By Sophie Hurwitz
A new study released Friday by Planned Parenthood Federation of America and In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda predicts what could happen if the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade reproductive rights decision is overturned by the Supreme Court, which could happen as early as this December.
The next day, about 600 marches for abortion rights were held across the country, including one in St. Louis. These marches were held by the National Women’s March, which has been in operation since 2017, but has not focused so specifically on abortion rights until this year.
At the beginning of the month, the Supreme Court will hear a case out of Mississippi, whose state-level law prohibiting most abortions was blocked from enforcement by a lower court this past year. Mississippi bans most abortions after 15 weeks, significantly before fetal viability. A panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the law could not be enforced, finding it in conflict with Roe v. Wade and subsequent abortion decisions. The Supreme Court, however, may overturn that decision, thereby reversing Roe.
“This is an existential moment for reproductive freedom,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a Friday morning conference call. The Mississippi case, to be heard Dec. 1, “could unravel Roe once and for all,” she added.
The 36 million people who could lose access to abortion-related care, Johnson said, represent “nearly half of all women of reproductive age in the United States.”
But in places like Missouri, the lack of abortion access is not theoretical: the one abortion-providing clinic in the state, Planned Parenthood in St. Louis, is only able to do so much. So, Missouri patients — especially those living far from St. Louis–have been living in a post-Roe reality for some time.
“For too many people, abortion is already a right in name only, because of barriers to access,” Johnson said. “That is particularly true for Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities in the South and Midwest.”
Yamelsi Rodriguez, president of the Planned Parenthood affiliate of the Greater St. Louis area, knows this is true. As it stands, her affiliate “straddles two realities,” with clinics in red-state Missouri and blue-state Illinois. Friday’s report predicts that Southern Illinois abortion-providing clinics will have to take in 14,000 more patients per year if Roe is overturned. Already, Rodriguez said Friday, patients coming up from Texas are filling up appointment times in both states.
“We often feel that we’re providing abortion services on borrowed time,” she said.
State Senator Karla May spoke at Saturday’s rally. “The bedrock American principle of personal freedom…means freedom of choice and freedom to choose,” she said. ““They will come after birth control again. They will come after Planned Parenthood. They will come after all of us again.”
Missouri’s law banning all abortions after eight weeks, HB 126, has so far been blocked by federal courts. However, it is currently being heard in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, one step away from the Supreme Court. This case, as well as the Mississippi case, could have direct impacts on Missouri residents’ reproductive health access.
Kawanna Shannon, surgical director for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis region, oversees all abortions in Missouri. She spoke at the rally about the joy she sees on her patients’ faces every day. “They’re affirmed in their decision to get an abortion because for them, it means freedom. Or it means the chance to take care of the children they already have.”
However, Shannon said, “Today, abortion access in Missouri is inaccessible to the vast majority of people.” This is mostly due to non-medical hurdles, like two-trip requirements, extreme insurance coverage limits, and almost no clinics able to provide the procedure. “This is what it means to render Roe meaningless.”
Shannon, however, plans to keep fighting: for her patients, for Roe, and beyond. “For Black and brown folks, people with low incomes, those in rural communities, and other marginalized people, Roe has never been enough. We want more, we will fight for more, we damn right deserve more.”