Editor’s Note: This roundup is part of the CNN Opinion series “America’s Future Starts Now,” in which people share how they have been affected by the biggest issues facing the nation and experts offer their proposed solutions. The views expressed in these commentaries are the authors’ own. Read more opinion at CNN.
More than four months after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health overturned Roe v. Wade, undoing nearly five decades of federally-guaranteed legal abortion access, Americans across the country are still wrestling with the consequences of the decision.
How are Americans learning to live in this widely anticipated, but still-unprecedented, reality? CNN Opinion asked experts to share their thoughts on what a post-Roe America means – for the midterm elections and far beyond them.
Mary Ziegler: The conflicts in a post-Roe America are just beginning
Adjusting to a post-Roe America is impossible partly because the legal landscape is just beginning to take shape.
Conservative lawmakers are confronting a reality where abortion pills are easy to buy online and where travel out of state, including to mobile clinics, is an option – at least for those with resources. Will states try to ban travel for abortion, using a model patterned on Texas’s SB8, which allows people to sue anyone who performs or aids or abets an abortion? Will conservative lawmakers try to apply their criminal laws to abortions performed in progressive states? If they do, progressive states have prepared, passing shield laws that seek to protect providers and others from extradition, subpoena requests and more. How will courts resolve these clashes between states?
And then there is medication abortion. The Biden administration could argue that federal regulations preempt contradictory state rules. States could apply a model developed in the “war on drugs” to abortion pills. And after 2024, if America elects a Republican president, the Food and Drug Administration could place new restrictions on medication abortion or take pills off the market altogether.
There are other looming questions. Will states define aiding and abetting to sweep in a great deal of speech about abortion, or employer decisions to reimburse workers for travel? How will states even define “abortion” – and how will prosecutors make sense of vague definitions? With some anti-abortion groups convinced that all chemical contraceptives, including the birth control pill, are abortifacients, will contraceptive access change? Or will states seek to regulate in vitro fertilization?
President Joe Biden has suggested that voters can solve many of these problems by electing a Democratic majority. For their part, congressional Republicans have been largely mum about a national ban (Lindsey Graham’s proposed 15-week ban was greeted by a mixture of silence and disapproval, even on the right).
But the Supreme Court is quite likely to invalidate a federal law protecting abortion rights. That’s why the ballot initiatives before midterm voters may tell us more than which party wins a congressional majority. Taking the issue directly to voters may allow supporters of abortion rights to make progress in purple or red states – and to do so even when voters are unwilling to choose Democratic candidates. Whatever happens in the midterm, one thing is clear: Conflicts about abortion in a post-Roe America are just beginning.
Mary Ziegler is the Martin Luther King Professor of Law at UC Davis and author of the book “Dollars for Life: The Anti-Abortion Movement and the Fall of the Republican Establishment.”
Erika Bachiochi: Are policies that really help women too much to ask?
Since Dobbs came down, abortion advocates have had good success in persuading the American public that the Supreme Court’s decision has put women’s lives at risk – and that only unfettered access to abortion will save them. But this is just not true.
In the 13 US states with abortion prohibitions in effect, every single one bans only elective abortions. Life-saving medical treatment for mothers who are facing grave medical complications during pregnancy are not elective. They are part of life-affirming care. As pro-life physicians and ethicists have explained, to protect these life-saving treatments, the most well-crafted state laws leave the question of whether the mother is at grave risk to doctors’ reasonable medical judgment – a flexible and well-known legal standard to which doctors, who often need to make swift judgments in emergencies, are already required to adhere in other areas of law.
We’re a country that for a half century has privileged elective abortion (which makes up the vast majority of abortions in the US) as the inhumane response to abysmal maternal mortality rates, subpar workplace accommodations, poor nutrition and overall health conditions, and inadequate familial support structures. These problems are due mainly to social and economic inequities. On all these fronts, the rich are doing fine. Decades of widespread abortion access protected by Roe did nothing to solve these problems. And political polarization around abortion, before Dobbs and since, has done nothing to help.
With pro-lifers since Dobbs playing Whac-A-Mole against misinformation, abortion advocates have become more and more radically pro-abortion, pushing for ill-named federal legislation that would deregulate fully the billion-dollar abortion industry and upend all gestational limits and common sense restrictions nationwide.
Whereas strict red-state abortion laws at least tend to cohere with their residents’ views, a Democratic Congress would be in a position to pass this radical legislation which is favored by only a slim minority of the American public. A far better path forward would be for politicians to come together to work out real policies that would help American women and their families flourish. Is that really too much to ask?
Erika Bachiochi is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the author of “The Rights of Women: Reclaiming a Lost Vision.”
Bria Peacock: I can’t help but think ‘What if?’
One of my closest friends called me from the hospital bed. A few weeks before, she missed her period and started spotting.
The emotions following a positive pregnancy test vary, but her reaction was not unique to many women lately. Uncertain of her options, she found herself in a random clinic in Texas for “pregnancy confirmation” filled with intense fear – scared to say the wrong thing to the wrong person.
With a quick ultrasound, no pregnancy was seen, but her provider told her that she likely had a miscarriage and to follow up if necessary. The spotting continued. Then, the pain began and became excruciating and unwavering, as she boarded a plane to Las Vegas for a trip her partner had planned.
As the pain worsened, she was scared to ask for help, uncertain if it even existed. A few hours later, she collapsed in the hotel room and woke up in an emergency room surrounded by doctors and nurses explaining that she had a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, a belly full of blood and emergency surgery was needed to save her life.
Being on the receiving end of that phone call was a moment I will never forget. As an abortion provider, I dissected each step wondering how this could have been avoided. But the largest point is this: lives are at risk, especially those of Black and brown women.
I am grateful the provider did not question the standard of care or their medical expertise, but I can’t help but think what if? What if she had a follow up ultrasound? What if she collapsed in Texas? What if the provider delayed surgery for an ethics discussion? Would she still be here? It is chilling that this is the reality for many people in this new America. I hope we can act quickly enough to save their lives, too.
Dr. Bria Peacock is a resident in obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco.
Torrey DeVitto: I can’t imagine my life without my abortion
Seventeen years ago, I had to make one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. I was at the start of my career, while living alone, 3,000 miles away from any family members when I found out I was pregnant. I was overwhelmed and flooded with anxiety and emotions. I knew I wasn’t ready to be a mother. I knew I needed to build my career and fulfill my dreams before having a baby.
In that moment I chose to have an abortion. No matter what anyone else thinks or feels about my decision, it was mine and mine only to make. I made the choice that was best for me and my life. Having the right to decide what is best for our bodies is every person’s fundamental right. I can’t imagine what my life would be like today if I hadn’t been able to make that choice for myself.
That is why I am speaking loudly, sharing my experience and using my voice for all others out there, to ensure that our right to have complete say over our bodies does not get taken away.
Now, this is inarguably a monumental time in history for women. After the Dobbs decision, I encourage everyone to look at this matter simply through the lens of protecting fundamental health care. I implore everyone to educate themselves to see how dangerous the future is for the health and wellness of female-identifying people everywhere.
Although the subject at hand centers on abortion, this matter is also about access to safe birth control methods and medical procedures and treatments that can save our lives and preserve our health. Reproductive rights and reproductive health affect everyone.
We cannot go backward. Regardless of anyone’s personal beliefs, the basic human right to have complete control and dominion over our own bodies is mandatory for freedom to have meaning.
We need our voices to come together to stand up for what is right. November is coming, and women have a chance to be heard.
Torrey DeVitto is an actress, philanthropist and activist.