A Texas teen made headlines this week after she spoke out about the state’s regressive new reproductive health policies that ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy in her valedictorian speech.
“I have dreams and hopes and ambitions. Every girl graduating today does. And we have spent our entire lives working towards our future,” Paxton Smith said. “And without our input and without our consent, our control over that future has been stripped away from us.”
While the new Texas law has yet to face a legal challenge, a new case moving before the U.S. Supreme Court later this year could actually see abortion rights rolled back across the country, sparking a wave of regressive legislation in dozens of states.
Last month, the Supreme Court agreed that it would hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization later this year, which involves a Mississippi law that bans abortion starting at 15 weeks. The case opens up the potential for the court to overturn Roe v. Wade, which essentially legalized abortions (with limits) in the U.S. Overturning the landmark 1973 decision would roll back abortion rights by decades.
This issue will not only have serious consequences for cisgender people, straight people and women. Equitable abortion access is vital for a variety of queer folks, and the threat of losing access to safe, legal abortions will harm LGBTQ2S+ people across the U.S. as well.
Here’s what you need to know.
What’s Roe v. Wade?
For the most part, people don’t casually have knowledge of Supreme Court cases, but if you ask anyone familar with feminist history to name one, they’ll probably talk about the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade.
The case started in 1970 when lawyers for Norma McCorvey (then known as “Jane Roe” to protect her identity) brought forward federal action against Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County, Texas. At the time, abortion was illegal in the state except for when the parent’s life was at risk.
McCorvey’s lawyers argued that the abortion restrictions were unconstitutional. After a Texas district court ruled in her favour, the state appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled that states cannot ban abortions before that 20-week point of viability, citing counstitutional rights to privacy on the part of the pregnant person.
In his opinion, Justice Harry Blackmun noted that only a “compelling state interest” justified states limiting “fundamental rights.” He wrote that legislators had to write laws that drew the line only when there were “legitimate state interests at stake.”
The court defined that line as the point of viability, and abortion was essentially legalized. While the scope of Roe v. Wade has narrowed after several challenges (and McCorvey herself has had a complex history with the case), its core values remain nearly 50 years later.
Ever since Blackmun’s ruling, anti-abortion activists have been pushing to have Roe v. Wade overturned. But now, following former president Donald Trump’s appointment of three staunchly conservative justices, the stage is set for it to actually happen.
They were just waiting for the right case to come along.
Wait, what is the Supreme Court going to do and when would this happen?
Basically, the case that could overturn Roe v. Wade is a new statute in Mississippi that bans almost all abortions after 15 weeks. That’s before a crucial point known as the “point of viability” (which the World Health Organization sets at around 20 weeks), when a fetus could theoretically survive outside the womb.
Currently, 18 states ban abortions after that 20-week marker. Previous U.S. Supreme Court rulings have made it so that states cannot restrict abortions before then, ruling “the state’s interests are not strong enough to support a prohibition of abortion or substantial obstacle to the woman’s effective right to elect the procedure.”
Those rules can be rewritten though. The Mississippi law has not taken effect yet because lower courts have ruled that it conflicts with Roe v. Wade. If the court decides to uphold Mississippi’s law, it will have to rewrite its previous rulings, and essentially throw Roe v. Wade out. That will open the door for possibly even more restrictive abortion laws in states across the U.S., and basically erase decades of pro-choice advocacy.
As for when, the court will hear the case in its next session, slated to start in October and extend into 2022. Get ready for a lot of conversations about what this could mean in the coming months.
Do lesbians or bisexual women get abortions? What about trans folks?
Yes, of course! All kinds of people get abortions and desire access to the right to choose.
Some research shows queer women may even be more likely to get abortions. Multiple studies have found that bisexual, pansexual or other queer women (not including lesbians) were generally more likely than their heterosexual peers to have a pregnancy, a teen pregnancy and an abortion. One study found that bisexual women were three times as likely as heterosexual women to have had an abortion in their lives.
And, yes, trans folks get abortions too! Many trans men, non-binary and otherwise gender-diverse people have the capacity to get pregnant, and therefore may need access to abortion and contraception.
And an added layer is the threat this poses to Planned Parenthood and other clinics that provide reproductive health and sexual health care. Many trans folks rely on Planned Parenthood for access to gender-affirming health care. Abortion bans mean closed clinics and likely more services lost for the general trans population.
How are queer and trans people already disadvantaged in the health care system?
This is something we all need to talk about more.
A 2019 study looking to abortion rates among queer women concluded that “the increased risk of unintended pregnancy among sexual minority women likely reflects structural barriers to sexual and reproductive health services.”
Equitable, affordable access to abortion and other forms of reproductive and sexual health care is difficult for many folks in the U.S., but LGBTQ2S+ people face even higher rates of poverty and unemployment that can make health care inaccessible.
The potential closure of affordable health clinics disproportionately affects LGBTQ2S+ people, particularly Black and brown communities. Given that trans people frequently report deadnaming, abuse and mismanagement within the health care system, they may also be reluctant to seek out early care, making the potential loss of access to abortions beyond the first trimester a loss of their choice altogether.