Roe V. Wade Trigger Laws; How Women’s Lives Have Changed Forever
Throughout America, women’s rights movements have circulated for decades, but perhaps one of the most influential campaigns are those of reproductive rights. The landmark 1973 Supreme Court Case, Roe v Wade, marked it constitutional for women to get abortions during pregnancies. However, in 2022, the highest court in the nation ruled in favor of overturning Roe, ultimately resetting the lives of women in America to five decades prior. As a result of this catastrophic decision, each state in the U.S. set their trigger laws into action which ended up inflicting even more harm upon the reproductive rights of women in this country. In the context of abortion, trigger laws were put into place to ensure that if Roe were to be overturned (which it now is), the legality and punishment of getting an abortion would be left to the individual states to decide rather than the Supreme Court as a whole. However, the overturning of Roe v. Wade and these subsequent trigger laws have resulted in undue consequences on women of different social determinants, placing them into maternity deserts and consequencing them for their reproductive choices. This decision impacts the female sex as a whole, but research has found that there are deeper connections to the harm placed on women with different intersectional identities around race and class. It is crucial that we understand that the damage that this unforgettable case is taking on women’s lives in America is something that will never be forgotten, and is undoubtedly a fight that (especially) marginalized women will not back down from.
In order to understand how the impacts of the Roe v Wade decision are creating detrimental effects for women, it’s critical to understand the basis of the present situation and how history has repeated itself yet again, recommencing a long history of misogyny and many other oppressive behaviors. In May of 2022, a leaked abortion ruling written by Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito made its way out into the news. There was quite a lot of talk about whether the abortion ban that he announced would be set in place or not. Nevertheless, on June 24th, 2022, the Republicans of the Supreme Court ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade, a 50 year old case that left a legacy for so many women’s lives across America. That legacy is now dead. But instead of making the decision to ban abortion a nation-wide feat, it became something that individual states controlled. This is where trigger laws come into play.
Many principles of the trigger laws were formulated by the AMA, also known as the American Medical Association. The AMA was formed in 1847 and rapidly became a huge source of conflict and unjust acts inflicted upon women to limit their human rights. The organization “became the male-dominated authority on medical practices” and scrutinized female reproductive workers. This was almost the prequel to what we would come to see decades later; women are not only the scrutinized workers and nurses but also the ones who are fighting for the choice to abort a baby. According to the New York Times, the AMA also fostered many bans and laws that criminalize abortions even before the Civil War started. In 1857, they pushed to end abortion all together, arguing that the life of the baby began right when the child was conceived, rather than at quickening; the time when the mother can feel the baby’s fetal movements. These bans were seemingly benign after the 1973 Roe decision but were never entirely taken off the table by state legislatures. Due to this, certain policies have made their way back to the present with the goal of jeopardizing a basic human right.
As soon as the Roe v Wade case was overturned, these “hidden” trigger laws began to impact each state differently. According to NPR’s correspondents, a few states like Louisiana and Kentucky were already set to ban abortions almost entirely. Abortion clinics began to communicate with others about where to transfer patients and how to keep resources flowing, but the easy access was very short-lived. Some states like Indiana were expected to restrict access to reproductive medical care within a few days. Tennessee’s state officials announced that they would illegalize abortions in the next month. As of the current day, trigger laws helped 13 states to ban abortion entirely. And in some states, the laws set in place have allowed for officials to ban abortions after a fetus is a certain increment of weeks old. Everything continues to change.
To go one step further, we can look at the history of male roles in trigger laws and making decisions for women’s rights (which comes full circle with the AMA). The fact that we are dealing with specifically white men allows for a direct pathway to oppression for women who are marginalized in particular. Roe V Wade was overturned with a Supreme Court ruling of 5-4. It just so happens that 80% of the republicans that voted to overturn the decision were males and all but one of those males were white. Interestingly enough, if we look back over a century ago, it was still white men controlling a medical organization and procedures that strictly involved women and their bodies. Yet another example of white male precedence is former President George W. Bush’s speech at the Ronald Reagan Building in 2003. Bush directly stated that “for years, a terrible form of violence has been directed against children who are inches from birth, while the law looked the other way. Today, at last, the American people and our government have confronted the violence and come to the defense of the innocent child.” It's almost comical that some elderly white men think that they are in such a position to make statements just as Bush’s. To use the word violence to describe a mother’s decision to abort her baby is not only insensitive but wholly incorrect. What these government officials are not doing is evaluating the harm that restricting abortion access can inflict on a woman, her life, and the potential life of a child she may be forced to have. And even moreso, we see that the restrictions on women’s fundamental human rights target those whose social determinants place them last in line for support and respect from this country.
The conversation around the overturning of Roe v Wade and its trigger laws wouldn’t be complete without discussing partial birth abortions; a term that Congress uses to describe a procedure that many lawmakers consider infanticide. It’s important to understand what this term means due to the great impact that its prohibition through trigger laws has on women as well as how it has led to other consequences. The late term abortion ban– also known as the partial-birth abortion ban– was signed by president Bush in 2003. Many of the trigger laws put into effect contained very similar restrictions as this ban and completely prohibited the procedure altogether. Focusing on the term itself, partial birth is the ideal in which a medical professional deliberately delivers a living fetus from the mother’s uterus. It is a common practice with miscarriages or second-third trimester abortions, hence the reason why there’s so much controversy around it. However, this term is not medical, it’s political. The term was first coined in 1995 by the National Right to Life Committee. Originally, this procedure was one that Congress passed but the Supreme Court later ruled 5-4 in favor of banning partial-birth abortions. Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank says that this ban was “the most significant federal restriction on abortion in 30 years since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision established constitutional protection for terminating pregnancies.Like many opinions on abortion laws, anti-abortion activists see partial-birth abortions as a monstrosity and demonizing in a way. It all connects back to one of the key reasons why pro-lifers choose not to support abortion; they believe that by getting an abortion, the woman is killing her child, and that is deemed as unconstitutional.
Ultimately, anti-abortion activists (and white men included) demonize abortion using the ideology of partial birth abortions which progresses into an understanding of maternity care deserts; a byproduct of the Roe trigger laws that consistently undermine women and specific parts of their identity. The key idea to note is that around the time of the procedure ban (and present day) were Republicans. The common notion associated with Republicans was that partial-birth abortion was a wildly horrendous procedure in which a doctor is killing a baby and the mother allows it. A lot of the constant back and forth between pro-lifers (typically Republicans) and pro-choicers ultimately had a large influence on the Supreme Court’s ruling. With yet another form of access to abortion gone, many women were left stranded. But it only got worse from there when the entirety of Roe v Wade was overturned, and suddenly, history repeated itself.
The overturning of Roe left millions of women– especially in the lower to lower-middle classes– with little to no maternal care, placing them in sectors called maternity care deserts. These are defined as counties where women severely lack access to reproductive healthcare services. In a New York Times article, researchers worked to analyze graphs from the Guttmacher Institute on the basis of these so-called deserts. Just under 50% of women who were evaluated in the study were below the poverty line. The aspects that poverty inflicts upon people’s lives like having very little money and trouble accessing transportation means increased difficulty in finding access to abortion clinics. It is also a constant struggle to find nurses who can support women living in underserved situations due to their social determinants. These deserts have also decreased income and increased poverty rates, creating the difference between life and death for the mother and her unborn child. With a lack of access to money and resources, women cannot travel to other cities or towns to get an abortion, and death creeps closer.
However, class and poverty are only one of the social determinants that hinder women’s abilities to access reproductive resources in a post-Roe world. Race and ethnicity also serve as a basis for unequal opportunities. It is crucial to note the strong history that connects the Eugenics movement and sterilization of Blacks and Black women to the present day. Racialized American groups of people in this country would be sterilized to end new generations of Americans that were deemed unfit for the seemingly “well-bred” or “posh” American life. There are three key points to take away from this historical connection. First of all, the Eugenics movement was a feat of white power and supremacy, just as the overturning of Roe can be considered a “victory for ‘white life’”. Secondly, women of color have been more susceptible to the struggles of finding medical maternal care and accessing it through travel, especially when their own states’ borders have to shut abortions down. Finally, even though the overturning of Roe is wholly a woman’s struggle, “educated white women will have access to care, while women of color carry the brunt”. Realistically, most white people have more opportunities for education, healthcare, and basic needs than people of color. So when such a restriction like the banning of abortions is put into place, it not only affects the entirety of the female species but specifically the women who are marginalized. There truly are more connections to America’s racial history and our present trigger laws than what meets the eye.
Looking towards the present, during the COVID-19 pandemic, racial inequalities heightened for Black individuals and especially Black women when it came to maternal care. The pregnancy-related mortality rates for Black women were just over 3 times higher than for white women because “they received late or no prenatal care compared to White women”; and this was in 2020. Looking into the post-Roe world, we can understand that if women of color had such a difficult time accessing healthcare when there were looser restrictions on abortions and services, being able to live in a world where you have to cross state borders to receive help is unfathomable. The trigger laws put in place by historical lawmakers have created a chain reaction of detrimental effects for women’s lives on an unequal basis of their social determinants, especially race.
Ultimately these trigger laws have forced women to change the ways in which they live their lives all together. Even beyond maternity deserts, there are lots of consequences for the mother after the baby is forced to be born. I use the term “forced” because of the concept that the government isn’t giving women a choice on the basis of continuing a pregnancy or not. Therefore, it can be implied that the birth of the child is forced because there is no other option. Right after trigger laws went into effect, a lot of women who had to keep their babies felt the increased repercussions. Having a baby is already a life-altering event, but when the pregnancy wasn’t planned, either through rape or accidental pregnancy, the effects can be detrimental. On top of this, child care is a large responsibility, especially for women. Teenage females who had no choice but to deliver their babies are forced to stay home and care for infants, hindering the work they do outside of the home and making money. But, this also “extend[s] beyond that to older women, both married and single, who are unable to support themselves and their families because they cannot pay for or find adequate care for their children.” Unintended pregnancy can lead to increased chances of developing depression, domestic violence from their partners, and even mortality if the mother is not fit to have a baby. We see a large portion of women suffering these consequences in the post-Roe world.
As a system that has largely been controlled by white men, women’s reproductive rights in America have turned out to severely deplete (marginalized) women for centuries. Dating back to the formation of the American Medical Association this country and lawmakers have repeatedly tried to strip women of the ability to at least make their own choices. The oppressors continue to state that abortion is dehumanizing and is a form of infanticide, yet the regulations they put in place are ones that dehumanize the woman too. Especially for women of color and those that do not stand high economically, accessing reproductive healthcare has become a mission bearing great challenge and thus creating an even more dangerous world. The injustices that women have faced have only grown over the decades, and by the looks of our country’s government, will continue to do harm, trapping millions of women in maternity care deserts and without adequate support for their choices. The overturning of Roe v Wade will forever be known as one of the most controversial yet tragic events in America, and its trigger laws have truly left a deep scar on the lives of millions of women.
Parenthood, Planned. “Historical Abortion Law Timeline: 1850 to Today.” Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Accessed May 23, 2023. https://www.plannedparenthoodaction.org/issues/abortion/abortion-central-history-reproductive-health-care-america/historical-abortion-law-timeline-1850-today.
Bosman, Julie. “Century-Old State Laws Could Determine Where Abortion Is Legal.” The New York Times, June 25, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/27/us/abortion-laws-wisconsin-arizona-roe-overturned.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&referringSource=articleShare.
Winny, Annalies. “A Brief History of Abortion in the U.S.” Hopkins Bloomberg Public Health Magazine. Accessed May 23, 2023. https://magazine.jhsph.edu/2022/brief-history-abortion-us.
McCammon, Sarah. “‘trigger Laws’ Have Been Taking Effect Now That Roe v. Wade Has Been Overturned.” NPR, June 24, 2022. https://www.npr.org/2022/06/24/1107531644/trigger-laws-have-been-taking-effect-now-that-roe-v-wade-has-been-overturned.
TodayShow. “Who Voted to Overturn Roe v. Wade and Who Voted to Uphold It.” TODAY.com, June 24, 2022. https://www.today.com/news/news/scotus-justices-roe-wade-abortion-votes-rcna35229.
The White House. “President Bush Signs Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.” National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed May 23, 2023. https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2003/11/20031105-1.html.
Osborn, corie, melissa dalton, jennie ruby, and angie young. “United States: Bush Signs Late-Term Abortion Ban into Law.” Off Our Backs 33, no. 11/12 (2003): 7-7.
Winny, Annalies. “A Brief History of Abortion in the U.S.” Hopkins Bloomberg Public Health Magazine. Accessed May 23, 2023. https://magazine.jhsph.edu/2022/brief-history-abortion-us.
Tanne, Janice Hopkins. “US Supreme Court Approves Ban on ‘Partial Birth Abortion.’” BMJ 334, no. 7599 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39192.397338.db.
Milbank, Dana. “Bush Signs Ban on Late-Term Abortions into Effect.” The Washington Post, November 6, 2003. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2003/11/06/bush-signs-ban-on-late-term-abortions-into-effect/22d3c373-ae0a-4e6b-8e3e-a06b040c2ae6/.
“The U.S. Maternal Health Divide: The Limited Maternal Health Services and Worse Outcomes of States Proposing New Abortion Restrictions.” U.S. Maternal Health Divide: Limited Services and Worse Outcomes | Commonwealth Fund, December 14, 2022. https://www.commonwealthfund.org/publications/issue-briefs/2022/dec/us-maternal-health-divide-limited-services-worse-outcomes.
Sanger-katz, Margot, Claire Cain Miller, and Quoctrung Bui. “Who Gets Abortions in America?” The New York Times, December 14, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/12/14/upshot/who-gets-abortions-in-america.html.
“What Roe’s Fall Means for America’s Maternity Care Deserts – Third Way.” – Third Way. Accessed May 23, 2023. https://www.thirdway.org/blog/what-roes-fall-means-for-americas-maternity-care-deserts.
Coen-Sanchez, Karine, Bassey Ebenso, Ieman Mona El-Mowafi, Maria Berghs, Dina Idriss-Wheeler, and Sanni Yaya. “Repercussions of Overturning Roe v. Wade for Women across Systems and Beyond Borders.” Reproductive Health19, no. 1 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12978-022-01490-y.
Latoya Hill Follow @hill_latoya on Twitter, Samantha Artiga Follow @SArtiga2 on Twitter, and Nov 2022. “Racial Disparities in Maternal and Infant Health: Current Status and Efforts to Address Them.” KFF, March 14, 2023. https://www.kff.org/racial-equity-and-health-policy/issue-brief/racial-disparities-in-maternal-and-infant-health-current-status-and-efforts-to-address-them/.
National Library of Medicine. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Accessed May 25, 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK232137/.