Protecting Roe v. Wade: Reproductive Rights Are Disability Rights

By: Angelica Vega, Coelho Law Fellow 2021-2022

On May 2nd, Politico obtained a draft of the U.S. Supreme Court majority opinion that would eliminate Roe v. Wade. Written by Justice Samuel Alito, the leaked document declares:

We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled. The Constitution makes no references to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.

He later adds:

Stare decisis, the doctrine on which Casey’s controlling opinion was based, does not compel unending adherence to Roe’s abuse of judicial authority. Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division.

The Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade effectively protects pregnant people’s right to choose to have an abortion. The case relies on the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees the fundamental “right to privacy.” At the time, it was the court’s opinion that the right to choose fell within the purview of these privacy protections. In a 2019 Pew Research Center poll, the majority of American citizens (61% to be exact) agreed that the right to choose should be legal in either all or most cases. Additionally, 57% of the public said that they personally knew someone who had undergone an abortion. Despite this, reports of increased restrictions on access to reproductive care across the country remain a regular occurrence. Just a few days ago, we saw Oklahoma’s governor, Kevin Stitt, sign a new law “criminalizing providing abortion.” The right to make choices over our own body ultimately remains a right that we must fight for.

This latest news concerning Justice Alito’s draft, which threatens to overturn Roe v. Wade and the protections that came with it, is heartbreaking. As a woman with Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), having access to reproductive care means a lot to me. I was diagnosed with PCOS as a teenager, and was experiencing irregular periods and extreme fatigue due to iron deficiency. It got so bad that I nearly fainted while taking the SATs during high school. I was eventually prescribed birth control pills, which helped me manage these symptoms to great success. Specifically, these pills reduced the negative effects of hormone-related complications stemming from PCOS, helping me experience lighter and more consistent flows while also aiding non-menstrual symptoms such as acne, fatigue, and iron deficiency. I know fully well that there are many others in this country who rely on similar treatment plans to live out their best lives.

It is with this knowledge and background that I, upon hearing this latest news, found myself consumed by fear and dread; because I knew that the Anti-Choice initiatives wouldn’t be stopping there. According to a report by AP News, President Joe Biden has expressed his hope that “the draft wouldn’t be finalized by justices, contending it reflects a ‘fundamental shift in American jurisprudence’ that threatens ‘other basic rights’ like access to birth control and marriage.” Should they overturn Roe v. Wade, it seems plausible that we may witness the continued gutting of reproductive care services, such as access to birth control, among others. This is the future that awaits us should we fail to codify Roe into law.

Reproductive rights ARE disability rights. We should have the freedom to access essential health care of all kinds. Ending Roe v. Wade would be the start of a rapid descent for reproductive rights in this country that would negatively affect everyone, and multi-marginalized communities most of all. In a study titled “Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Reproductive Health Services and Outcomes, 2020,” researchers noted the following:

Data suggests that the disproportionate risk for women of color for reproductive health access and outcomes expand beyond individual-level risks and include social and structural factors, such as fewer neighborhood health services, less insurance coverage, decreased access to educational and economic attainment, and even practitioner-level factors such as racial bias and stereotyping. The Center for Reproductive Rights describes this racial–ethnic gap as a human rights issue and suggests that several U.S. policies may exacerbate these disparities by disproportionately burdening access to health care for women of color.

Now more than ever, we all need to come together and prepare to fight the good fight. Vote, assemble and donate to grassroots organizations like the Yellowhammer Fund, which have already taken the initiative to advocate for change. It is imperative that we support each other in this collective effort to protect our fundamental rights.

Photo of Angelica Vega in a black dress and black and white shawl smiling. In the background a lake and trees are blurred.

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