Colleen Collins, Medical Director at Brandeis’ Health Center, authored an email to the Brandeis University student body on June 24 which listed campus resources associated with reproductive health services. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court overruling of Roe v. Wade, Collins wrote that the health center “offer[s] on-site pregnancy testing, emergency contraception, and hormonal contraception, and we refer to gynecology services that provide long-acting reversible contraception and abortion services.”
Collins’ email was sent as a follow-up to a previous email sent to the Brandeis community by President Ronald D. Liebowitz. In it, Liebowitz mentioned that Brandeis would continue to support reproductive health care and offer courses that explore the ramifications of the ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Beginning in May, protests outside the Supreme Court building in support of the 1973 case Roe v. Wade took place as a first draft of a leaked legal opinion signed by Justice Samuel Alito revealed that the court was in favor of reversing Roe v. Wade. “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” the draft opinion states. Alito, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, is a part of the 6 – 3 conservative majority of the court. This leaked opinion foreshadowed the official ruling which was delivered by the Supreme Court on June 24.
In the official ruling of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court voted with six opinions in favor of Dobbs and three dissenting opinions. Justice Samuel Alito, whose draft opinion was leaked in May, wrote the majority opinion with Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett and Chief Justice John Roberts joining him. On the dissenting opinion were Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
The decision made by the Supreme Court on this case overturned the legal precedents set by the 1973 case Roe v. Wade and the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The legal precedent set by these two cases held that the Constitution protected an individual’s right to an abortion prior to the viability of the fetus under the individual’s right to privacy. “We hold,” wrote Alito, that “the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion.” While the conservative majority voted in favor of this opinion, the three dissenting Justices took a firm stance, writing that “young women today will come of age with fewer rights than their mothers and grandmothers.” They said the court’s opinion means that “from the very moment of fertilization, a woman has no rights to speak of. A state can force her to bring a pregnancy to term even at the steepest personal and familial costs.”
The impact of the ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization pushes the issue of abortion to a state-level decision. Alito made sure to stress in the opinion that states are entitled to regulate abortion to eliminate “gruesome and barbaric” medical procedures; to “preserve the integrity of the medical profession” and to prevent discrimination on the basis of race, sex or disability, including barring abortion in cases of fetal abnormality. Despite Alito’s language suggesting that states ban or limit abortion; the ruling made it clear that states had the ability to decide on their own how abortion would be handled.
Without a uniform federal precedent on abortion rights and access, a divide between state approaches to reproductive health and abortion access presented itself. 26 states were likely to ban or limit abortion access upon the reversal of Roe v. Wade, and of those 26, 13 have abortion trigger bans. Trigger laws are laws that are designed to take into effect upon the event of a certain legal action happening. In the case of Roe v. Wade, 13 states (Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming) have laws that took effect to ban abortion, with few exceptions, the moment the Supreme Court ruling was delivered.
The other 13 states have begun voting procedures and amending their state’s constitutions to block abortion access. In some cases such as Texas, strict laws restricting abortion access have been put into place. The new Texas law governing abortions makes a single exception for abortion access which they qualify as “a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy.” This law does not allow for abortion access in the cases of rape and incest and serves as an example of one of the most strict laws restricting abortion access in the United States.
However, other states have been implementing laws in the other direction, to protect and increase access to reproductive health care. For example, Kansas put a state constitutional amendment restricting abortion up to a referendum. With 59 percent of the vote for “no” and 41 percent of the vote for “yes,” the amendment was struck down. In a major win for reproductive and women’s rights activists, this vote was the first of its kind to protect abortion rights. President Joe Biden commented on the referendum, stating “This vote makes clear what we know: the majority of Americans agree that women should have access to abortion and should have the right to make their own health care decisions.”
So while some states are leaving abortion rights protection up to their citizens, others are authorizing laws that protect abortion access in state laws. On July 29, Massachusetts’ Republican Governor Charlie Baker signed legislation to enshrine reproductive health care access into law. The law protects patients and providers from legal interference when they are engaged in accessing or providing reproductive and gender-affirming health care services that are legally protected in Massachusetts. It also enshrined into law an executive order signed by Charlie Baker earlier in the month protecting those who enter the state looking to access reproductive healthcare in Massachusetts from extradition to other states who are investigating their actions.
The overruling of Roe v. Wade placed abortion access in the hands of the states. Different laws granting different levels of access to reproductive healthcare divide state lines. However, Brandeis, as affirmed by Colleen Collins, will continue to offer services in this field to protect reproductive rights and increase access to healthcare.