In Wake Of Roe V. Wade Decision, New Series Showcases Barriers To Abortion Care
For many Americans, accessing healthcare services is a challenge, from finding doctors with availability who accept insurance to paying rising out-of-pocket costs. But one category of medical services just got a lot more difficult to access: reproductive healthcare.
With U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Dobbs v. Jackson decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that effectively established a constitutional right to an abortion, the politics of abortion rights have been front and center in the United States.
But beyond significant questions about reproductive rights and bodily autonomy raised by the court’s decision, many women are now facing a more immediate question: How will they get the medical care they need?
The Mississippi law at the center of the Supreme Court case banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy with narrow exceptions for medical emergencies or severe fetal abnormalities.
With abortion rights now reverting to states based on the Court decision, several states are imposing similarly stringent restrictions and narrow exceptions.
An Arkansas law triggered by the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade bans abortions altogether, with the only exception to protect the life of the mother in a medical emergency. Kentucky had a trigger law in place that now makes abortion services illegal except to prevent death or permanent injury to the mother. Louisiana similarly outlawed abortion except if there is substantial risk of death or impairment to the woman. South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and others have also banned abortion with narrow exceptions to save the mother’s life and in some cases, to prevent serious, substantial, and irreversible impairment to the mother.
These rules and others likely to follow may make it harder for women who face pregnancy complications to get needed care, depending on how the medical exceptions are framed and how their own complications are interpreted.
For Kat Aronofsky, 37, a public relations account manager in the Greater Boston area, an abortion likely saved her life.
In February 2020, Aronofsky was seven weeks pregnant when she an ultrasound detected no heartbeat; the fetus had died. Her body had not recognized the loss, so she required a dilation and curettage (D&C) to remove it.
Pregnant again in August 2020, Aronofsky requested an ultrasound. Though she wasn’t experiencing any unusual symptoms, she says she just had a gut feeling that something was wrong. The scan revealed that Aronofsky was right. She had an ectopic pregnancy, a pregnancy in which the embryo implants outside the uterus where the fertilized egg cannot survive.
In Aronofsky’s case, the ectopic pregnancy was on the verge of rupture. Within an hour of the ultrasound, she was rushed to the hospital and into surgery to remove the embryo, along with her left fallopian tube.
The obstetrician told Aronofsky that listening to her gut—requesting the ultrasound a week before it was due—had saved her life due to the size and age of the pregnancy and how close to rupture it was.
After nearly three years of infertility, Aronofsky is now seven months pregnant with a healthy baby boy thanks to in vitro fertilization (IVF). Through genetic testing, Aronofsky’s healthcare team identified that seven of nine embryos had genetic abnormalities that were not compatible with life. This insight prevented further loss and heartache for Aronofsky, but in the wake of the Dobbs ruling, standard fertility treatment approaches may now be in murky legal territory.
Aronofsky wishes there was broader recognition of the role reproductive services play beyond ending unwanted pregnancies.
“What many people don’t understand is that the [Supreme Court] decision doesn’t just impact those not wanting a pregnancy,” Aronofsky said. “It has the potential to upend and devastate those who very, very much want to bring a child into this world.”
Shining new light on abortion care
As Americans try to make sense of the implications of the Dobbs decision, a new podcast aims to bring abortion care to a human level.
Today, Population Media Center released a new 10-part audio series, Crossing the Line, to highlight through first-person narratives the barriers people face when trying to access abortion services.
The project began before the recent Court ruling, but its creator says the launch could not be any timelier.
“Using the podcast medium allows us to go to the frontlines and immerse listeners in different individual experiences while protecting the identities of those who bravely shared their stories,” said Lisa Caruso, head of U.S. content for Population Media Center and creator of Crossing the Line. “More than policy wonks debating pros and cons, we wanted to put the audience in people’s shoes to understand what is happening daily and how difficult it is to access what should be a human right protected by our Constitution.”
When Texas enacted a ban on abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected and the Dobbs case reached the Supreme Court, Caruso said she sent field producers to different states to capture developments as they unfolded in real time. In hearing from people working in clinics and abortion funds, they realized people were crossing state lines to get the care they needed.
The team was on the ground in Texas and Michigan when Roe v. Wade was overturned.
“The devastating blow to those who have devoted their lives to ensuring safe access to abortion care was palpable,” Caruso said.
Even before the decision, Caruso said she and her team knew that access to abortion services was especially challenging for people of color, young people, low-income people, and members of the LGBTQI community.
“Now that Roe has been overturned, the situation is even more critical,” she said. “The climate of fear now hanging over people who need abortions or give abortions is a new barrier people must overcome.”
Caruso said she hopes the podcast helps increase the conversation, destigmatize abortion care, and ensure that people know how to find the healthcare services they need.
“There are many reasons families and individuals seek abortions,” she said. “Which are all valid.”