.S. were first separated out by race, a disturbing racial disparity has been documented. Black and Indigenous women die from pregnancy related complications at two to three times the rate of their White counterparts. We will likely see this disparity increase even further, as Black and Brown women are more apt to be deprived economically and may lack the material support and means to travel out of state to have an abortion, should they desire to do so.
Numerous unanticipated events can complicate a previously uneventful pregnancy. With the recent Supreme Court ruling, women and physicians in certain states now find themselves subjected to scrutiny and treatment debates over common obstetric complications such as ectopic pregnancy and incomplete abortion (a subcategory of spontaneous miscarriage). It is untenable that there are now states in which life-saving treatment of these complications is up for debate, something reminiscent of a dystopian novel rather than modern 21st century life. It is not possible to write a state law capable of addressing the myriad potential developments in a patient’s pregnancy, while also allowing for the nuance required in good clinical management. These challenging decisions need to be made between the woman who is pregnant and her physician. No one else should be allowed into that conversation.
Besides the absence of universal health care, we lack affordable childcare and universal pre-K education. Since 2009, the Iowa minimum wage has remained a paltry $7.25 an hour, while in Illinois it was increased in 2022 to $12 an hour. It is simply not possible for a family, let alone a single-parent household, to thrive on these wages. For a family with one child, existing childcare costs in Iowa take up a whopping 18% of a single parent’s family budget, and with two or more children the percentage is even higher. The economic hardships of an enforced pregnancy will push more women and their children into poverty, denying them full and self-determined lives.
Societal progress has been slow, and women are tired of waiting for change and the elusive concept of equality. But besides the dire health and economic consequences, an enforced pregnancy can cause other catastrophic upheavals: It can change the entire trajectory of a woman’s life. Her education may be derailed and never completed, she may choose to stay in an unhappy or abusive relationship, she may not have the time or emotional capability to care for additional children, and her future may be irretrievably altered.
We profoundly disagree with the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade.
Carolyn K. Martin, M.D.
Alta L. Price, M.D.
Co-Facilitators, Women’s Equity Forum
Progressive Action for the Common Good