The Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade brings an end to many individuals' freedom to make private, informed reproductive healthcare choices with their doctors about their own bodies. It also marks the reversal of nearly 50 years of progress towards reproductive justice and the return to an era when a pregnant person's rights to bodily autonomy cease to exist as soon as an egg is fertilized.
As a result, the United States now returns to a time where, depending upon the state in which they live, pregnant people may be forced to seek out illegal and life-threatening procedures and may even face criminal charges for accidental miscarriages or still births.
Among its many duties, the Human Rights Commission of Iowa City is tasked with educating the public on human rights and illegal discrimination. We are concerned for young people whose future education and other opportunities will be limited by state legislatures who claim control over their reproductive decisions. We are concerned for physicians forced to weigh the benefits of helping pregnant individuals against the consequences of assisting in or facilitating procedures that terminate unwanted or even dangerous pregnancies. We are especially concerned for the coming generations who may now have to bear the burden of advocating for and establishing comprehensive, inclusive reproductive rights.
In order to truly understand the weight of the Supreme Court's decision, we must recognize that the series of cases leading up to Roe laid the foundation for many of our constitutional rights to privacy. This "right to privacy" was originally derived in 1965 from a somewhat nebulous concept that Justice Douglass called a "penumbra" - an implied right to privacy that was a critical prerequisite to make several articulated rights meaningful. This paved the way for other critical human rights achievements, such as marriage equality.
Today's Court has challenged this interpretation of the Constitution, stating that there is no implied right to privacy. The result could extend far beyond simply seeing safe abortion facilities and providers vanish in many areas throughout the country. It could impact access to contraceptives; increase criminalization of pregnant people and providers who seek to terminate even an unsafe pregnancy; and empower private citizens to scrutinize - and, in some states, police - each other's reproductive health choices rather than offering support for bodily autonomy and reproductive justice (a term, notably coined, by a group of black female activists in their address to Congress in 1994 ).
Finally, as a commission, we are most concerned for pregnant people of color, who will be disproportionately impacted by this Supreme Court decision. We recognize that people of color already face far greater risks when seeking health care in this country, especially leading up to and during childbirth. The maternal mortality rate for women of color is over three times greater than the national average and is six times greater here in Iowa (cdc.gov). We consider this Supreme Court ruling as a call to action. We must refuse to forfeit 50 years of human rights progress, and we encourage Iowa City residents to:
- Use your voice and your sphere of influence to amplify intolerance for this reversal of human rights progress.
- Attend and/or support local protests to collaborate with community members and amplify their messages.
- Speak openly about abortion and reproductive rights with your family members and friends in an effort to decrease the stigma surrounding this highly divisive topic.
- Vote not only in national, but in local and state-level elections. We, the people, choose those who have the power to make legislative decisions about human rights.
- Engage with your representatives to articulate your support for the Women's Health Protection Act.
- Donate to grassroots organizations helping individuals access reproductive healthcare services (eg. Emma Goldman Clinic, Planned Parenthood - Iowa City, Iowa Abortion Access Fund, Iowa Jane Collective, and so many more).
- Continue to take all of these action steps until we are able to bring about substantive change.
To learn more about the Human Rights Commission visit their page.