Roe reactions: Faculty share insights on the ruling and the future of abortion rights

Unsplash/Reed Naliboff

Unsplash/Reed Naliboff

The Supreme Court’s June 24 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization also overturned Roe v. Wade, putting an end to nearly five decades of constitutional protection for abortion in the U.S.

That decision had an immediate and sweeping effect across the country, with 26 states banning or severely restricting abortions or preparing to do so. Meanwhile, millions, including those who no longer have access to the procedure, have been left pondering the future of reproductive rights in America and wondering whether similar constitutional protections may be in jeopardy.

Over the past week, faculty members and scholars from across UCLA have offered their insights and opinions in major media outlets on a variety of Roe-related topics, from legal and legislative remedies to the effect of the ruling on students, medical practitioners and communities of color, and what California can do to provide a haven for out-of-state people seeking abortions.

Below is a sampling.

The New York Times highlighted a report (PDF) by the UCLA School of Law’s Center on Reproductive Health, Law and Policy predicting how many women might come to California for abortions in the wake of Roe being overturned.

The decision means that women and girls in abortion-restricted states are likely to search for another state where they can get a legal and safe abortion, and California is passing legislation and shoring up resources to make it easier for them.

"The fall of Roe means that approximately 10,600 more people will travel to California each year for abortion care, with the majority coming from Texas or Arizona, according to a U.C.L.A. report," the Times wrote. "Abortion providers here already had an uptick in out-of-state abortion patients after Texas enacted a strict abortion law last year."

The report, also highlighted by the Los Angeles Times, has been widely cited in the media.

Chelsea Jones, a doctoral candidate in the UCLA Department of Political Science, wrote in the Washington Post about how the decision will affect Black women.

"[The decision] will hit Black women especially hard, since they start with worse health outcomes because of the detrimental health effects of racism. In addition, some Black women have lower incomes, lack insurance and lack access to quality health care," Jones and her co-author wrote.

"Black women seek abortions at higher rates, partly because of lower contraceptive access and partly because their pregnancies are more likely to have more dangerous complications. Because they disproportionately live in states that will ban abortion, they will be more likely to suffer illness and mortality without the right to the full range of reproductive health care."

The authors emphasized that the Supreme Court’s decision will hurt the reproductive health of Black women for generations.

Dr. Kavita Vinekar, an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, was interviewed by USA Today about the training of future physicians.

The decision throws into question current rules that require obstetrics-gynecology residency programs to provide training, or access to training, on abortions.

A lack of training in these techniques would harm patient care, said Vinekar, who co-authored a 2020 report predicting that if Roe v. Wade was overturned, the 92% of obstetrics residents who now have access to abortion training would fall to, at most, 56%.

"The public separates abortion from the rest of OB-GYN care, which it’s not at all," she said. "Those skills are translatable to other parts of OB-GYN work, and if you don’t master them, then you probably won’t be as competent in miscarriage management."

Paula Tavrow, an adjunct professor of community health sciences at the Fielding School of Public Health and director of UCLA’s Bixby Program in Population and Reproductive Health, spoke with about common misconceptions about abortion.

Recent research has shown that the overwhelming majority of abortions, nearly 93%, occur before the 13th week of gestation, not in the second and third trimesters, as many believe.

"By the 15th week or so, many women are fully committed often to having that pregnancy," Tavrow said. Still, she noted that there are important reasons why women may choose to terminate their pregnancies after the second or third trimester.

"They may get dire news, such as there are fetal abnormalities, or it might impair their health or well-being in some way to continue with the pregnancy."

Cary Franklin, professor of law and faculty director of UCLA School of Law’s Center on Reproductive Health, Law and Policy was interviewed for a Reuters story about Post-Roe legal strategies to protect abortion rights.

With the legal battleground shifting to the states, "lawyers representing abortion providers are coalescing around a plan to argue that privacy and equal protection rights in the constitutions of many states protect abortion without explicitly saying so," Reuters wrote.

"The strategy, said Cary Franklin... is to establish wherever possible that abortion is a state right even if the Supreme Court has ruled it’s not a protected federal right.

"The legal strategy is already being tested in Pennsylvania, where the Women’s Law Project is arguing in court that the state’s constitution protects abortion rights, even as conservative lawmakers back an amendment to outlaw it."

Dr. Angela Chen, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, spoke to Popular Science about the reproductive health implications of the decision.

Blocking access to abortions will only increase complications and deaths among pregnant people, many experts say.

"These abortion bans don’t solve any problems," said Chen, who noted that most abortions take place during the first trimester, either through medication or a procedure at a clinic. But she worries about those who will suddenly need an abortion later in pregnancy due to something like a new diagnosis of a fetal problem or onset of a maternal condition that makes continuation of pregnancy dangerous.

Chen added that mounting state restrictions on abortion in recent years have already demonstrated that barriers to reproductive health care only create unnecessary delays and harm for pregnant people.

Jessica Gipson, an associate professor of community health sciences at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, spoke with Marketplace about how abortion bans create barriers for the most vulnerable.

With state abortion bans in place, the financial burdens of getting an abortion — the cost of the procedure itself, in addition to the cost of travel to a state where abortion is legal — will fall the hardest on people who can least afford them.

"Many of these states that are poised to ban abortion or have already done so, such as Texas and Oklahoma, have more residents that are living in poverty, and more residents who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color," Gipson said.

Those states, she noted, also tend to have weakest social safety nets for pregnant people and children.

Adam Winkler, UCLA’s Connell Professor of Law and a constitutional law expert, spoke with Fortune about abortion options for residents of states where the procedure is restricted.

Winkler noted an upward trend in one abortion workaround increasingly used in in states like Texas, which bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

"What we have seen so far is a rise in international organizations providing abortion pills... medication abortions in an envelope," he said, noting that overseas residents can’t be extradited.

Winkler also said that because the U.S. mail is controlled by the federal government, states don’t have the right to tamper with or intercept parcels, which adds an additional layer of protection for those using this method.

Winkler was also interviewed for a MarketWatch article about abortion-protecting states attempting to entice companies from abortion-restrictive states to move.

"This decision is a far-reaching one that will reverberate through American politics and American business," Winkler said. "Businesses like women to be able to control their reproduction. One of the problems with forced motherhood is that it prevents people from controlling their labor; from being able to work when they want to work."

Brad Sears, associate dean of public interest law and founder of the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, spoke to KCRW-FM about whether the new legal precedent set by the decision could imperil other constitutional rights.

"The majority of the [court’s] opinion goes out of its way to say that it is limiting its decision to abortion," Sears said.

But Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his opinion that the court should also reexamine cases protecting same-sex marriage, gay sex and contraception in light of the ruling.

Currently, Sears noted, there are no cases working their way up to the Supreme Court to overturn any of these protections outright, but he said there may now be a pathway to do so.

An Inside Higher Ed opinion piece by Christina Christie, the Wasserman Dean of the UCLA School of Education & Information Studies, and Eileen Strempel, dean of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music, addressed how the decision denies equitable access to education for women.

"More than half of people who access abortion are in their 20s, which means many are likely to be pursuing higher education," Christie and Strempel wrote, noting that research shows that between 15% and 40% of these women had an abortion in order to continue their education.

"The ruling therefore takes direct aim at our nation’s college students. Even more distressing is the realization that the impacts are felt most profoundly by our students of color and by individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds...

"Nearly 60 percent of America’s college students are women, and without access to safe reproductive health care, their admission, enrollment and graduation becomes that much more precarious."

Cathren Cohen, a scholar at UCLA School of Law’s Center on Reproductive Health, Law and Policy, was interviewed by EdSource about abortion rights for out-of-state students at California’s universities.

It’s still unclear exactly how the policies of the University of California, the Cal State University system and the state’s community colleges, along with proposed legislation by California lawmakers, may protect the reproductive rights of students whose homes are in states where abortion will be banned or limited.

Everyone in California has the right to choose an abortion under state law, Cohen said. But what is less clear is whether this can stymie a law, such as the Texas law that empowers private citizens to sue those who are aiding or abetting out-of-state abortions... Residents in California would be most strongly protected, Cohen said. Those who live in Texas are at greater risk legally.

Cohen said it was a complicated question without a clear answer yet and that it would likely have to be worked out through the courts.



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