The Supreme Court’s decision will immediately affect people seeking reproductive healthcare in states across the U.S.
By Lisa L. Gill
The Supreme Court on June 24 overturned the 1973 landmark decision Roe v. Wade, along with a 1992 case, Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, that previously affirmed the constitutional right to an abortion. The 6-3 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization removes those federal protections, and gives each state the authority to expand, limit, or ban abortion.
The change applies most urgently to more than 33 million women and other people of reproductive age across the U.S. who live in states where abortion is now expected to be severely limited or practically banned.
More specifically, the court struck down the long-standing argument that the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, which guarantees a right to privacy, also applies to the right to seek an abortion.
While many Americans will still have access to abortion if they live in a state where it remains legal, access will become difficult or impossible for many others.
“It’s going to be total chaos,” says Greer Donley, an assistant professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh Law School and an expert on reproductive health law. “Every state has always had different abortion laws, but there was this federal floor that created a lot of uniformity and ensured that a lot of people—not everybody—had access to abortion. What we are going to see in the future is truly extraordinary disparity in how states are treating abortion.”
Consumer Reports described what the state landscape looked like in the year prior to the Roe V. Wade decision in this July 1972 article (PDF).
Just as CR called out the possible harms that consumers faced before that landmark decision nearly 50 years ago, the organization will continue helping consumers to make informed, safer choices for themselves, says Marta Tellado, Consumer Reports CEO. That includes navigating new risks to privacy and data security that come with the digital age.
“Since 1936, Consumer Reports’ mission has been rooted in guiding consumers with trusted, science-based information to make informed decisions,” says Tellado. “We have long supported access to safe, affordable healthcare for all consumers. As we evaluate the Supreme Court decision to overturn the protections of Roe v. Wade and its impact, we recognize the return to a very real safety threat for millions of people who will no longer have safe, legal access to reproductive services.”
Today’s Supreme Court decision raises pressing questions for millions of people about what’s next on the reproductive healthcare landscape. Here are answers to some of those questions:
Where Is Abortion Illegal Immediately?
Thirteen states already have passed so-called trigger laws, which effectively ban or severely limit abortion access as soon as Roe v. Wade is overturned, according to an analysis by the Center for Reproductive Rights, a global legal advocacy organization. The states are Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi (which is at the center of the Supreme Court’s recent decision) , Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.
Several of those, as well as other states, already have restrictive laws on the books.
Where Could It be Illegal Soon?
The Guttmacher Institute, which collects and analyzes data on abortion and contraception, says Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin all have either pre-Roe abortion bans on the books or existing six- or eight-week bans on abortion.
Florida, Indiana, Nebraska, and Montana are all also politically inclined to place a ban on abortion in the near future, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
But the fate of abortion in some of those states remains far from certain, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, as the current governors in some—including Michigan and Wisconsin—are supportive of abortion rights.
Where Is It Most Likely to Remain Legal?
The Center for Reproductive Rights lists Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Washington, D.C., as places it expects will retain or strengthen existing laws guaranteeing access to abortion services.
But a few of these states, including Florida and Iowa, are ones the Guttmacher includes as places where abortion could be banned. The lack of clarity on how things will play out state by state is part of why experts like Donley predict legal “chaos.”
What Are the Legal Implications If a Person Crosses State Lines to Get an Abortion?
Currently, no state explicitly prohibits a person from going to another state for an abortion. But that could change. A group of legal scholars including Donley, at the University of Pittsburgh, recently predicted that without the protection of Roe, “antiabortion jurisdictions not only will pass laws that criminalize in-state abortion but also attempt to ban any abortion that has a relationship to their state.”
Earlier this year, in at least one state, Missouri, state legislators introduced a bill that would allow a person to sue another if they aided someone crossing state lines for an abortion. And a bill introduced in Congress earlier this year—the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act—would make it a federal crime to transport a minor across state lines to receive an abortion.
Can I Legally Get the Abortion Pill From a Healthcare Provider Online?
The “abortion pill” is actually two medicines, mifepristone and misoprostol, and can be taken up to 11 weeks of gestation. The Guttmacher Institute says about half of all abortions in 2020 the U.S. are now medication abortion (vs. surgical abortion).
Currently, about 18 states have either banned using a telehealth visit to get a prescription for a medication abortion or effectively banned it by requiring that a healthcare provider be present when a person takes abortion pills, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis. But in many of these states, all types of abortion—including via medication—will be illegal now or may be soon since Roe v. Wade has been overturned.
What About Plan B? How Is That Different From the Abortion Pill and Is It Still Legal?
Plan B is a pill that is considered emergency contraception because it is approved by the Food and Drug administration only to prevent pregnancy when taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. Though it does not require a prescription, it is often kept behind the pharmacy counter.
The Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision does not apply to emergency contraception. But some states have taken measures to restrict access to Plan B, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Mississippi, and South Dakota have laws that explicitly allow for a pharmacy or pharmacist to refuse to dispense or sell emergency contraception. Even in other states, so-called conscience clauses allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense Plan B (or other medications) if doing so would violate their personal beliefs.
Will Conversations With My Healthcare Provider About Abortion Remain Private?
In general, yes. In-person conversations about your medical care in a traditional healthcare setting such as at a doctor’s office, a hospital, or a clinic are private.
But there are exceptions. Medical personnel are allowed to call law enforcement about a patient if they suspect a crime has been committed. If you seek treatment for a miscarriage in a state where abortion is illegal, for example, and a healthcare provider suspects you’ve induced an abortion with the abortion pill, they could call the police. In the future, state laws could even require them to.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the federal law that generally makes conversations between you and your doctor private, “would be of no help because it includes numerous exceptions that permit mandatory healthcare provider reporting,” says Jennifer Oliva, a law professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law who has studied reproductive health law. She spoke earlier with CR for a more in-depth article on this topic.
Are Web Searches, Emails, and Texts About Access to Abortion Private?
No. Your searches for abortion information or emails and texts about seeking an abortion are no more private than any search you do on any other topic.
“HIPAA only covers communications between you and your doctor—not communications with Google or with an app,” says Justin Brookman, Consumer Reports’ director of consumer privacy and technology policy. “The U.S. has relatively flimsy privacy laws, so a company that knows what medical issues you’re interested in generally is free to share that with whomever they want.”
What If I Use a Period-Tracker App or Something Similar? Will That Information Remain Private?
Probably not. Most period tracking apps store your data in the cloud, and many also share your data with third parties, such as advertisers. An analysis by CR’s Digital Lab did find a few period tracking apps that protect users’ privacy, however: Drip, Euki, and Periodical. (Read more about our investigation.)
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