Opinion It’s no wonder right-wing justices didn’t weigh Dobbs’s awful impact on women


HR King
May 29, 2001
With so many disturbing aspects of the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade — the shoddy history, the contempt for stare decisis, etc. — it is easy to forget that one of the most heinous came from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
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During oral arguments, Julie Rikelman, counsel for Jackson’s Women Health, had the temerity to spell out the ramifications that bans would have on the health and future of women denied an abortion. Roberts cut her off and plunged ahead in his search for justification for a 15-week limit on the procedure.

In short, women were irrelevant to him; damage done to their right to life and liberty was brushed off. After all, if you insist on using 1868 (when the 14th Amendment was adopted — and women couldn’t vote) to determine our deeply held values, of course you’ll decide women’s lives are secondary.


The Dobbs defenders dismiss victims of the case’s outcome as statistically insignificant. They insist that incidents of raped children are “hoaxes.” They play down the real-world results of Dobbs despite real-world examples and uncontroverted data documenting harm to women denied abortions.
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The definitive examination of abortion denial, Diana Greene Foster’s 2020 “The Turnaway Study,” looked at the lives of about 1,100 women over five years. Foster and a slew of researchers compared women denied abortion services because they were past the gestational limit with women at the same stage of pregnancy who got an abortion.
Especially with state legislators now deciding how much latitude to give women in controlling their own lives, you would think some of them might be interested in the results of the study, including the myths it obliterates and the suffering and maternal deaths it documents:

  • Less than 10 percent of women consider adoption, blowing a hole in antiabortion advocates’ notion of that option as an obvious, simple solution.
  • Time limits on abortion are not effective in preventing already rare “late term” abortions; the primary cause for delaying until the second trimester is late discovery of pregnancy (usually in young women with no pregnancy symptoms and irregular periods). How can women seek an early abortion if they don’t know they’re pregnant? Difficulty finding a provider also pushes abortions later — and bans and restrictions often add to delays by forcing women to plan travel out of state.
  • Forced-birth activists’ insistence that abortions are dangerous and/or harmful to women is utterly false. Much greater harm to women’s physical health, family situation, economic condition and life trajectory comes from being denied an abortion. Also, some 95 percent of women who had abortions are glad they did.
  • Waiting periods mostly create only later-term abortions. The study documents that the vast majority of women have already considered their decision.
  • Since poverty or lack of resources for existing children motivate a large share of abortions, the best “prevention” would be robust economic, social and educational assistance for pregnant women. Unfortunately, the forced-birth crowd largely isn’t interested.
  • Roughly 60 percent of women who get abortions have one or more children already, and many women plan to have children later, once they are ready. Abortion bans mean more unwanted pregnancies and fewer later, wanted pregnancies when the woman is confident she can parent.
  • Women rarely regret their abortions. After their abortion, 90 percent of women in the study felt “relief.” In the short run, women denied abortions experienced the greater emotional stress, and women who had abortions had long-term mental health outcomes no different than those of women who were denied. Physical health among those denied abortions was far worse; two in the study died.
The best available evidence tells us that forcing women to give birth against their will isn’t just monstrous on its face but will have horrific practical consequences. More women (especially poor women and women of color) will die, have serious health problems, wind up in poverty and on public assistance, have longer exposure to abusive partners, and see their education and life goals short-circuited. The bans will inflict hardship on existing children, too, who could become orphaned, lose sufficient care or fall into poverty. No wonder forced-birth hard-liners don’t want to listen to the facts — and the chief justice of the United States wants to gloss right over them.
The most definitive data unmistakably refute the claim that abortion bans are “good” for women. Few things could be more barbaric than robbing women of control over a critical life decision and forcing them to endure the bleak outcomes we know will follow.


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