Expert Column: How Roe v. Wade Affects Women's Health

August 03, 2022

In early May 2022, a draft of a Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked, resulting in protests across the country. Polls showed that about two-thirds of Americans opposed ending legal access to abortion.  

In late June, the Supreme Court officially confirmed a radical decision to overturn 50 years of legal precedent. On July 1, women across the country lost access to safe, legal abortions. Many states have even gone so far as to ban abortions in the case of rape or incest, a decided aberration from worldwide legal norms. 

The decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will have a larger impact on women of color and women with fewer socioeconomic resources. Presently, the United States has alarmingly high maternal mortality and infant mortality rates, especially compared to rates in other developed countries. 

Some women living in states that restrict abortion may choose to travel elsewhere in the country to seek abortion access. This will not be an option, though, for women without the financial resources to travel and miss work. Making abortion access a decision based on state residency will widen the gap in poor women and women of color’s access to safe reproductive healthcare. 

Healthcare professionals and reproductive rights activists are especially concerned about the impact on women of color following studies showing that Covid-19 increased maternal mortality rates for Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black women 

Making abortion access specific to individual states also places the onus of women’s healthcare on certain states who continue to allow either full or limited access to abortion. Florida could be one such state. Though Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill limiting abortions after 15 weeks, a state judge has ruled that this bill is in violation of the right to privacy outlined in Florida’s state constitution. More broadly, the fact that the original Roe v. Wade decision cited the right to privacy means that reversing that precedent will further undermine Americans' privacy protections, leading the country into a legal quagmire.  

Some activist groups have recommended that women delete apps for tracking periods and fertility cycles in order to protect their privacy, and many are concerned that certain states will subpoena email, phone, and internet search records to prosecute women who seek an out-of-state abortion.  

It is important to keep in mind that the Roe v. Wade decision does not only affect cisgender women. Advocates are especially concerned about what this decision means for transgender people, especially transgender teens, who often seek out the healthcare resources of Planned Parenthood locations across the country. Legal scholars are also concerned that eroding Americans’ right to privacy may have an impact on court decisions, such as Obergefell v. Hodges, which recognized same-sex marriage in 2015.  

Dr. Sarah E. Parker is an Associate Professor of English, Chair of the Department of Literature, Language, and Culture, and the Director of the Center for Gender + Sexuality.

Portrait of Dr. Sarah Parker


Dr. Sarah Parker

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