Published:Wednesday, August 3, 2022
The Supreme Court’s shameful ruling overturning Roe v. Wade will have a devastating impact on the lives of millions of people – falling most quickly and heavily on marginalized people: people of color, those trying to make ends meet, young people, and undocumented immigrants.
In anticipation of the Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization following the leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion striking down Roe, the ACLU of Washington gathered in May with our partners and allies for a Flights & Rights event to discuss the future of abortion and reproductive rights. Although the event happened before Roe was overturned, the discussion contains information vital to a post-Roe world. We invite you to revisit this conversation to learn more about the future that America faces and how you can fight for greater access to abortion.
Below are some highlights from the event, including suggestions for actions that individuals, activists and lawmakers can take now to safeguard and expand access to abortion in Washington. Find a link to the full replay here.
- Dr. Erin Berry (Washington State Medical Director, Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawai'i, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky)
- Kia Guarino (Executive Director, Pro-Choice Washington)
- Miranda Vargas (Board Member, Northwest Abortion Access Fund)
- Leah Rutman (Health Care and Liberty Counsel, ACLU-WA)
- Moderated by ACLU-WA Executive Director Michele Storms
ACLU-WA Executive Director Michele Storms opened the conversation with an overview of the history of abortion rights and access. “In early U.S. history, abortion was widely available. Drugs to induce abortion were advertised in newspapers, could be bought from pharmacists, physicians — even through the mail. And, of course, patients could visit practitioners for care.”
By the 1880s, as Storms explained, anti-abortion efforts were fueled by white male physicians hoping to consolidate their professional credibility by pushing midwives and homeopaths –including many Black and Indigenous women -- out of reproductive health care. [For more on the racist history of abortion bans, see here.] In addition, racist concerns about declining white birthrates combined with growing numbers of non-Protestant immigrants prompted an increase in legal restrictions on birth control and abortion. Given this history, Storms said, “We cannot deny the link between nativism and white supremacy and anti-abortion efforts.”
Storms pointed out that people continued to have abortions, even after they became illegal – often at great physical risk and even death, especially for those who could not afford to seek appropriate, if not legally sanctioned, medical care.
In 1973, the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide. For more of Storms’ discussion about the history of abortion, see here.
Turning to the panelists, Storms asked, “What next and what now?”
If Roe is overturned, said ACLU-WA’s Health Care and Liberty Counsel Leah Rutman, “We will see the U.S. turned into a patchwork of abortion access with 26 states poised to quickly make abortion illegal, inaccessible and unsafe.”
Rutman continued, “Even without overturning Roe, states around the country are introducing and passing bills that ban abortions and put providers and patients at risk. These bills are already decimating abortion access right now and have a disproportionate impact on marginalized people.”
Regardless of how the Supreme Court decides, Rutman emphasized, abortion will remain legal in Washington due to a ballot initiative approved by state voters in 1991: “In Washington, we are so lucky that pregnant people who choose an abortion will continue to have that right even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe.”
But that legal right does not guarantee access to abortion, Rutman cautioned. “For example, many health systems around our state refuse to let their doctors or nurses provide abortion care even though they are trained to do it and willing to do it,” she said. “In our state, we are going to have to do so much more in the legislature and otherwise to protect and expand abortion access,” for patients from Washington and others who will be traveling here for care.
See here for more of Rutman’s discussion about legislative solutions that could safeguard and expand abortion access in Washington, including state funding for abortion services and legal protections for patients and providers.
If Roe is gutted or overturned, providers in states like Washington where abortion remains legal anticipate an onslaught of new patients seeking care, said Dr. Erin Berry, Washington State Medical Director, Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawai’i, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky. “We already live in a world in which access to abortion varies greatly depending on where you live and your zip code,” said Berry, adding that patients are now traveling to clinics in Washington from states that have recently passed extreme abortion bans, including Texas and Oklahoma. “We’re seeing these patients who had to take red eyes to come get here, are away from their family and support system, going through this alone.”
As an OB-GYN, Berry said she is concerned that delays or denials of abortions for people facing dangerous pregnancy complications, such as ectopic pregnancies, could have deadly consequences. “Abortion is an essential part of reproductive health care — it’s an essential part of pregnancy care,” Berry said.
And too often, Storms said, access to abortion – like so much of health care — comes down to resources. “When you have money, it’s easier to get the full range of care you need,” said Storms, who asked Miranda Vargas, board member for the Northwest Abortion Action Fund (NWAAF) to talk about the organization’s work to help people overcome barriers to abortion access.
Vargas explained that NWAAF is part of a national abortion fund network which provides financial assistance for people seeking abortions. In addition to paying for abortion care, NWAAF offers funding for related expenses such as flights, hotels, childcare and groceries. Since so much of NWAAF’s work involves direct payments, the organization relies heavily on individual donations, Vargas said.
With Roe in peril, Vargas expects a dramatic uptick in the number of people facing financial obstacles to abortions. “Donations are always, always, always super important and it is honestly right now one of the best things you can do to help,” Vargas said. To donate, volunteer or get financial help to access abortion care, go to Northwest Abortion Access Fund.
Kia Guarino, Executive Director of Pro-Choice Washington, also stressed the importance of financial donations. “A lot of this work is so highly dependent on individual donations and support for these organizations that having been working at the community level for a long time,” said Guarino, explaining that Pro-Choice Washington – the leading grassroots advocacy organization for reproductive freedom in Washington — is 90% dependent on financial contributions from individuals. “Thinking about your power through your resources is a strong activist pathway.” To donate, go to Pro-Choice Washington.
Voting is another powerful way to act, said Guarino, adding that 87 state legislative seats are up for grabs this year in Washington. “Showing up this November is really critical,” said Guarino. “Our protection of abortion rights is only as secure as the current state legislature.”
In addition, Guarino called on reproductive rights supporters to adopt a new narrative that highlights abortion as central to health care and the pregnancy experience. “Creating the conversations that normalize abortion, that counter the misinformation around what it means to have abortion as part of our healthcare system, that move away from the fear and violence narrative that has been a really big part of how this work has been spoken about is a really powerful way to take back the power of this movement.” she said. See here for Pro-Choice Washington’s How To Talk Abortion Guide. For more of Guarino’s discussion about activism and changing the narrative around abortion, see here.
Overturning Roe could have far-reaching implications, even beyond abortion rights, said Rutman, who explained that the arguments in Justice Alito’s leaked draft opinion could potentially be used to threaten other rights, including the right to marry. For more of Rutman’s discussion about the legal arguments, see here.
Storms closed the event by expressing appreciation for the work of allies and partners and calling on supporters of abortion rights to remain “vigilant.”
“We are fighting for our rights,” Storms said. “Going back is not an option.”