On June 24, 2022, the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that granted American women the right to abortion. As a consequence, pregnant people, especially those living in red states, may no longer be able to access medical abortions. In the 10 months since the ruling, various legal actions have followed in response to the tightening restrictions. Community members at Tufts shared their views on the ruling’s implications for young women.
Sarah Lee Day is a visiting lecturer currently teaching an Experimental College class on the subject of abortion in the United States. She voiced concerns about abortion laws that seek to further criminalize abortions, such as an ‘abortion trafficking’ bill passed in Idaho on April 5.
“The way that the law is written is that it’s specifically aimed at minors, so adults that help minors travel out of state for abortion without their parents’ permission would be guilty of, or could be found guilty of, human trafficking,” Day said.
According to Day, most pregnant youth get a parent or guardian involved in conversations on how to handle the situation. Young people who are most at risk or who have suffered abuse are more likely to keep it to themselves and thus be forced to seek help from other sources.
“So in the cases where … the youth are not willing to talk with their parents, it’s usually not that they’re not willing, it’s that there is an actual barrier stopping them,” Day said. “It may be that the parent is the one who is responsible for impregnating them. It may be that there are other types of abuse. It may be that the impregnation was at the hands of a family friend, and they’re afraid that the family won’t believe them.”
In such situations, Day explains that the Idaho bill will only compound the inequities that pregnant youth already face.
“Youth who already have good relationships with their parents will still be able to get out of state for abortion,” Day said. “For people who already have troubled relationships with their parents, to people who already have certain barriers or oppressions that they face, this is just going to compound that. And there’s obviously going to be racial components to that; there’s going to be socioeconomic components to that.”
Day also spoke about the recent legal battle surrounding mifepristone, the first pill in a two-step procedure for a medical abortion that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000. At the time of Day’s interview with the Daily, the validity of that approval was under question following a case brought to court in Texas. Following the interview, on April 21, the Supreme Court blocked a ruling issued by Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk in the U.S. District Court in Texas that had invalidated the FDA’s approval of the drug.
“If [a reversal of the FDA approval of mifepristone] occurred, that would be catastrophic, because at least people who can’t get surgical abortions in red states right now can still potentially get a medication abortion mailed in,” Day said. “If they can’t even [get that], it’s going to cause even more problems beyond just the travel aspect.”
Day also mentioned a failed South Carolina bill that proposed the death penalty for those who get an abortion. Though the bill was considered dead on arrival, Day said its mere existence demonstrates the grave consequences that women seeking abortions in red states may face in a world without Roe v. Wade.
Senior Aleksia Kleine is conducting her capstone research on abortion travel. According to Kleine, women face countless issues when traveling for abortions, the most glaring one being financial barriers.
“Financially, it’s just really difficult, especially for people [who] don’t have a lot of disposable income. It’s really difficult to, first of all, just pay for a plane ticket or pay for gas, or rent a car, if you don't have a car,” Kleine said. “It’s also difficult to pay for childcare if you’re leaving a state for a day or a few days. Also, the actual cost of the procedure is usually difficult.”
According to Kleine, the obstacles that might come with traveling to obtain an abortion will likely lead to an increase in unwanted pregnancies.
“Some people can’t leave work, or, … to leave work, they have to disclose [the abortion] to someone that they don’t want to tell,” Kleine said. “There are also a bunch of emotional problems with [abortion travel], like people not being able to go with family members, or being separated from their kids for a long period of time, or having a sense of shame, … or a sense of fear of legal [prosecution].”
Blythe Elderd is a first-year student from Baton Rouge, La. She recalled seeing friends from her home state react to the news on social media the day that Roe v. Wade was overturned. In the aftermath of the ruling, Louisiana residents need to drive ten hours on average to reach the nearest abortion clinic, according to CNN.
“I think people have kind of just learned to live with it and learned to accept it,” Elderd said. “[There was] a trigger law that was already written and then it was put into effect as soon as Roe v. Wade got abolished, so literally that day people that were scheduled to get abortions couldn’t get their abortions. And so that was really scary.”
ShaSha Kingston is a junior from Boise, Idaho — the same state that passed the abortion trafficking bill earlier this month. She described how there is a mix of opinions across the state, and the capital of Boise tends to have a more progressive tilt.
“Young people are really frustrated, [but] some of them don’t really care,” Kingston said. “I definitely think in Boise, there’s a really big surge of anger that’s coming from this, but I don’t think a lot of people know how it’s going to individually impact them.”
Kingston expressed concern about the emotional distress that many women in states that have banned or severely restricted abortions now face.
“I think there’s a lot of fear,” Kingston said. “A lot of people [are] planning themselves and being like, ‘Okay, I need to protect myself. I need to make sure I don’t get into this situation,’ and a lot of the blame is being pushed on an individual instead of the system.”
Kingston mentioned how anti-abortion measures in Idaho have been causing some medical professionals to leave the state, which can have impacts on other sectors of health care provision. On a personal level, Kingston has observed how the overturn of Roe v. Wade has deterred some of her own friends living out of the state from the prospect of returning home long term.
“A lot of us were like, ‘Maybe we’ll come back to Idaho after we graduate or something. It’s a beautiful place,’” Kingston said. “[Now,] a lot of my friends, especially my female friends, are also like, ‘No, I'm never coming back. I could never be here and also raise kids here.’”
Since Roe v. Wade was overturned nearly a year ago, the United States has been grappling with the ramifications and will continue to do so for years to come. The upcoming 2024 presidential elections will again put abortion at the forefront of the American conscience.