Everything Is Just Dandy!

The Dire Consequences of Overturning Roe v. Wade, One Month Later

VICE US
Molly Longman
2022-07-28
https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/3add8b/roe-v-wade-overturned-impact-abortion-rights-reproductive-healthcare

Since Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion across the nation, was overturned by the Supreme Court just over one month ago, there have been medical emergencies, guttural screams, celebrations, legal battles, and… emails. A lot of emails. 

Laurie Bertram Roberts has been on the receiving end of plenty of them, mainly from people wanting to give money. Bertram Roberts helps run an abortion fund, The Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund, which aids people in paying for abortions and related costs. The fund has received an outpouring of support since the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization gave states the power to limit or straight-up ban abortions.

Bertram Roberts has been doing this work for over a decade (and predicting the fall of Roe v. Wade for much of that time), and they worry the emails and donations will only keep coming for so long before the attention wanes. They’ve seen waves of supporters from blue states passionately rallying around an issue like abortion rights when a threat to access is nigh, only to abandon ship for another cause when the news cycle changes. Although Bertram Roberts says they’re incredibly grateful for the crucial support their fund has been receiving, they worry the contributions and well-wishes will only last so long. Bertram Roberts compares vying for allies’ attention to dating “fuckbois” who are everything you need one day, but out the door the next. “They love you today, but tomorrow, they’ll leave you for climate change,” Bertram Roberts said. 

Meanwhile, in a world where 26 states are expected to ban or limit abortion, if they haven’t already, Bertram Roberts’ biggest fear is that limited access to abortion is already becoming too commonplace. That people are shrugging and moving on as though abortion access has always been so constrained (to be fair, politicians have been restricting abortion for years, especially since the 2010 midterm elections) and as though there’s no use fighting them. “I already hear people normalizing people traveling these great distances to have an abortion,” they said. Although self-managing an abortion through pills (which can be obatined without a provider — for example, you can buy them online through a platform like Aid Access) is still a generally safe, cheap and effective way for many people to have abortions up to about 12 weeks in pregnancy, the option isn’t fit for everyone, medically or generally. There are also worries of future criminalization, which leaves some people in the lurch with only the option to travel. 

Trying to quickly sum up all that’s happened in the chaotic 30-some days since Roe v. Wade was overturned—to hear all the stories of people who couldn’t get access to abortions, of those who had to jump through hoops to get life-saving medical care, who lost their jobs, fought against a ban in court, or who feared prosecution after self-managing an abortion—would strip the stories of the nuance they need. Instead, we asked a few people within the movement what they’ve seen on the ground since the Roe reversal—and why they believe we can’t abandon the fight.

What’s happened at abortion funds since the Roe v. Wade Reversal?

On July 6, Jackson Women’s Health Organization carried out its last abortion. The Mississippi clinic—which was at the heart of the case that reversed Roe after the clinic challenged a Mississippi abortion ban—is now closed for good. Bertram Roberts said the official closure was one of the most challenging days they’ve faced in the past month. “There’s so much grief, and I don’t mean just grief, I mean grief,” they said. 

There had been reports in the media and on social media that the clinic “was about to close” for years. Because of that drumbeat of misinformation, some Mississippi residents already thought it had shuttered. “For some people, it didn’t change anything,” Bertram Roberts said. “But then what did change was, Oh, no—now there are no clinics in Memphis. Now there’s no clinics in Little Rock.” 

Another shift: Since Roe’s fall, the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund has fielded calls and chats from a new group of people needing abortions, whom they hadn’t heard from before: “People who have a little higher income, who would have been able to make it to Jackson, but they can’t make it to Atlanta without help,” Bertram Roberts said. (In a fact-checking call, Bertram Roberts said they actually would no longer send abortion fund clients to Georgia, due to the six week ban that went into effect last week. Now, they’re most likely to help folks travel to Illinois, showing how options are disappearing by the week.}

And there are the people the fund hasn’t been able to help for myriad reasons—minors with unsupportive parents who can’t get out of school to travel, people with disabilities, caretakers, those with inflexible work schedules, or people with abusive partners. “We’ve already had callers who—it doesn’t matter how much money we have available—they’re not going to be able to go,” Bertram Roberts said. “It’s too far away, they can’t be away that long… There’s really nothing else to say but, ‘I’m sorry and we’re here to support you, whatever your next step is.’ We virtually handhold.” 

Meanwhile, at funds like Bertram Roberts’, supporting those who need abortions often has to take precedence, even over processing donations, especially after such a hectic past month, Bertram Roberts said. This brings us back to the emails. Bertram Roberts said their inbox has requests from people wanting to give money from a month ago that they haven’t gotten to yet. “We’re asking for people’s patience because I know people think we’re ignoring them, and we’re not, but we just have to triage what we get to in a day,” Bertram Roberts said. “That even includes people offering us money… We [have been] working on abortion requests or media requests that were time-sensitive first before [getting] to even money emails. Which sounds absurd, because we need the money.” Bertram Roberts estimates the fund has received double the typical support since Roe’s reversal. 

Meanwhile, Bertram Roberts is constantly consulting lawyers about how the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund can help people post-Roe. What can and can’t they fund now? For years, they’ve helped lower-income folks pay for abortions and associated costs like gas, planes, hotels, childcare, and food. In this new world, are they allowed to provide possibly life- and definitely dollar-saving information about how to self-manage abortion

“We’re not ending our services in any way,” Bertram Roberts said. “We might have to change them, but we’re not closing.” 

Not every fund in the U.S. has been able to adapt. “We have made the deeply difficult decision to temporarily pause our services for the safety and security of our clients, our supporters, and our staff,” The Yellowhammer Fund wrote in an email announcement. “During this time, we will consult legal experts to reassess how best to continue doing our work in the immediate future.” (The Yellowhammer Fund, which had been known for helping folks who needed abortions in the Deep South, has not responded to email and phone requests for comment from VICE.) 

At least seven funds in Texas have reportedly been shuttered due to the legal risk of “aiding and abetting” abortions. Right as folks need additional support the most, some funds are being forced to stop giving it to them.

What have doctors seen since the Roe v. Wade reversal?

Dr. Bhavik Kumar, MD, an abortion provider in Texas, has noticed an uptick in harassment from anti-abortion protesters happening outside of the Planned Parenthood Center for Choice where he works in Houston. “The shouting, the things they’re saying, just feel more aggressive than usual, more intense,” Kumar said. “It just seems like they feel they have more of a right to be there now.” 

Kumar said he and others walking into the clinics receive “threats to report us to the state. [Demonstrators are] telling us we don’t need to work here, [and that we are] killing babies. They’re videotaping us, including our license plates, [and] misleading our patients and increasing their anxiety.”

This kind of intimidation isn’t new for the clinic, but the fact that protestors keep showing up to the Houston center is almost ironic: The center hasn’t performed any abortions since Roe fell. As soon as the decision came down, they halted any abortions they had still allowed to carry out under SB 8, a Texas law that went into effect on September 1, 2021 that effectively banned abortion after six weeks. 

The health center team didn’t continue abortions in the brief period of access after a lower court judge blocked a pre-Roe abortion ban from going into effect in Texas (a decision which was swiftly undone). “We chose not to provide [during that small window,]” Kumar said. “Given the intense way that pre-Roe law was written 100 years ago, and given the pattern of behavior from our attorney general, Ken Paxton, and his ruthless, relentless attempts to target folks that provide abortions and to try to ban everybody from accessing it, we were hesitant to move forward and provide that care at that time.” 

Physicians like Kumar are in a unique position: They’re most commonly the people who are actively punished by the law when state abortion bans go into effect. “You’re thinking about multiple lawsuits, about losing your medical license, about ultimately going to jail for providing health care, and it’s very, very scary to think about that,” he said. 

The impact on people who need abortions is sometimes harder to quantify than years of jail time abortion providers may face, though the famous “Turnaway Study” out of the University of California, San Francisco, is a good start. The long-term research, which began over a decade ago, found that those who were turned away from abortion clinics and who carried pregnancies to term instead were four times more likely to end up living below the federal poverty line than those able to have their abortions. Those who were denied a wanted abortion had worse health outcomes and serious complications with their pregnancies, such as eclampsia and death. They were also more likely to stay connected to abusive partners. 

Kumar added that the Dobbs decision now in effect is having a chilling effect on access to all kinds of health care. Abortion bans like the one in Texas are typically vague as to what kind of emergency care is and isn’t allowed. The laws and their language can be murky, and they’re often not tailored to modern medicine. Doctors don’t know for sure if they can be punished for even providing resources to someone who needs care, like information on self-managed abortion

How have abortion bans impacted real people since Roe was overturned?

There are already too many examples of confusing laws leading to devastating outcomes playing out across the country just in the last month.

One person with a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy reportedly had to travel across state lines to the University of Michigan Hospital because doctors where they lived worried that they could be sued if they provided care to the patient because a fetal heartbeat was present. (In response to a request for comment, the University of Michigan Hospital’s OB/GYN team confirmed: “We have seen patients with ectopic pregnancies referred from other states because of restrictions on abortion care. We cannot provide further details due to patient privacy.”)

In Wisconsin, the Washington Post reported that a woman bled for 10 days after an incomplete miscarriage. The staffers in the emergency room treating her wouldn’t remove fetal tissue due to the confounding state of abortion laws.

As was widely publicized throughout the country, a 10-year-old rape survivor from Ohio had to travel to Indiana for abortion care. 

These are just a few examples of so-called “exceptions” to abortion bans (some abortion bans make exceptions for rape, incest, and life-threatening medical issues, but these caveats to bans are not always practical in effect; proving the that you are the exception to the rule is often laborious and emotionally taxing, if not impossible) that made national news. Abortion can be life-saving or life-changing no matter why you need one, advocates like Bertram Roberts said, whether or not you’re having a medical emergency, and no matter where you live. “The impacts [of Dobbs] are still unraveling,” Kumar said. “Stories will continue to come out, and I think, unfortunately, they will become more intense and serious. In time, we’ll start to see more statistical differences in maternal morbidity and maternal mortality… We already see that maternal mortality is higher among folks of color, specifically among Black women. We’re going to see more Black and Brown people dying because of the bans on abortion.” 

As we look ahead to the coming months—whether or not we keep donating to abortion funds and sending angry emails and yelling about abortion rights—Kumar said that every day, real people will be impacted. They’ll keep coming into emergency rooms. Keep continuing unwanted pregnancies. And, the sad truth is, the more all this happens, the more commonplace these stories will become. As Bertram Roberts says, the more bans and restrictions are put in place, and the more exhausted people get, the more this will become, yet again, our “new normal.”

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