abortion restrictions are harmful to everyone
I know that the recently leaked draft from the U.S. Supreme Court portends a decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health that will harm pregnant people and our society. From my expertise as a medical sociologist who studies abortion care, I know that allowing the restriction of abortion will result in more maternal deaths, more health disparities by race and class, more harm to families. I know abortion restrictions damage relationships between pregnant people and their health care providers and limit class mobility.
In the event Roe is overturned, some people will get care, but my research with Ohio Policy Evaluation Network (OPEN) colleagues Tamika Odum, Orlaith Heymann, and Alison Norris shows that the costs of obtaining that care may burden them for years. I know that others will not obtain care: Diana Greene Foster’s outstanding Turnaway Study documents how these folks will be more likely to be tied to abusive partners, more likely to be poor years later, and more likely to see their other children suffer. Some pregnant people will obtain care outside of the formal medical system; thanks to the tracking by Lynn Paltrow and Jeanne Flavin with National Advocates of Pregnant Women, I know that the criminalization of people ending their own pregnancies in this way – and of the mothers, partners, sisters, friends who help them source abortion – will increase. Thanks to my OPEN research with Payal Chakraborty, Stef Murawsky, and Mikaela Smith, and the scholarship of Michele Goodwin, Ophra Leyser-Whalen, Amanda Jean Stevenson, and many others, I know that not everyone will bear these burdens evenly, that Black and Brown people of the global majority, people who are poor, and people who live in rural areas are most likely to be constrained in their ability to obtain abortion care and disproportionately likely to be burdened by the paying for it, by carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term, and by criminalization.
I know that people who experience miscarriages with wanted pregnancies will be exposed to suspicion at the very moment they need support. People who need help becoming or staying pregnant may not be able to get all of the services that they need. Informed by Carole Joffe’s scholarship, I know that some common contraceptives are already portrayed as “abortifacients,” and that the same people who have pushed for abortion bans will seek to ban these next.
Through my OPEN collaborations with Michelle McGowan, Danielle Czarnecki, Meredith Field, Hillary Gyuras, and Anne C. Heuerman, I have come to know that people who provide clinical care – not just abortion care, but any reproductive health care – will also be negatively affected, as they experience conflicts between the ethical duties of their job and the limits of the law. These clinicians will receive conflicting information about what interventions are permissible, and some of them will run afoul of laws that are written without any insight into medical practice or even the most rudimentary understanding of anatomy. I know trust within care teams will suffer, especially between those who want to provide more supportive care to patients and those who do not, as Lori Freedman’s Willing and Unable shows. I know that these additional stresses come at a time when physician and nursing shortages hamstring health care facilities and when folks in obstetrics, midwifery, and gynecology are especially needed.
In short, I know we are standing on a precipice, about to fall into a world that we won’t recognize, a world that only a precious few Americans actually want. I can cite only a fraction of the considerable social science scholarship that already exists on abortion care in the U.S. –a body of work that also includes sociologists Katrina Kimport, Carrie Purcell, Kelly Ward, Tracy Weitz, among many others – and I know that these and other researchers will be working hard to understand the transformed landscape after Dobbs. OPEN, the research initiative I co-lead, will also be assessing the impact of abortion restrictions in Ohio and our neighboring states and sharing our findings at https://open.osu.edu/. So too will our colleagues at the state-based research centers in Wisconsin, Georgia, and Texas: the Collaborative for Reproductive Equity (CORE, https://core.wisc.edu/); the Center for Reproductive Health Research in the Southeast (RISE, https://rise.emory.edu/); and the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP, https://sites.utexas.edu/txpep/), respectively. It’s up to all of us what we do with this knowledge.
Danielle Bessett is an Associate Professor in the Sociology Department at the University of Cincinnati and co-co-Principal Investigator of the Ohio Policy Evaluation Network (OPEN). She is a medical sociologist who studies reproduction, focusing on pregnancy and abortion.