Long before Texas and Mississippi passed recent laws designed to invite the U.S. Supreme Court to erode or overturn Roe v. Wade, residents of many states were losing access to birth control, family planning, and abortion services. Since the 1973 Roe ruling forbade bans on abortion, states have enacted more than 1,300 restrictions on abortion access.
Those legal restrictions both caused and accompanied the closing of hundreds of clinics providing abortions, forcing many people to travel several hundred miles to consult with clinics providing full services. People of financial means can simply travel to where reproductive rights are protected, but many low-income folks are effectively stripped of equal rights by the state. As with myriad restrictions on voting rights, people of color are most heavily impacted, so regardless of lawmakers’ intent, anti-abortion laws are inherently classist and racist. “Rights” without access have little meaning.
These laws don’t just alter lives, they take lives. While abortion opponents cite anecdotes about abortion complications, being forced to carry a pregnancy to term results in the mother’s death 33 times more often than with an abortion, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women.
Harmful impacts on health, safety and economic well-being also are common. Women prevented from accessing a wanted abortion are more likely to live in poverty later, they stay tethered to abusive partners, and experience more health problems. And states advancing the most restrictive abortion laws also have far higher infant mortality rates than other states.
For these reasons and more, Unitarian Universalists embrace a reproductive justice framework that goes beyond abortion rights to ensure all people have affordable access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare and sexuality education. Such access helps drive the long-term reduction in abortion rates, so reproductive justice priorities can create common ground with people who truly seek to minimize abortions, rather than control women.
UUs are at the front lines of fighting attacks on reproductive rights. Among organizations uniting to fight Texas’ anti-abortion law are 25 “Reproductive Freedom Congregations,” which also recognize the interconnectedness of human rights struggles for the LGBTQ+ community. Notably, 14 of the 25 congregations in the coalition, forged in partnership with Just Texas, are UU!
Of course, a SCOTUS decision to discard Roe would impact lives nationwide. At least 15 states have “trigger bans” to automatically ban or restrict abortion should Roe fall.
While oral arguments on the Texas and Mississippi laws at SCOTUS suggested the court will weaken or overrule Roe (by June), the outlook is not all bleak. The new laws attacking reproductive rights have renewed efforts by pro-choice forces after years of slow erosion of abortion access. Several “blue states” recently began codifying reproductive rights for the first time, and advocates are exploring several potential federal actions.
Because opposition to reproductive rights is so often presented as religious, UUs have a special opportunity to present faith-based arguments for reproductive justice. For January 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the UUA is providing resources to suggest or use in your local worship service (of any denomination), and you can sign up to receive action plans. See Side With Love’s 30 Days of Love campaign pages for additional resources.