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How Abortion Pills Will Shape Our Future

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The news that the Supreme Court will hear its first abortion case since Brett Kavanaugh replaced Anthony Kennedy has prompted many to wonder whether Roe v. Wade will finally, unfortunately, be overturned. The case, June Medical Services v. Gee, challenges a Louisiana law requiring clinic doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. Sound familiar? In 2016 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the court struck down a Texas law over a similar requirement. You’d think that would have settled the matter, but no. The case is essentially the same, but the court is not.

Abortion-rights advocates have been warning about the end of Roe for decades. So far, they’ve been wrong, and they may be wrong this time too. Overturning Roe so close to the elections would hurt Republicans. A June NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 77 percent of Americans support Roe, even if they’d like more abortion restrictions.

That means that from a practical anti-choice point of view, it makes more sense to preserve Roe on paper while permitting regulations that close clinics, harass providers, and put women through hell. Barring a federal ban, the court could keep Roe and still essentially enshrine in law the patchwork map of abortion rights that Roe was meant to end. In fact, we’re well on our way there already. Six states have only one clinic each: Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, and West Virginia. Since the Republican triumphs of 2010, nearly 400 restrictions have been passed in state legislatures. At the same time, a few blue states—including Maine, California, and New York—have increased abortion access.

If the Kavanaugh court upholds the restriction at issue, it will be open season on clinics—not to mention on women. More women will have to travel long distances to find a clinic, with prohibitive expenses for transportation, hotel accommodations, child care, and lost work. They will face more risks from abusive partners or family and more shaming from anti-choicers, because it’s not that easy to keep a long trip secret. New York City and Austin, Texas, have allotted funds to help. Abortion funds, which pay for low-​income women’s procedures, are doing heroic work, as are funds like the Brigid Alliance and Fund Texas Choice, which pay and arrange for travel. Readers should donate whatever they can to these wonderful volunteer groups. But there’s only so much they can do even now, let alone in the tidal wave of need that is likely to come.

Pro-choicers often warn of a return to the bad old pre-Roe days. In some ways it might be worse: Anti-​abortion propaganda has raised the status of the fetus much higher than it was pre-Roe. Before legalization, abortion was widely practiced and tacitly condoned. It’s unclear whether even one woman was incarcerated in the United States for ending her pregnancy in the roughly 150 years abortion was a crime, and providers were rarely punished unless a woman died. Today abortion is a political flash point, defined as murder by a militant and highly effective organized anti-abortion movement. Anti-​abortion leaders say they will never punish women for having an abortion, but we have already seen women charged with various crimes for miscarriages and stillbirths tenuously connected to their conduct during pregnancy and sometimes convicted under arcane laws for self-abortion.

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