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Opinion: The reality of Roe


By Alison Dreith

Over 45 years ago, the Supreme Court decided in the landmark ruling Roe v. Wade that individuals have the Constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy, advancing a significant freedom: the freedom for every American to make decisions about their own life, body, and future. 

Since then, countless Americans have been able to decide for themselves, if, when and how they’d like to start a family. Cases like Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt have reaffirmed that a person’s right to choose is an innumerable right.

Yet somehow, with Roe v. Wade stronger than ever — 7 in 10 Americans support the decision — it’s in great danger. The Trump administration has been quietly packing federal courts with anti-choice judges, the prime example being the two U.S. Supreme Court judges the President himself selected, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

With Kavanaugh on the bench to establish a solid anti-choice majority on our nation’s highest Court, it’s inevitable that anti-choice state legislatures will begin to push boundaries with obviously unconstitutional laws. The goal is not just to see what they can get away with, it’s to see how quickly and swiftly the law will get to the Supreme Court where this bench could overturn Roe altogether.

While this may sound like doomsday-level rhetoric, I assure you it’s not. In fact, there are at least 20 cases in the pipeline that could significantly gut or overturn the protections of Roe as soon as the Supreme Court takes them up. 

Earlier this year, Iowa passed a law to ban abortion after 6 weeks, effectively taking away a person’s right to choose before most even know they are pregnant. Though the bill is currently not allowed to be enforced — because it’s obviously unconstitutional and goes against decades of precedent — there’s a possibility it could end up in front of the Supreme Court where Kavanaugh and the other Court Conservatives could use it as a chance to overturn Roe.

This is not the sole instance of state legislatures testing boundaries with what they can successfully do to limit choice. A similar bill is heading to Ohio’s Governor Kasich’s desk right now and Mississippi tried to pass a 15-week ban earlier this year. 

Missouri will absolutely try to join their ranks this year. Two six-week ban bills have already been filed before the 2019 session, HB 126 and SB 139, filed by Rep. Nick Schroer and Sen. Andrew Koenig respectively.

These bans surely won’t be the only bills filed this year with the goal of chipping away at reproductive freedom, but they’re some of the most egregious. The anti-choice legislators and supporters in the state are eagerly watching the other bans move through court systems in other states. After all, last year, Missouri Right to Life said during testimony in support of another restriction on abortion that their goal was to make sure it’s a Missouri law that gets sent to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe.

Anti-choice laws usually don’t even have to get that far to make a huge impact on abortion access for Missourians. Back in October, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals gutted access for women across the state by ignoring precedent set by the Supreme Court in Whole Woman’s Health and allowing dangerous TRAP laws to stand in the state.

What followed this decision was a swift halt in abortion procedures at the Planned Parenthood in Columbia — the sole provider in Central Missouri — and plans to bring services back to Kansas City, Springfield and Joplin were immediately dropped. All of this from one devastating decision from one court.

Everything that’s happened this year — the disappointing decision from the 8th Circuit Court, the bans in other states, Missouri defunding Planned Parenthood — has set the scene for what’s sure to be a tumultuous 2019 Legislative Session. We know that there’s more support for reproductive freedom than ever, but the anti-choice majority will be pushing hard to end access to abortion. We’re going to need abortion rights supporters to activate and mobilize more than ever. 

Even if you don’t think a six-week ban will affect you personally, it will statistically affect someone you know. One in 4 women will receive an abortion before they’re 45, and it’s a freedom we can’t afford to lose.

Your legislators will need to hear from you, whether the bill is still in committee or it’s about to be passed through both chambers. We’re going to need to fight like hell. But if I’ve learned anything from 2018, a year that could be defined as “turbulent” at best, it’s that we know how to fight. 

Alison Dreith is the NARAL Executive Director.