The End of Roe v. Wade: What The Supreme Court’s Unbelievable Reversal of Women’s Rights Means for Healthcare

Abortion has been legal in our country since 1973, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. But now this decision has been overturned, and 50 years of legal precedent has been reversed. We were warned that this reversal was coming: a leak in May revealed that the Supreme Court had drafted a 5-4 decision in February that would overturn Roe v. Wade, and would leave the legality of abortion to be determined at the state level. And now the sad reality is that, as of June 24, 2022, this has come to pass. 

The 6-3 ruling on party lines is disastrous for women’s access to safe abortion in this country; not only that, but overturning Roe v. Wade means opening the door to the Court taking away other constitutional rights. For example, other rights in the firing line could include the rights to same-sex marriage, access to birth control, and even interracial marriage, as well as other rights pertaining to healthcare. The Supreme Court has failed us, but hopefully nonprofit organizations and corporations will step up to support women who are scared and looking for help, and there are still some options available to women who need access to healthcare – for now.

What is Roe v. Wade?

picture of a woman with a babyin her belly and the justice symbol and gavel next to her

Roe v. Wade is the Supreme Court case that led to the decision to make access to abortion a constitutional right. In 1969, 22-year-old Norma McCovey, or “Jane Roe,” was seeking an abortion in Texas to terminate her third pregnancy. She was unable to access abortion care because the state’s law only allowed for the procedure in cases where the mother’s life was in danger, so she sued the state of Texas. 

McCovey’s lawyers argued that preventing access to abortion was a violation of her constitutional right to personal privacy. She won her original federal case, but Henry Wade, the Dallas County district attorney who enforced the Texas abortion law, appealed the case to the Supreme Court, as did McCovey’s lawyers. The Supreme Court took up the case in late 1971, and in 1973, the Court finally made its historic decision, ruling “that a woman has an absolute right during the first three months of pregnancy to decide whether to bear her child,” thus making abortion legal for every woman based on both the 9th and 14th amendment rights to privacy and personal liberty. 

Abortion at the State Level

There is no longer a constitutionally protected right to abortion for women in every state; instead, individual states will now be able to make laws surrounding a woman’s right to choose. An analysis by the Guttmacher Institute has found that 23 states already have laws in place to limit abortions, including 13 that have so-called “trigger bans” that are designed to immediately enact near-total bans on abortions the moment Roe is overturned. These states are:

  • Arkansas
  • Idaho
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Wyoming

Inversely, 17 states (along with Washington DC) have taken steps to protect abortion rights. These states include:

U.S. map
There are some states that are protecting abortion rights and opening their doors to women from other states.
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington 

“For anyone who needs access to care, our state will welcome you with open arms,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, said in a statement. “New York will always be a place where abortion rights are protected and where abortion is safe and accessible.”

What Overturning Roe V Wade Means for Healthcare

Unfortunately, there are now an estimated 36 million people at risk of losing access to reproductive care, according to Planned Parenthood. Some will be able to travel to other states to receive care, but many will not: only some healthcare plans cover travel expenses that are used for medical care, and many will not cover abortion-related travel expenses.

In terms of corporate responses, most companies are currently focused on employees and assuring them that abortions will remain a covered benefit, including out-of-state travel, if necessary.

This reversal will most likely also mean chaos in the medical community: with different states and jurisdictions implementing different laws and restrictions, the landscape of women’s healthcare is going to get very confusing for healthcare providers. Some anti-abortion states are making sure that doctors won’t be able to transfer patients to other states to receive care; if doctors violate the state’s law, they could end up facing dire consequences, including losing their license to practice medicine. 

Options For Women Who Live In A State Where Abortion Is Illegal

This setback has left many women confused, scared, and downright angry. The sad reality is that taking away this right could lead to some women taking drastic measures, which could be deadly – but there are some options for women:

Travel Out-of-State

If your state has banned abortion, one option is to travel to a state that allows it. Some state lawmakers have said they want to criminalize travel across state lines for an abortion, but this hasn’t happened yet. You can go to any of the above-mentioned states if it is feasible for you to do so.

Abortion Pillspill

Medication abortions are an FDA-approved method of managing abortions at home, up to the 10th week of pregnancy (although the World Health Organization says the so-called abortion pill can be used to self-manage abortions up to 12 weeks). The pills are safe – less dangerous even than Tylenol – and effective in 99.6% of cases. In many states, they can be accessed through telehealth.

Right now, many women are confused about what the landscape for their healthcare will look like in the coming weeks, months, and years, and many are enraged at the loss of their right to bodily autonomy. For now, there are still a lot of questions, and very few answers, especially for those who cannot access care in another state. Hopefully, we will find solutions, but until then, all we can do is monitor the situation, and make our voices heard.

6 Virtual Tours of Sites Devoted To Women’s History

It is Women’s History Month, and what better way to celebrate it than to pay homage to the women who helped mold history, or should we say, herstory! Take time to reflect on and celebrate the achievements of amazing women throughout the years by visiting multiple National and State Parks and the National Historic Sites across America. Don’t have the time to travel and visit them? Well, you can visit these sites from the comfort of your own couch! Check out these six historic sites devoted to women’s history:

  1. Votes for Women: A Visual History at the Brandywine River Museum -Located in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, this tour demonstrates all of the different ways women of the suffrage movement spread their message.
  2. Mary McLeod Bethune Council House- Located in Washington, D.C., this National historic site was once home to Mary McLeod Bethune. She was an advisor on African American Affairs to four U.S. presidents. She founded the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW).
  3. Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site- Located in New York, this historic site, known as Val-Kill, is where First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt launched Val-Kill Industries. It was a training program for family farmers who needed extra income during hard economic times.
  4. Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park- Located in Maryland, the museum is devoted to Harriet Tubman, an escaped slave, Civil War spy, abolitionist, and suffragist. Learn about her struggles and the Underground Railroad experience with this video presented by a park ranger.
  5. Women’s Rights National Historical Park- Take a tour of the sites dedicated to the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY, which took place in 1848! You can learn about all the women who made a mark in the demand for equality and reform.
  6. The National Women’s History Museum-  Take a tour of MANY different online exhibits about different subjects related to women’s history!

virtual tours infographic

Will We Ever See the Equal Rights Amendment?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” How many times have you heard these words from the Declaration of Independence, especially as July 4th rolls around and we’re reminded of the founding of our country? Maybe for you, this time of year conjures up thoughts of hot dogs, fireworks, and mattress sales more than it does thoughts of equality, but as we celebrate this year amid a new-found freedom from the worst of a pandemic, let’s really look at those words. 

Our country was built on the principle that all men are created equal; leaving aside for now (although it’s always an important discussion to have) the problematic nature of how our country has treated all men, we should really remember that that isn’t just an expression. Women were denied a seat at the table for centuries, and even now, we’re often left playing musical chairs for the few available to us. But did you know that two suffragettes attempted to change that nearly a hundred years ago by drafting the Equal Rights Amendment, or ERA, and that, technically, that amendment has been ratified? This proposed amendment to the Constitution would essentially end legal distinctions between men and women – but will it ever become a reality? 

The Beginnings of the Equal Rights Amendment

The Constitution of the United States and its 27 amendments grant us many rights, but so far it doesn’t have much to say about gender equality. But all the way back in 1923, two suffragettes and members of the National Woman’s Party, Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman, decided it was time to change that. They’d been leaders in the push to get women the vote, and the ERA seemed to them to be the next logical step after the ratification of the 19th amendment; they wanted to make sure that women were never again treated as second-class citizens. equality written in scrabble letters with a colorful background Their Equal Rights Amendment didn’t get much support; even so, starting in 1923, it was brought up in every session of Congress. But considering that Congress was full of, ahem, men throughout most of the twentieth century (between 1922 and 1970 only 10 women served in the Senate, with no more than 2 serving at one time), the ERA didn’t make much progress until the 1970s.

A lot had changed in the 5 decades between the introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment and the 1970s: both men and women had won some rights in the workplace (making working class women less worried about how the ERA would affect the fight for women factory workers’ rights), society’s ideas about men and women’s roles were changing, and we got some fierce women in Congress, like Representatives Martha Griffiths and Shirley Chisholm. These women were able to FINALLY put enough pressure on Rep. Emanuel Celler, the powerful chairman of the House Judiciary Committee (who had refused to hold a hearing on the ERA for over 30 years) to get things moving. 

In 1972, Congress finally voted on the following two small, but historically monumental sentences: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.” And when they did, the ERA passed in both chambers overwhelmingly, with far more than the two-thirds majority needed to pass – and, if you remember your high school Social Studies, it was then sent out to be ratified by at least three-quarters of the states (currently 38), who were given a seven-year deadline to get it done. Everything seemed to be on track, and then, all of a sudden, it wasn’t. 

The Long and Winding Road to Ratification

When you look at the text of the Equal Rights Amendment, there doesn’t seem to be much to disagree with in those two little sentences; in fact, within a year of its approval by Congress, the ERA had been ratified by 30 states. It seemed like things were on track for quick ratification, but then a whole movement of people, like members of the new religious right and conservative activists, came out in force and tried to stop the amendment, arguing that it would lead to things like gender-neutral bathrooms, women being drafted into the military in combat roles, and same-sex marriage. Anti-feminist activist Phyllis Schlafly even started a campaign known as STOP ERA (“stop taking away our privileges”), claiming that the ERA would take away women’s “special status,” and that it would hurt the “traditional” family as well as do away with women’s “right” to be supported by their husbands.

colorful map of the U.S.

These groups were successful in their attempts to change opinions on the ERA: only 5 more states had ratified the amendment by 1977, and then no more by the deadline, which was pushed until 1982. Not only that, but 5 states (Idaho, Nebraska, Kentucky, South Dakota, and Tennessee) actually voted to rescind their ratification, which would reduce the total number of ratifications to 33. Although it’s still unclear if those states can actually take back their votes, many people wrote the amendment off as dead. 

Will the Equal Rights Amendment Be the 28th Amendment?

It turns out, though, the ERA isn’t actually dead. Since 2017, 3 more states (Nevada, Illinois, and, most recently, Virginia) have surprised the nation by voting to ratify it, bringing the grand total of states that have ratified the amendment to: yep, the 38 states required to add it to the Constitution.

But, unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Equal Rights Amendment is about to be made the 28th amendment to the Constitution: supporters and opponents have been fighting over two issues for years, and neither has been fully resolved. First, the deadline to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment has long since passed (the deadline was never extended past 1982). There is some good news on that front, though: earlier this year, the House of Representatives voted to retroactively remove the deadline for ratification. The bad news? This resolution still needs to pass in the Senate, although with the shift in the Senate towards the Democrats, there is a greater potential for it to pass. 

box with the word vote on it and a hand putting paper towards the box
The House of Representatives voted to retroactively remove the deadline for ratification, but the Senate has to vote for it to pass.

Second, the 5 states that voted to rescind their ratification are sticking to their guns, and are therefore insisting that only 33 states have ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. No one is quite sure how to settle this problem, and both the 3 states that have recently ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, and the 5 who have decided to no longer support it are fighting legal battles to have their decisions recognized. There is some precedent, though, on the side of supporters of the ERA: during the ratification process for both the 14th and 15th amendments, states rescinded their ratifications, and Congress decided to, well, ignore them and proceed with adding those amendments to the Constitution anyway.

So for now, things are up in the air, legally speaking, and we still don’t have an Equal Rights Amendment – we’re not even sure whether we have 38 true ratifications from the states. With some arguing that it’s up to Congress to decide, and others saying we should rely on the courts, all we can do is wait and see. But, as Virginia proved to the nation in 2020, the ERA is by no means dead.

Do We Still Need the Equal Rights Amendment?

There’s no denying that women have made great strides in gaining equality under the law since Congress sent the Equal Rights Amendment out for ratification, thanks in part to great legal minds like Ruth Bader Ginsberg – so is the ERA still relevant in the 21st century? Yes! It might just be two little sentences, but having them in the Constitution could still make a difference in terms of the law and American society. After all, as RBG pointed out: “Every constitution in the world written since the year 1950… has the equivalent of an equal rights amendment, and we don’t.”

While there isn’t one magical law that would make women equal in all ways, what the Equal Rights Amendment would do is allow women to challenge laws and norms that stand in the way of their equality. According to Linda Coberly, a lawyer and the chair of the ERA Coalition’s Legal Task Force, a Constitutional amendment “would provide a basis, potentially, for a lawsuit, and courts will need to decide whether any particular law…constitutes discrimination on the basis of sex and is invalid under any equal rights amendment.” The ERA could therefore strengthen the legal basis for combating violence against women, pay inequality and maternity leave, as well as ensure that women couldn’t lose any of the rights that they’ve gained over the decades.

So there you have it: the long and maybe unnecessarily complicated story of an amendment to the Constitution that, to many in the year 2021, seems like common sense. The question remains, though, whether the 100th anniversary of the Equal Rights Amendment’s birth will see us celebrating its addition to the Constitution, or scratching our heads over how to move forward. What do you think?