The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Amy Fried is a political science professor at the University of Maine. Her views are her own and do not represent those of any group with which she is affiliated.
After last week’s oral arguments, it’s very likely that the Supreme Court will gut or end the nearly half century right to choose abortion, creating profound consequences for women’s lives, the court’s legitimacy and American politics.
Up to 26 states will likely make abortion illegal very quickly, if not automatically.
Women who cannot afford to get a legal abortion elsewhere would be harmed physically and financially.
As economists have found, legal abortion has helped women plan when they go to school, start to work, earn more and begin families.
Pregnancy and labor have health risks that adoption doesn’t reduce. As pointed out in a submission to the Supreme Court by 547 public health researchers and professionals, the American Public Health Association and other organizations, in Mississippi “it is approximately seventy-five times more dangerous for women to carry a pregnancy to term than to have an abortion.”
As a result, “pro-life” policies are associated with suffering. Women in states with the most restrictive abortion policies do little to help women when they are pregnant and when and after they give birth.
And so women “are more likely to die while pregnant or shortly thereafter than women living in states with less restrictive abortion policies, regardless of state-to-state differences in poverty, race/ethnicity, and education,” according to the brief.
Not only women are affected. Unwanted births result in more preterm deliveries and lifelong health and developmental problems for children.
Besides harming women and families, overturning or gutting Roe v. Wade undermines the Supreme Court’s legitimacy. It would sweep away a long precedent and a key constitutional principle basically because former President Donald Trump filled three seats — one Republicans refused to fill after Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016 and another filled after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died soon before the 2020 election.
The Mississippi law currently before the court clearly violates Roe v. Wade. Constitutionally, Roe was about a national right to privacy and “personal liberty.” It balanced women’s right to choose with states’ interest in fetal life, ruling choice prevails before the fetus can live outside of a woman’s uterus. Since then the court has let states enact restrictions on abortion access, using the “undue burden” test in the Casey decision.
Mississippi wants to ban abortion before viability. Dishonestly, Justice Brett Kavanaugh called letting Mississippi and other states do that a “return to a position of neutrality” from the court. In fact, allowing this would end Roe v. Wade (whether the majority writes an opinion that explicitly overrules the 1973 decision).
If Roe is swept aside, other freedoms are threatened. Before it, the court applied the right to privacy to give married and unmarried couples the right to use birth control and for interracial couples to marry and afterward to stop states from outlawing sex between gay couples and limiiting marriage to heterosexuals.
Because the American public strongly supports a national right to choose abortion, there will be a political uproar if the Supreme Court casts aside this precedent.
Abortion rights will matter in many political contests in 2022 and beyond. Gov. Janet Mills is a stalwart supporter of choice, while her main opponent, Paul LePage, opposes it. Since Maine Republicans want to repeal state protections for abortion rights, this will be at issue in legislative races. And disagreements about abortion will divide candidates across the country.
Ending or further limiting Roe would further demonstrate that Sen. Susan Collins’ claims about Kavanaugh and abortion were ridiculous and Sen. Angus King and many others got it right. Collins should not be credited for saying she’d support codifying Roe. She opposes the bill passed by the House and doesn’t back dropping the filibuster, which is needed for the Senate to pass abortion protection. Moreover, a Supreme Court that overrules Roe very well could rule such legislation unconstitutional. But Collins, if she runs again, isn’t before the voters again until 2026.
Foreseeing the court forsaking precedent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked “Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception — that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” We should ask the same question while worrying about the coming harm to women’s lives from forced pregnancy and birth should Roe v. Wade go by the wayside.