Recent statements from the Supreme Court have made it clear that Roe v. Wade will likely be overturned this year. With an escalating number of abortion restrictions being issued across the country, several states have also recognized their role as sanctuary states for those seeking abortion care, some even putting new policies in motion to further reproductive rights.
Since new members of the Supreme Court have signaled their support for anti-abortion policy, conservative legislators have been busy passing abortion bans in their states. Earlier this month, Florida passed a bill modeled after one in Mississippi, that will ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. More than 20 states have trigger laws in place, which will be implemented if and when Roe v. Wade is overturned. So, when those seeking abortion are essentially living in different Americas, how can we move forward?
It is clear that abortion access is defined at the state level, so it is essential for more progressive states to take a proactive approach to abortion rights protections while abortion rights are still available, by creating the legal, financial, and grassroots activism safeguards. Building up this kind of policy and social infrastructure is vital for protecting access to equitable reproductive healthcare across the US.
It is encouraging to see that there are many states taking proactive action to build the necessary infrastructure and policies to safeguard abortion access. What are some of the approaches?
Taking a proactive approach
The clock is ticking. It is likely that the US Supreme Court decision on Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization this June will effectively end federal abortion protections. For the first time in 50 years, at least 35 percent of our country could lose access to abortion care. Due to decades of carefully orchestrated state-level action by conservative groups, we are now seeing an onslaught of abortion bans.
As efforts to subvert reproductive freedom escalate across the country, investing in proactive policies in states where abortion is legal is essential. Abortion bans and limitations especially affect women of color, who make up the majority of those seeking and getting abortions. Lack of access to healthcare and a dearth of choices when it comes to affordable and available contraception and reproductive health services, in general, make it harder for people of color to choose when, how, and if they want to have a family.
While legal rights are the bare minimum for abortion equity, and there is incredible social and economic justice work that still needs to happen to create equitable access, protecting abortion rights within progressive states will help to maintain an avenue of access for people seeking abortion services from across the country.
It is easy to be overwhelmed by the bad news, but states have been expanding and protecting abortion access across the country this year. Here are some of the policies that can be put in place to safeguard peoples’ right to choose.
How some states are responding
Some states like California and Vermont are taking matters into their own hands. Recently, Vermont became the first state to guarantee the right to abortion in its state constitution. While the amendment will go on Vermont’s November ballot, it’s likely to pass as 70 percent of Vermont voters say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
This is the first amendment of its kind and a change that other states should take note of, especially considering that most Americans believe in the legalization of abortion. Vermont Representative Ann Pugh said it best, “We can no longer rely on federal courts to uphold the protections for fundamental reproductive rights based on the federal constitution.”
Similarly, New Jersey became the 15th state to protect the legal right to abortion in its state law by passing the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act in January. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy noted, “With Roe v. Wade under attack, the need for this bill is more urgent than ever.” The bill will guarantee the right to reproductive autonomy and allow both physicians and some non-physicians to perform abortions.
California looks to go a step further, positioning itself as a sanctuary for those seeking abortion throughout the country. There are currently eight bills that aim to expand abortion access for those in and outside of California. Some of these bills focus on protecting the privacy of those seeking abortions while others ensure people will not be charged with murder for receiving an abortion. Additionally, if the legislation passes, the state would create a database of people traveling to the state for abortions, which they’ll use to connect them with services and funding to potentially cover the cost of travel, lodging, and procedures.
Washington state, as the first state to legalize abortion on the ballot in the 1970s, is also shoring up protections in advance of the Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson. This session, the legislature moved forward a bill that officially expands the type of medical practitioners with the relevant training who can perform abortions, incorporates gender-neutral language, and prohibits the state from criminalizing a person for self-managed abortion.
Oregon lawmakers have been preparing for abortion bans in surrounding states. In the same week that Idaho passed a bill banning abortions after 6 weeks, Oregon legislators passed the Oregon Reproductive Equity Fund, which dedicates $15 million to cover the costs of abortion care, including travel and lodging, to help people seeking abortions in Oregon and to help those who may be coming from out of state.
Colorado has also made a powerful move to protect the right to abortion – the state’s House of Representatives passed the Reproductive Health Equity Act. This bill aims to enshrine the right to abortion in state law and prohibit state and local entities from, “denying, restricting, interfering with or discriminating against a person’s decision to either use contraception, give birth or have an abortion.”
This is just a sampling of the policies being proposed, passed, and implemented in state governments across abortion haven states. Unfortunately, new anti-abortion policies are cropping up just as quickly and are becoming more and more restrictive and concerning. We need progressive legislatures to step up and create the policy infrastructure that protects the right to abortion.
Reproductive rights and justice are and continue to be defined at the local and state level. We know that abortion rights are just one component of reproductive freedom and justice, and are not sufficient. There are several other pieces of infrastructure that need to be in place around health systems, health care providers, and social structures. These progressive state policies should be just the beginning.