The Body Snatchers: Post-Roe v. Wade

If the US Supreme Court overturns or guts Roe v. Wade, 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion.

Thirteen states — Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming — have trigger laws that would automatically ban abortion in the first and second trimesters if the landmark case Roe v. Wade were overturned.

An additional four states have political composition, history, and other indicators—such as recent actions to limit access to abortion—that show they are likely to ban abortion as soon as possible without federal protections in place.
1. Florida—In 2021, the state legislature attempted to ban abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy and an effort to adopt a Texas-style six-week ban was publicized. In April 2022, a 15-week abortion ban was enacted, scheduled to take effect in July.
2. Indiana—In the past decade, the legislature has enacted 55 abortion restrictions and bans, paving the way for a comprehensive ban.
3. Montana—For the first time in nearly a decade, new abortion restrictions were enacted in 2021, including restrictions on medication abortion and abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy. (These restrictions currently cannot be enforced due to a court order.)
4. Nebraska—Although not one of the most prolific states on enacting abortion restrictions, it was the first to adopt a 22-week ban (in 2010), and in 2020, enacted a ban on the standard method for abortion after 15 weeks.

Beyond the 26 states certain or likely to attempt to ban abortion immediately, other states have demonstrated hostility toward abortion by adopting multiple restrictions in the past, but are not likely to ban abortion in the near future. Notably, North Carolina has a pre-Roe abortion ban in place, but it’s unclear if the state’s law would be implemented quickly. However, this analysis may change in the next few years.

It’s also important to remember that Roe would not have to be overturned entirely to start the process of activating some trigger laws. If the Court weakens or undermines existing federal constitutional protections, that may be enough momentum for states to start implementing these bans. And 58 percent of US women of reproductive age–40 million women–live in states hostile to abortion rights.

I am in debt to the distinguished Guttmacher Institute for Reproductive Rights for these latest statistics, updated from 2008, and also to the fine journalism in Jessica Bruder’s “The Abortion Underground,” the cover story on the May issue of The Atlantic.

No racial or ethnic group made up the majority of abortion patients in 2014. Overall, 39 percent were White, 28 percent Black, 25 percent Hispanic, 6 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, and 3 percent of other background. The racial and ethnic composition of patients was quite similar in 2008. The overwhelming majority of abortion patients in 2014 were born in the United States (84 percent), while the remaining 16 percent were born elsewhere; these proportions had remained stable since 2008. Of those patients born outside the United States, about half were Hispanic/Latinx, 20 percent Asian, 16 percent Black and 12 percent White. No racial or ethnic group made up the majority of abortion patients.

• In 2014, the majority of abortion patients (60 percent) were in their 20s, and the second-largest age-group was in their 30s (25 percent). The proportion of abortion patients who were adolescents declined 32 percent between 2008 and 2014.

• Fifty-nine percent of abortion patients in 2014 had had at least one previous birth.

• The vast majority of abortion patients (94 percent) identified as straight or heterosexual. Four percent identified as bisexual; fewer than 1 percent as lesbian, gay or homosexual.

• Abortion patients were less likely to have no health insurance coverage in 2014 than in 2008 (28 percent vs. 34 percent), likely because of the Affordable Care Act. Thirty-five percent of patients had Medicaid coverage, 31 percent had private insurance and 3 percent each had either insurance through or a different type of insurance. The majority of patients (53 percent) paid for their abortion out of pocket; Medicaid was the second-most-common method of payment, used by 24 percent of patients.

About 14 percent of abortion patients were married, and an additional 31 percent were cohabiting. A slight majority were not living with a partner in the month they became pregnant (46 percent had never married and 9 percent had been previously married).

The majority of abortion patients indicated a religious affiliation: Seventeen percent identified as mainline Protestant, 13 percent as Evangelical Protestant and 24 percent as Roman Catholic, while 8 percent identified with some other religion. Thirty-eight percent of patients did not identify with any religion. The proportion of women who identified as mainline Protestant declined by 24 percent since 2008, whereas the proportion with no affiliation increased by 38 percent. The proportion identifying as Catholic decreased by 15 percent from the earlier survey, though this change was only marginally significant. The abortion index for Catholic women showed that their relative abortion rate was nearly the same as that for all women (1.1). Mainline Protestants were slightly underrepresented among abortion patients (0.8), while Evangelical Protestants had an abortion rate that was half of the national average. Patients with no affiliation were overrepresented among abortion patients, having a relative abortion rate of 1.8. The abortion index had declined slightly for mainline Protestants, and had increased slightly for those with no affiliation.

Poor women continue to account for a disproportionate share of abortion patients, and this representation increased from 42 percent to 49 percent over the six-year period, mostly driven by an increase in the population of women of reproductive age who are poor. The abortion index for poor women changed little, and disparities in abortion rates by income did not increase between 2008 and 2014. Still, it is now the case that 75 percent of abortion patients are low income, having family incomes of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level—that is, 49 percent living at less than the federal poverty level, and 26 percent living at 100–199 percent of the poverty level. Poor women were substantially overrepresented among abortion patients in 2008 and 2014, and had the highest abortion index of all subgroups examined in the latter year (2.5).

For the first time ever, U.S. States enacted more than 100 abortion restrictions in a single year. Through early October 2021, states enacted 106 abortion restrictions, the highest number since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.

Those are the numbers. This is one story.

I married the first man I ever went to bed with; how’s that for antiquated morality? Well, I would marry him two years later, but I didn’t expect to. I was 18 years old and a virgin. He was 10 years older, gay, and a poet—and if that activates your curiosity, you can check out the details in my memoir, Saturday’s Child. But the point is that I wanted to have sex with him, so it was intentional and even planned, in that I was menstruating at the time and believed old wives’ tales that having your period kept you from becoming pregnant. Well, girls and boys, I missed my next period.

Panic. I lived with my mother at the time and I knew that she would be, to say the least, not amused. Wild, operatic, screaming fights doubtless awaited me in my future. My father was long gone, and I was in terror of becoming a single parent myself, mirroring my own childhood. Furthermore, I desperately wanted to become a writer.

At the time, I was enamored of Albert Schweitzer’s writings, ignorantly unaware of his totally phallocentric and Eurocentric perspectives. I was sentimentally struck by his “reverence for life,” unaware that this, for him, came in pale-cream patriarchal skin color, or his patronizing, infantilizing, racist attitudes toward the African peoples he supposedly served. Not that Schweitzer was unusual for the time: he was a 19th century Alsatian German patriarch, recipient of both the Nobel and Goethe prizes, and world famous as a writer, theologian, missionary, physician, and, as it was termed in those days “humanitarian.”

Well, please remember that I was only 18 years old, and doubtless looking around for father figures. In any event, the term reverence for life struck me as a complete and consummate philosophy, nor did I peer too closely at its qualifiers in his writing; for example, that a reverence for life should be demonstrated in all things unless absolutely necessary. I bought the philosophy, whole-cloth.

So when, after my memorable if disappointing first sexual encounter, I missed my period by a week, and then another week, and then a third, I experienced the melt-down that millions of women have gone through and still go through every day. It was 1959 — the close of the deadening 50s — and the three different gynecologists to whom friends sent me in New York City wouldn’t even examine me, so afraid of the law were they. Meanwhile, my Schweitzer-adoration-syndrome rapidly peeled away, and I discovered that my own life might actually be as worthy of reverence as any fetal tissue I might be carrying. Then–miracle of miracles–I got my period: some psychological combination of stress relief and plain old time.

Interestingly, when I finally told the father, the gay poet who was to become my husband and, a decade later, the father of our much wanted and welcomed child, he was furious. “How dare you even think about aborting my child?!” he thundered. My child my child reverberated through the room in deafening sound waves. (In time he would become quite a mansplaining feminist prince in his equally furious defense of a woman’s right to choose, but then those were the days when a couple would come home from a demonstration, and while she wiped the tear gas from her eyes and went to make dinner, he would sprawl on the sofa with a copy of Ms. magazine and lecture her on “what it is you women should do.” Anyway, I survived his outrage, and when I did become pregnant a decade later, it was by mutual plan and with mutual joy. The son turned out just splendidly, and I’ve been happily divorced for almost forty years.

Ironically when, still later, Ms. magazine published its first “I had an abortion” spread, imitating the Frenchwomen who had surfaced in defiance of shame and of laws, I couldn’t sign it–because I actually had not had an abortion. I had just been lucky.

But luck couldn’t save the countless other women who died, gruesomely, in back-street butchered abortions in the 1950s and early 1960s. Only as the 60s began to percolate seriously did the nascent feminist movement begin to devise alternatives, and by the 1970s a whole network was being initiated. As an activist, I became one of the women who would get called for referrals to a trusted physician or nurse or midwife. I remember going out to the street to use phone booths to call people back, with directions. “Online” didn’t exist of course, and there were no smartphones, no emails, no texts. I remember well that what we demanded in our demonstrations and marches was that abortion should be legal, ideally free as a human right, and in any event a matter between a woman, her physician, and her husband.

Gradually, very gradually, we began to drop the “her husband.” Now we are dropping the “her physician,” unless necessary. As terminating a pregnancy becomes more and more democratized, the question inevitably arises “Why not just the woman?” What, is the husband pregnant? Is the physician? The right-wing body snatchers, especially the hypocritical, Trump-loyal, rabid religious right (whose women get more abortions than any other religious group, by the way) can bellow and foam at the mouth, but medical pharmaceutical pregnancy terminations already comprise more than half of all procedures: the technology and its related options have de facto won the day. Of course, we must fight to keep Roe and, if it goes down, to reinstate it on even stronger grounds. But so long as there are women, there will be terminations of unwanted fetal tissue, one way or the other, in procedures that are safer than childbirth. The difference is that fewer women, and eventually none, will die.

But that all depends on how many women get this information. Share it, send it, tweet it, post it, talk it up, let loose your social media on it. Information is power.

For now, the reverence for life is back where it belongs — with the sentient, fully human, woman. Not her doctor. Not her husband. Not her lover. Not any man. Just her. Her body. Trust the woman. The woman decides.
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