US abortion rights struck down: what now?

A few days following the Supreme Court decision, an uneven patchwork of abortion bans across the country only reenforces existing inequality

June 30, 2022 by Natalia Marques
Protester in Tampa Bay, Florida (Photo: the Party for Socialism and Liberation)

On Friday, June 24, the United States Supreme Court struck down the historic 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, robbing women in the US of the federally protected right to an abortion.

For the first time in almost 50 years, access to an abortion is no longer protected by nationwide law. The ruling permits the right-wing lawmakers that control several states, with populations of hundreds of millions combined, many of whom are Black, Latino, or other racially marginalized people, to eviscerate abortion rights. 

“It’s turning the clock back 50 years. Bodily autonomy, how can women be equal in society if we don’t have control over their own bodies?” decades-long abortion rights activist Joyce Chediac told Peoples Dispatch, regarding the Supreme Court’s decision.

Abortion access was always uneven state by state, but with many “trigger laws” and pre-existing abortion bans effective immediately in several states, the disparity has deepened.

How did it get to this point?

“We have to understand that with the overthrow of Roe, one era has ended and a new one has begun,” said Karina Garcia, abortion rights activist and member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, in a June 28 webinar.

“This is a culmination of a 50-year strategy on the part of conservatives who pushed back against the gains of the 1960s and the 1970s social movements.” Garcia described how after the social movements for the rights of women and racially oppressed people, among others, ebbed after the 1970s, socially right-wing forces formed an alliance with wealthy capitalists to roll back social and economic gains, which workers had won through struggle.

“Ronald Reagan represented the fusion of these different trends, with his relationship with the megachurches that called themselves the ‘moral majority,’” Garcia continued. “Neither moral, nor a majority, but, that’s them right? Duplicitous, shameless, liars.”

This is why several states, such as Alabama, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, have had anti-abortion laws on the books for a long time, in preparation to the overturning of Roe. Politicians in the Republican Party have for decades filled the Supreme Court with ultra-conservative politicians who would be guaranteed to overturn Roe, such as Amy Coney Barrett and Clarence Thomas, while blocking liberal justices from nomination by any means necessary, such as Merrick Garland.

What are “trigger laws”? In which states is abortion banned?

Several states had enacted “trigger laws” post-Roe, as early as 2005 and as late as 2021, which are laws that specifically stipulate that they would only go into effect if Roe was overturned. Some of these laws, such as the trigger law in South Dakota, went into effect immediately after the Supreme Court’s decision. In some states like Wyoming, the governor must first certify the court’s decision for the anti-abortion trigger law to go into effect.

Some states have abortion bans that are a holdover from the pre-Roe era, but were never taken off the books. Others like Oklahoma and Texas had already enacted highly controversial abortion bans in the past two years. In 2021, Texas banned abortions after six weeks, before most people even know they’re pregnant. In 2022, Oklahoma essentially banned all abortions by prohibiting abortion after fertilization, potentially threatening contraceptive access as well. 

Many states have a combination of pre-Roe bans, post-Roe bans, and trigger bans. These states include, but are not limited to, Arkansas, Alabama, Missouri, and Tennessee.

This patchwork of laws creates a deeply unequal distribution of abortion rights in the country. In the wealthiest states by poverty level, such as Vermont and Massachusetts, abortion will remain legal. In states with the highest poverty levels, such as Mississippi, Louisiana, and West Virginia, abortion will be or is already outlawed. Many of the states with the most vicious anti-abortion laws also have the highest concentrations of racially oppressed people, such as former slaveholding states in the Deep South.

How will this affect working people?

The states with the highest abortion bans have the worst health outcomes for infants or mothers. Mississippi’s infant mortality is the highest in the nation, with 8.8 deaths per 1,000 live births. In a country where the maternal mortality rate for Black women is three times the rate for white women, abortion bans will disproportionately harm the most marginalized in the United States.

Anti-abortion states also have fewer social programs and protections for mothers or children. They have some of the lowest percentage of workers in unions, and are so-called “right to work” states, which means that they have laws that make union organizing more difficult. In addition to providing workers with health insurance, unions promote maternal health and well-being. Working mothers in a union are at least 17% more likely to use paid maternity leave than nonunion mothers according to a study. The United States is one of the handful of countries worldwide with no universal paid maternity leave. 

In states like Mississippi or West Virginia, with high poverty and strict abortion laws, women who are forced to give birth will likely struggle to provide for those children. And yet, the same right-wing politicians who support abortion bans voted against vast social improvement legislation such as Build Back Better, which would have prevented the expiration of the Child Tax Credit program. 

How are people fighting back?

The people of the US have been protesting in droves since the Supreme Court released their decision on June 24.  Many who have been out in the streets have pointed out the irony of conservative’s claims to “protect life”, with chants of “pro-life, that’s a lie, you don’t care if women die!”

In Phoenix, Arizona, protesters were tear-gassed as police launched canisters from inside the statehouse. A viral video from June 26 shows several protesters shoved to the ground by police in Los Angeles. Despite this, protest actions continue, including yesterday in New York City, where a crowd of hundreds attempted to block rich donors from entering a dinner hosted by the Federalist Society, one of the organizations which underpinned the Supreme Court’s attack on abortion rights.

“The Supreme Court did not fail us, because they do not serve us.” said an organizer at a June 24 demonstration in New Orleans, Louisiana. “They serve the ruling class, they serve the rich people.”