The United States Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 court decision that granted federal protection of abortion rights. Michigan State University experts provide commentary on this decision.
Ryan Black is a professor of American politics within the MSU College of Social Science. Black is one of the nation’s leading authorities on the U.S. Supreme Court.
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“The single word that best characterizes U.S. politics in the 21st century is 'polarization.' Supreme Court justices are not elected, but this does not shield them from this same underlying dynamic. It only means that it might take considerably longer for the same forces to make their mark on the court. What we're seeing right now is the culmination of a transition that has been in the making for multiple decades. Whether the Court's outcome in Dobbs v. Jackson makes you want to clap or curse, it demonstrates that the Supreme Court is as polarized as any other branch of the U.S. government — and it is poised to stay that way for the foreseeable future.”
Mae Kuykendall, professor of law within the MSU College of Law, has a scholarly interest in the relationship between legal definitions of marriage and the evolving common usage of the word. In addition to recently co-authoring an essay, Uprooting Roe, that was published in the Houston Law Review, she offered her opinion on the draft opinion leak in May.
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“The overturning of Roe opens a culturally and legally chaotic period in the U.S., in which fertile individuals struggle to attain medical care in connection with their reproductive lives; a newly widespread disrespect for the law itself is set loose by organized efforts to help women end unwanted pregnancies; and the already forming plans to enable women to reach ‘safe haven’ states confront efforts of states and vigilantes to monitor the travel and associations of women who attempt to travel away from and return to a state with an abortion ban,” she said.
“The invasion of women’s liberty and the violent conflict it may well set loose as states attempt to end reproductive choice is a deeper incursion into American ideals of liberty and women’s equality than can be adequately understood or predicted. Those ideals Americans have assumed are bedrock protections are up for grabs. Freedom of travel, free association, and even free expression about how women can access abortions or perform them at home are subject to novel and threatening legal and cultural attack. Liberty and equality will be newly contested in ways unique to our history and counter to the culture of 21st-century American life. The damage to the rule of law and to civil peace will almost surely be far greater than this Supreme Court majority, or anyone, can imagine.”
Sean Vallesis director of the Center for Bioethics and Social Justice within the MSU College of Human Medicine. Valles is a philosopher of health specializing in the ethical and evidentiary complexities of how social contexts combine to create patterns of inequitable health disparities.
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“I have three key ethical concerns about Roe v. Wade being overturned: 1) Maternal mortality rates will spike in the U.S., with especially large spikes in the non-Hispanic Black populations — and that’s not even considering the harms from the likely emergence of a black market of relatively unsafe abortions. The U.S. already has pregnant people dying of pregnancy-related complications at nearly four times the rate of other wealthy countries, with non-Hispanic Black pregnant people having a rate that’s more than twice as bad; 2) People grieving over miscarriages will face potential criminal investigations from any police and prosecutors who suspect they got an abortion — what a nightmare; and 3) Women’s gains in average incomes and educational attainment will get held back. The wage gap burdening women is already high — and has not substantially improved in recent years — and it will get worse if women are forced into even more part-time work, often without health insurance or retirement benefits, and pushed out of higher education by childcare demands.”
Leonard Fleck, professor in MSU's Center for Bioethics and Social Justice in the department of philosophy. Fleck is an expert on medical ethics, health care policy and reproductive decision-making.
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“Many who don’t understand the complex implications of this overturn have asked the question, ‘Why can’t women just use emergency contraception — Plan B — during the first six weeks of a pregnancy?’ The short answer is that a number of states are already seeking to put in place legislation that would deny access to Plan B, at least legally,” he said, “Another question being asked is 'Why can’t they take the morning-after pill, or use the copper coil method of contraception?’
Legislation is being created that would outlaw those methods as well, because they prevent the implantation of the embryo in the womb.
“The argument from anti-abortion legislators is that from the moment of conception, there is a human life requiring state protection. The further consequence of that view is that access to IVF and preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) for couples who know they are at risk for having a child with a serious genetic disorder, such as cystic fibrosis, could also be legally curtailed. This represents gross interference with the practice of medicine by legislators and bureaucrats who are not licensed to practice medicine.”
Carla A. Pfeffer is director of the Consortium for Sexual and Gender Minority Health within the MSU College of Social Science. Pfeffer is a sociologist and gender scholar in the School of Social Work who specializes in analyses of stigma, discrimination, and marginalization and the impacts of social ills on health, families, and society.
“Consistent governmental inaction in regard to protecting all children from poverty, gun violence, and police violence reveals the hypocrisy of legally restricting abortion. Rather than protecting children, banning abortion is about governmental power and control over marginalized bodies and crass political maneuvering to appease a conservative base. In discussions about the overturn of Roe v. Wade, people who are lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and non-binary tend to be left out of the conversation,” said Pfeffer.
“However, members of these groups often face disproportionately higher rates of unintended and unwanted pregnancy—especially among queer youth. Coupled with higher rates of family rejection and homelessness, access to safe and legal abortion services for those who need them is critical for ensuring physical and mental health. Further, banning abortion will result in the likely shuttering of many clinics that currently offer abortion services, including Planned Parenthood. These are the same clinics that tend to be the most accessible to marginalized people—those who are poor, queer youth, and people of color—for obtaining basic, preventative treatment and specialized health care services. As such, overturning Roe v. Wade will further jeopardize the health, health care access, and well-being of members of these communities for the purposes of a retrogressive and dystopian political power play.”
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