roe v. wade may be overturned; many activists are concerned for the mental health of pregnant people

In the late evening of the first of May, just a few months before the 50th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, Politico released a leaked draft of a SCOTUS majority decision written by Justice Alito that would effectively overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania vs. Casey, the standing decisions regarding abortion. Overnight, hundreds of articles appeared online following this new discovery in the ongoing fight for reproductive rights. Now, activists are concerned that the nation is taking a step backward in securing reproductive healthcare for pregnant individuals. 

Regardless of legislative access to abortion, the reality of banning the procedure is not the prevention of abortion. Rather, it is inaccess to healthcare that is safe and legal. According to the World Health Organization, 25 million unsafe abortions occur annually across the globe. These procedures can leave women injured or killed from unsafe and unsanitary practices.  

Prior to the decision in Roe v. Wade, those who sought abortions would have to take an immense health risk when undergoing the procedure, often fearing for their lives. In the late sixties, activist Heather Booth founded the “Jane Collective,” an underground feminist organization that connected people seeking abortions with providers. Booth stated in an interview with Democracy Now that she founded the collective because she met a woman seeking an abortion who she described as “nearly suicidal.” Feminist activists have long argued that abortion is reproductive healthcare, but some go as far to say that abortion is mental healthcare, too.  

One reproductive rights activist interviewed in Jane: An Abortion Service, a documentary following members of the Jane Collective who provided abortions before the Roe decision, discussed the fear that individuals seeking abortions faced, saying: “It was really a time when, if you needed an abortion for whatever reason, you took your life into your own hands, and you were terrified. Absolutely terrified. All you knew was that you might die; that this person didn’t know what he was doing, that he was going to take hundreds of dollars, and you were going to bleed to death in some motel room.” The reality of illegal abortion is the potential for abortive procedures that are unsafe and potentially fatal. 

One young woman, interviewed anonymously, who became pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic and chose to terminate, has concerns about the potential for an abortion ban. She stated that when she became aware of her pregnancy she “had two panic attacks back to back that lasted about an hour,” she said one attack was so severe that she “felt like [she] couldn’t breathe.” She did not want to have children, saying that “Being pregnant was my worst fear. I don’t want kids, it was the worst experience of my life.” She fears that abortion bans will cause horrific mental health consequences for those struggling with unwanted pregnancies: “It is the worst feeling in the world to feel chained to your own body; having no right to choose what happens with your own body is one of the most uncomfortable feelings a woman could have. I think it will make women depressed or suicidal, it may cause them to ‘take care of it’ themselves,” in reference to potential “at-home abortions,” which can pose significant health risks. 

This concern is echoed across the internet today; following the announcement of the possible overturn, many individuals took to Twitter to share their experiences with abortion and mental health. Influencer Michaela Okland tweeted: “With Roe V Wade being overturned we are putting so many young and poor people at risk. The foster-care system will flood, even more, children will die of abuse & lack of resources, others will take their own lives. I can’t imagine the fear of an unwanted pregnancy with no way out.” One Twitter user shared in a thread that a loved one died by suicide when they found themselves to be pregnant: “In 1963 my 16 yo sister and her boyfriend committed suicide because she got pregnant. There was no access to abortion for a lower middle class young woman, and certainly no birth control yet,” the thread continues, “They planned it all out and pretended everything was fine, and then one night they didn’t come home. My life and family were shattered, nothing was ever the same again. 20 years later my mother followed suit. Abortion protection matters, loss of that has consequences.”

If Roe is overturned, it will be up to individual states to decide how to proceed with placing limits or bans on abortions. Some states, like New York, have passed protective measures that ensure the procedure will remain legal within the state regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision; other states have passed so-called “trigger laws” that will immediately place restrictions on abortion should the SCOTUS overturn the rulings in Roe and Casey

It is critical to note that limiting abortion access has severe mental health consequences. Anti-abortion legislation disproportionately affect nonwhite people and people in poverty, placing those individuals at higher risk for mental health consequences stemming from the inability to access abortion. Some proponents of anti-abortion legislation claim that placing limits on abortion prevents “Post Abortion Stress Syndrome,” (PASS), which can lead to symptoms similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, according to the American Psychological Association, the inability to access abortion can cause similar or greater negative mental health implications, such as “higher levels of anxiety, lower life satisfaction and lower self-esteem compared with women who received an abortion.” Regardless of one’s personal opinions related to the procedure, limiting access to abortion has real, dangerous consequences for those who find themselves experiencing an unwanted pregnancy. 

[This article is featured as an opinion piece; it does not represent the views or opinions of tlk magazine or its affiliates].  

May 2, 2022

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