MidPoint: Abortion Access After the Dobbs Decision

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After the landmark Roe v. Wade case was overturned in Dobbs, a 6-3 decision by the United States Supreme Court, the constitutional right to legal abortion and other fundamental reproductive care was stripped away from pregnant people all across America. Decisions about access to legal abortion now belongs to the individual states. This will create a “patchwork” of legislation across the country, defining where, when and how women can make decisions about their own bodies.
Today on MidPoint, the consequences of this decision are discussed with Kelly, an abortion access advocate from the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund, and Dr. Rachel, a local ob/gyn physician and abortion provider.

Listen to the full episode here:

https://sound.wmnf.org/sound/wmnf_220629_100600_12newsW1_423.MP3

Following the decision, there was an immediate sense of fear and desperation, Dr. Rachel said. Her own co-worker who doesn’t want children begged to have her tubes tied immediately, while many others called to ask about permanent sterilization to prevent all chances of pregnancy in the future. Kelly noted an increase in “rage donations” to the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund as women responded in any way they could to support abortion access.

But, the overturning of Roe v. Wade came as no real surprise. A leak from POLITICO last month gave insight into the Supreme Court’s plans to reverse that decision, and since Donald Trump’s Presidency, the threat of this decision has been looming. Kelly, from the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund, said that the organization has been working for years now with preemptive preparations for the fall of Roe, making arrangements to handle an influx of clients and give them the care and assistance they need, whether in-state or out-of-state.

Just Say Abortion

Following the Dobbs decision, there have been many posts on social media from women in states where abortion is still legal offering assistance to out-of-state women coming from states where abortion has been made illegal. These offers of assistance have skirted around the term “abortion” and used code words for it instead. The posts said they’d be happy to take another woman “camping”, “apple-picking”, and other “coded” terms in lieu of outright saying they’re willing to help a woman that needs access to legal abortion. Kelly and Rachel both agreed that this coded talk about abortion is inappropriate. They urged women to remember that abortion is still legal, it is not shameful or something that needs to be secret, and they want women to openly use the term abortion where it is legal and not speak in code.

While this camaraderie is admirable, Kelly and Dr. Rachel both agree that accepting help from total strangers is not the most responsible or safest plan. A national network of abortion funds and access programs are readily available to those who need it, and legal abortion is still widely accessible despite the new decision, albeit not as conveniently or cheaply as before. Those working with organizations like TBAF are trained and vetted to assist with the process and have a history of providing abortion access and help.

And, more than anything, while the overturn of Roe v. Wade might make it seem like abortion is a crime everywhere, it is not, and the word doesn’t have to be avoided. Instead of “camping”, we should just say “abortion”.

The Language of New Laws

House Bill 5, which effectively bans almost all abortions past 15 weeks in the state of Florida, has 2 exceptions that are “uncomfortable” decisions for many abortion providers, including Dr. Rachel. While the law provides no exceptions for cases of pregnancy caused by rape or incest, it does provide an exception permitting abortion past 15 weeks for “fatal fetal anomalies”. The issue, Dr. Rachel says, is that there is no medical definition for “fatal fetal anomalies”, and therefore the interpretation of the condition of a fetus could be a proper exception permitting abortion to some physicians but a crime to others. The exception is too vague to be enshrined in law. While one parent might desire to terminate a pregnancy knowing that their child won’t survive more than a day, another might consider a week of life reason not to abort, and another doctor might find that a year of life is outside of the exception. All of these considerations will mean the law lacks uniformity and potentially leads to a report and arrest of the doctor who performed the abortion.

The other exception in the law is a pregnancy that is a “threat to maternal life”, which is also vague and up to potentially dangerous interpretation. While a high-risk pregnancy may still be carried to term by one person, it may be terminated for another who doesn’t want to deal with the risks. That choice, ultimately, could lead to the targeting of a doctor who terminates the high-risk pregnancy. In other states and countries, we are already seeing high-risk pregnant individuals die because doctors don’t want to perform an abortion, whether out of fear of backlash or because they don’t believe the pregnancy is risky enough to terminate. The lack of care, Dr. Rachel says, is grave, and the mortality rate in pregnancy will only rise as abortion access is restricted.

Available Abortion Methods Now

Florida House Bill 5, the 15 week ban on abortion, goes into effect in Florida on July 1, but legal access to abortion medications and procedures is still available.

Self-managed abortion pills- which are NOT the same as Plan B or emergency contraceptives- are still available at abortion clinics, hospitals and soon, per new regulations from Biden’s Dept of Health and Human Sewrvices, at pharmacies. They are the most common type of abortion, available to terminate a pregnancy up to 11 weeks. They consist of 2 drugs taken at home by the patient and they induce what is essentially a miscarriage.

Plan B and other emergency contraceptives are available at pharmacies, though the more effective contraceptive methods such as “ella” pills require a prescription at a clinic. However, preemptive prescriptions are available and that way individuals can keep their stronger emergency contraceptives with them, without worrying about finding a prescription the morning after. IUD’s and implants are also available through physicians and clinics and they are currently the most effective form of birth control, according to ob/gyn physician, Dr. Rachel.

Even with the fall of Roe v. Wade, there are still many resources and helpful advocates available to any individual in need of abortion access or care. The networks of abortion funds, like www.tbafund.org, are still active to provide personalized help across the country. The right to freedom of choice may have been stripped at the federal level, but it is far from gone entirely.

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