The leaked initial Supreme Court decision confirmed what advocates have been saying for years: Roe v. Wade will likely be overturned. Currently, abortion is still legal in all 50 states and will remain legal in Washington after the decision is final. To confront this decision and a nationwide abortion ban already in the works, accurate information about abortion and the crisis of its criminalization is necessary, followed by action to support reproductive health equity and justice. As public health researchers and abortion providers in Washington, we outline the current situation and potential impacts in the region, the history of these dangerous laws and actions for Washingtonians.
There are 26 states likely to ban abortion when Roe falls, including Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. While providers in Washington already provide services to people traveling from states with restrictive laws, these bans could lead to an estimated 385% increase in people seeking care here. Gov. Jay Inslee committed to supporting people who come to Washington seeking care, but this could potentially lead to reduced access as a result of longer wait times without simultaneous investment in health system infrastructure. While Washington’s laws protect abortion, many Washingtonians still face financial and logistical barriers including long travel times to access services, lack of paid sick leave and increases in hospital mergers with Catholic-affiliated hospitals that can further reduce abortion access.
Anti-abortion laws have wide-reaching public health, economic and social consequences. People who are denied abortions experience increases in household poverty, elevated levels of anxiety and ongoing contact with violent partners, and their existing children experience developmental consequences. This decision is also deadly: research asserts that overturning Roe could lead to a 21% increase in pregnancy-related deaths, further exacerbating the maternal mortality crisis in the U.S. that disproportionately impacts Black people.
Dangerous anti-abortion laws disproportionately impact already marginalized and racially minoritized people. This is not a mistake but rather a design of the system. The original 19th-century laws that criminalized abortion were intended to ensure demographic stability and dominance of white Anglo-Saxons. The current onslaught of anti-abortion laws is part of a long history of criminalizing bodily autonomy, especially for Black, Indigenous, migrant, disabled, working class and trans people. The criminalization of hundreds of people for their pregnancy outcomes, disproportionately marginalized individuals, must be stopped. Elected officials, public health professionals, and medical providers must denounce and not be complicit in this criminalization.
While the Supreme Court draft leak fuels panic, there is a strong coalition of reproductive justice activists, abortion providers and funds that have been preparing for this moment. They must be supported and uplifted. For many in Washington, abortion care can be done via telehealth and medication mailed to you. For those without access to care due to location or structural inequities, self-managed abortion is common, safe and effective, and there is information for accessing pills, resources, and support. Abortion funds, like Northwest Abortion Access Fund, remove financial and logistical barriers to abortion. Washingtonians must support their ongoing work as well as funds in states hostile to abortion.
Local elected officials must also be accountable to ensuring accessible, affordable and quality abortion care. Seattle City Council should follow the lead of Portland, Austin and New York City and our state Legislature should replicate Oregon’s efforts to allocate money to provide resources to those in need of abortion care. Additionally, abortion services should be added to public college campuses across the state, as in California. Finally, we must all listen to and mobilize around local Black, Indigenous and other advocates of color and reproductive justice organizers to send a loud message to Democrats and Republicans in power that our bodily autonomy is a human right. Abortion is essential health care, and we are committed to preserving this right for all pregnant-capable individuals.
Dr. Jennifer Balkus, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology at University of Washington School of Public Health, contributed to this Op-Ed. These opinions reflect the personal views of the writers, and not necessarily the view of University of Washington.
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