Oral argument in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1. The case involves a Mississippi law that forces a pregnant person to give birth if they are unable to terminate their pregnancy by the 15th week. Many people see this case as being the one that officially overturns Roe v. Wade. Anyone thinking that Dobbs may somehow be the turning point on reproductive autonomy has not been paying attention.
Yes, this case may remove the viability standard, which allows for a person to control whether they want to be pregnant up to the point where the potential child could survive outside the womb without significant medical intervention. If it’s just the viability standard that is removed, the question will be how early is too early for states to ban abortion? It is also possible the court could decide that the constitution does not guarantee pregnant people the right to bodily autonomy and plainly say abortion is no longer a constitutionally protected right.
Once the decision comes down, incredibly restrictive abortion laws will spring into effect in about 20 states, with several more expected to pass laws soon after the decision. Unfortunately, that may not be that radical of a change — already, approximately 87 percent of counties in the United States have no known abortion provider. Mandatory waiting periods have been upheld, as have requirements to provide anti-abortion statements prior to delivering a procedure that approximately 862,000 people have every year.
The forced-birth movement has never simply been about whether a person can terminate a pregnancy. It’s a part of a broader narrative of minimizing the choices people who can get pregnant can make about their bodies, and they are chipping at our rights in a similar process to how they were obtained: bit by bit.
Roe came down seven short years after Griswold v. Connecticut, which said that married women could use contraception. Roe came down one year after the court extended the right to contraception to nonmarried women in Eisenstadt v. Baird. Seven years before the current case, The Hobby Lobby decision held employers could refuse to provide insurance coverage for contraception.
There is an equally ugly other side to the fight for reproductive autonomy: the fight against sterilization. Marginalized people have had sterilization forced on them throughout history. Most recently, immigrants in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center were sterilized without their knowledge or consent. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been any forced sterilization of people assigned male at birth.
Forced sterilization, forced birth, denial of access to contraception, abstinence-only education — they are all tactics to control people’s bodies, which is the ultimate goal.
Read more of the Dec. 15-21, 2021 issue.