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A World Without Roe v. Wade: State’s Rights and Disparate Impact

Last week, Politico published a draft opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Mississippi case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. This case concerns Mississippi’s 2018 law banning abortions after 15 weeks, with no exceptions. According to the leaked draft - which is not official, as the final opinion is expected in June or July - the Supreme Court will rule in favor of Mississippi. Moreover, they will overrule two key decisions that are embedded in the foundations of reproductive freedom. The first of these is Roe v. Wade (1973), which ruled that people have a Constitutional right to an abortion. The second is Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), which further protected this right by ruling against undue burdens in obtaining an abortion. The draft opinion, authored by Justice Alito, claims that Roe v. Wade established a right to privacy that isn’t found anywhere in the constitution.

So what happens if this draft becomes law? First and foremost, the ruling would not ban abortions nationwide. But abortion would no longer be legal across the nation as it is now; instead, the decision-making power moves to individual states. As many as 26 states have indicated that they will enact abortion restrictions if Roe is overturned. These restrictions could extend as far as criminalizing abortion and limiting access to out-of-state abortions. On the other hand, more than a dozen states will continue to protect abortion rights, potentially offering even more robust safeguards than those established by Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Who will be the most affected? Even with a handful of states committed to protecting abortion rights, a reversal of Roe v. Wade will make safe abortions much less accessible, particularly for those in marginalized populations. Without widespread access to safe abortions, people may not be able to afford out-of-state travel to obtain one. Pregnancy-related deaths may increase further - the U.S. already has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed nations. Women of color will be most susceptible to these dangerous impacts: Black women are already three times more likely to suffer pregnancy-related deaths than white women. Furthermore, a large percentage of the Black population in the U.S. lives in Southern states, many of which have signaled that they will restrict abortion in a world without Roe. A reversal of Roe v. Wade will signal the end of safe abortions and create barriers between low-income populations and subsequent opportunities like continuing education and building wealth.

What does this mean for Georgia? A 2019 Georgia law that would outlaw abortions after approximately six weeks of pregnancy is currently on hold, pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs. Presumably, the state law would go into effect if Roe is overturned. However, Georgia may be uniquely positioned to enforce a right to privacy for its citizens. In 1903, Georgia recognized this right in Pavesich v. New England Life Ins. Co., the same right at the heart of Roe v. Wade. If Roe is reversed, Georgia’s precedents may have a legitimate chance of success in keeping abortion a protected right.

As of right now, abortion remains legal across the United States. Stay up to date with your state’s plans in the event that the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion becomes law.


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