Warning: This article contains brief mentions of sexual assault and incest.
According to a leaked initial draft of the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court has (as of yet) voted to overrule Roe v. Wade. This June, they will officially rule on whether Roe v. Wade is unconstitutional. If this happens, we may very well see abortion become immediately illegal in 13 states and restricted to a gestational period of 22 weeks in 14 states, though they may ban it outright as more anti-abortion laws gain traction across the country.
I’m not here to state my case as to why abortion isn’t murder — that’s another article altogether. However, for those people celebrating the very likely overturning of Roe v. Wade, I’d like to put this into a bit more perspective. The bottom line of the likely overruling is this: If it goes through, a lot more people are going to be forced to carry a baby to term. “If they don’t want it, they can put it up for adoption,” pro-lifers argue. But, this argument over-simplifies what it actually means to carry a baby to term, especially without exceptions.
Despite the perception of pregnancy as a natural, even inevitable, part of being a woman, carrying a baby is no easy task. Even if you avoid pregnancy and postpartum complications, you’re still dealing with short-term and long-term changes to your body. Pregnancy can take up to 6 to 8 weeks to recover from in normal circumstances and, in this time, you can experience a wide variety of postpartum symptoms, from vaginal pain (which can occur from vaginal tears or an episiotomy during childbirth) to contractions or afterpains. There are also less common postpartum complications, like uterine prolapse or triggered autoimmune diseases, such as postpartum thyroid dysfunction.
However, abortion bans without exception open the gate to a whole other load of dangerous health complications. Obstetric emergencies that generally warrant abortions include ectopic pregnancies, which is when a baby grows within a fallopian tube, or preeclampsia, which is characterized by high blood pressure that can lead to organ damage.
We can already see the effects of such restrictive laws. In Texas, abortion has recently been limited to six weeks and is only allowed afterward if a woman is facing a life-threatening or disabling medical emergency linked to her pregnancy. Though this is meant to prevent abortions, it also affects women who want to carry a baby to term but experience medically risky pregnancies. It makes no exception for pregnant women who learn the fetus has abnormalities that will cause it to die soon after birth. According to The New York Times, many doctors say they cannot even discuss abortion with a patient until their life is at risk, and physicians have argued that this law can prevent comprehensive health care for pregnant women with health problems that aren’t immediately life-threatening.
With many states considering prohibiting abortion without an exception for rape or incest, children who face these issues will be at even larger risks for major health concerns. According to the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), adolescent mothers aged 10-19 years old face higher risks of eclampsia, puerperal endometritis and systemic infections than women aged 20–24 years. Babies which are born to these mothers face higher risks of low birth weight, preterm delivery and severe neonatal conditions, among other concerns. And we haven’t even touched on the psychological effects of a child being forced to bear the physical consequence of being raped.
An adolescent pregnancy would lead to the loss of crucial moments of childhood, making it more difficult for these children to overcome trauma. According to the W.H.O., adolescent childbearing often causes girls to drop out of school. Despite efforts to help them return post-childbirth, such an absence could jeopardize their future education and employment.
Maternal hazards are hard enough for Americans with consistent health providers to deal with, but health care is not evenly distributed across the American populace, with maternal hazards reportedly being disproportionately higher for Black and Indigenous women. Research shows that the pregnancy-related mortality ratios for Black women were more than three times higher than for white women from 2011 to 2014. Certain factors contribute to this, like differences in the quality of health care received, structural racism and implicit bias. A ban on abortion would disproportionately affect communities of color by a wide margin. A study from Duke found that banning abortion in the U.S. would lead to a 21% increase in the number of pregnancy-related deaths overall and a 33% increase among non-Hispanic Black people. Abortion-related deaths aren’t even included in these statistics.
The psychological effects of pregnancy are also widespread. Baby blues aside, postpartum depression is common — it affects one out of ten new mothers. Symptoms of this can cause severe depressive moods and mood swings and can interfere with one’s ability to perform daily tasks.
To force someone to go through with a pregnancy is to forcefully take control of their bodily autonomy and to naively place complete trust in systems that have already failed too many people.
Reproductive justice discussions often minimize or exclude non-cisgender individuals who may not identify as women but maintain the biological capacity to become pregnant. These people statistically already face stigmas and biases in health care. In certain contexts, 28% of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals reportedly have faced harassment in medical settings, while 19% of transgender people report being refused medical care altogether. Dismantling abortion protections and being subsequently forced to carry a baby to term would continue to exacerbate stigma against these individuals and the lack of safe abortion access for transgender individuals. Continuous confrontation with medical obstacles may worsen body dysmorphia and lead to an overall decline in physical and mental health, putting lives even more at risk.
Then again, the health issues mentioned above only apply to people who follow the law. A comprehensive testing model in The Lancet Global Health Journal showed there is “no evidence that abortion rates were lower in settings where abortion was restricted.” People will continue getting abortions regardless of what laws are in place, only in far more unsafe circumstances. There are multiple serious health risks that result from unsafe abortions, and estimates have shown that complications resulting from these abortions, as well as the long-term disabilities which subsequently occur, can rack up to a several hundred million dollars cost in developing countries.
Pregnancy requires two participants yet legally places an undue burden on the person with the uterus. Nine months of health concerns and an enormous array of lifestyle differences, plus the time it takes to recover afterward, is hard enough if one wants the baby. Pregnancy is a life-threatening and difficult ordeal in any circumstance. To force someone to go through with a pregnancy is to forcefully take control of their bodily autonomy and to naively place complete trust in systems that have already failed too many people.
Zoha Malik thinks we shouldn’t allow crucial health care to be left to the whim of people’s personal qualms.