With the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court last week, our understanding of the issues around abortion and reproductive freedom, and how we talk about them, is incredibly important.
There are many misconceptions about abortion – “myths” if you will – that each of us will need to debunk in our conversations with family and friends. By speaking knowledgably and accurately, we can mitigate misinformation and destigmatize abortion.
Myth 1: This is The Handmaid’s Tale.
I understand the temptation to equate this moment to Margaret Atwood’s dystopian fiction. There are certainly parallels between the value system in Atwood’s Gilead and the conservative agenda in the United States.
However, this is not The Handmaid’s Tale. The overturning of Roe v. Wade is very real. Reproductive coercion is very much a part of our country’s history, with Black people, people of color, Indigenous folks, immigrants, refugees, and gender diverse people especially subjected to it for centuries.
There is plenty to say about our current reality. We do not need to use euphemisms or metaphors, and we do not need to talk about this movement using the terminology of slavery or fictional autocracies. We will not co-opt real-life experiences of oppression. Instead, we must live in and own this moment for what it is: a rollback of basic human rights and of bodily autonomy. It is only by standing firmly in this reality that we can do something about it.
Myth 2: The Democrats in power haven’t done anything, so why should I vote?
The Democrats in office should be doing more to protect abortion and broader civil rights in America. And elected Democrats have contributed to the stigmatization of abortion by refusing to say the word “abortion” or to acknowledge that abortion is essential healthcare in the past.
However, we also must recognize who is truly to blame for the current circumstances, so we can put our resources in the right places. For decades, white nationalist and far-right conservative groups have focused on taking away abortion rights. Powerful conservative interest groups have spent millions of dollars to overturn local elections, including judges and school boards, in places like Texas to lay the groundwork for Senate Bill 8 and its citizen vigilante clause.
Republican lawmakers have also repeatedly ignored established practices to create a Supreme Court that no longer even pretends to represent the American people nor legal precedent. Eighty percent of the United States preferred Roe v. Wade to be upheld. Misinformation and hateful rhetoric are everywhere and have been funded by those same interest groups to sew division and discontent for years.
So, yes, there is more that our elected leaders must do. And elections remain absolutely essential to ensure that far-right groups do not further erode democratic and civil rights. Historically marginalized groups have long-standing reasons to feel disregarded by the system, and still the only way to ensure that the system is not further rigged is by voting. Our window for protecting what democracy we have left is small, and it is urgent.
Myth 3: Patients from states with abortion bans voted for their elected leaders, so why should we help them in Washington?
It is deeply misaligned with the values of our movement, which is built on trust and love, to punish people for the decisions of their elected leaders. Most patients who need an abortion in states like Idaho, Oklahoma, and Texas did not vote for the elected leaders who have taken away their healthcare.
And, even if they did vote for them, many people did not believe that Roe v. Wade could ever be overturned and, instead, chose to believe the lies of the Supreme Court Justices Kavanaugh, Coney Barrett, and Gorsuch who promised to respect Roe as settled law.
The movement to protect abortion and reproductive rights is about compassion and belief in bodily autonomy. Because of this, we have a responsibility to trust people seeking care and to receive them in Washington as a haven state for as long as we can.
It is not the state or the population of a state that is to blame, but rather those conservatives in power who have abused those positions to advance their agenda of control and consolidated power.
Myth 4: I will never need an abortion myself, so while I am sad to see Roe v. Wade overturned, it will not directly impact me.
Far-right groups have worked hard to sideline abortion as a niche issue that is separate from healthcare. This is not true; abortion care is deeply integrated into the entire pregnancy and fertility experience.
There is a misperception that abortion is simply for people who are deciding whether to carry a pregnancy to term. While that is one, valid reason for abortion care, it is not the only one.
Abortion procedures are also used to manage ectopic pregnancies, which is when a fertilized egg implants and grows outside the uterus. It is critical to remove that fertilized egg to prevent serious complications, like permanent infertility or infection, and this typically requires an abortion procedure. Since symptoms of ectopic pregnancies are similar to pregnancy, in a state where abortion is banned, lifesaving care may be delayed or denied to patients.
Abortion procedures can also be lifesaving during a miscarriage. If a miscarriage happens later in pregnancy, an abortion procedure is often required to ensure that the pregnant patient fully processes the miscarriage and does not develop an infection.
There are also states, like Louisiana and Missouri, that are pushing the bounds of what is considered an abortion. This includes actively seeking to regulate contraceptives, like intrauterine devices (IUDs), and fertility treatments, like in-vitro fertilization (IVF).
The entire reproductive journey, for all genders, is impacted by the attempt to regulate abortions. Even if it is not your body, someone who you know and love will be impacted.
Myth 5: Abortion outside of a clinic is not safe.
It is true that the loss of Roe v. Wade will lead to an increase in maternal deaths across the country. This is because abortion is a life-saving intervention. It reduces the number of women who die from pregnancy related causes, it saves people’s lives who have ectopic pregnancies and unreleased miscarriages, and it allows patients with cancer to safely proceed with treatment – just to name a few ways it is essential healthcare.
At the same time, today, self-managed abortion is much safer than it was in the 1960s and 1970s. This is largely because of medication abortion, which is an abortion with pills within the first ten weeks of pregnancy. Health care providers in the U.S. prescribe the medications mifepristone and misoprostol together, and these can be taken at home.
Mifepristone and misoprostol are on the World Health Organization’s essential medicines list, and have been repeatedly shown to be safer than many over-the-counter medications, like Tylenol.
Self-managed abortion is especially important for folks who face bias in the healthcare system, who are located in rural areas, or who cannot afford the time or transportation costs to reach a clinic. Medication abortion does not negate the need for surgical abortion, or the full range of reproductive healthcare options. It is just one, very safe option for patients who choose to end a pregnancy within the first ten weeks.