RBG’s legacy and the ongoing fight for reproductive justice

In honor of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I wanted to write piece about abortion access, an issue, among many others, that Ginsburg spent much of her career focusing on. Unfortunately, rather than mourning her and celebrating all she accomplished throughout her career, we are forced to reconcile with the fact that so much of what she stood for is now under attack. Should another conservative judge be nominated to the Supreme court, millions of women could lose access to abortion, a procedure for which Gisburg fought so hard to keep safe and legal. 

In the United states, women were finally given the right to safe and legal abortion under the controversial trial Roe v. Wade. 

Before Roe v. Wade, abortion was already legal in several states, but only for a limited time period. Yet this still left millions of women living in restrictive states with no options. American women with the financial means often paid a fee to a doctor in exchange for a secret abortion, or traveled to other countries that had fewer or no restrictions. Poor women couldn’t afford to do either, and were often forced to attempt to induce abortion themselves, using dangerous methods that left them infertile, infected, or even dead. According to the Guttemacher Institute, between 200,000 and 1.2 million illegal, or “backalley” abortions occured in the 1950s and 60s. It wasn’t uncommon for injuries and deaths from botched abortions to go unreported. However, this changed after Roe. 

In 1970, The Supreme court ruled in favor of Norma McCorvey (known as “Jane Roe”) who was seeking an abortion in Texas, striking down the law that banned the procedure and legalizing it nationwide. The court cited the right to privacy, outlined in the 14th amendment, but also ruled that this must be balanced against the government’s interests in protecting fetal life. 

Despite this historic victory, many states still continued to pass legislation restricting abortion after certain periods and using “health of the mother” to justify their reasoning. While Ginsburg was not on the court at the time abortion was legalized, she dedicated much of her career to upholding reproductive justice. 

In 2007, Ginsburg opposed the majority’s decision to uphold a restriction on partial birth abortion, claiming that the ruling ignored the health risks posed to the mother and the judgements of medical professionals. In 2016, Ginsburg was in the majority of a case that struck down certain parts of a law in Texas that regulated abortion providers. She wrote an additional piece of legislation detailing that the law was not aimed at protecting the health of the mother, but rather to restrict abortion access. 

Her fight for women’s rights didn’t end at abortion access; On gender discrimiation, she wrote the Supreme Court’s opinion on United v. Virginia, a decision that struck down the male only admissions policy at the Virginia Military Institute, claiming that it violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In 2009, under Obama, she was credited with inspiring the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. 

Despite all of her efforts, states still continue to pass laws restricting abortion in even the first trimester of pregnancy. And this isn’t the only barrier women in 2020 face.

While government funded family planning clinics such as Planned Parenthood can provide free or low cost services such as birth control and STD tests, they are unable to cover abortions. This is because of the Hyde amendment, which prevents any federal funds from going towards abortion, with the exception of life threatening pregnancies or pregnancies concieved through rape or incest. The Hyde amendment also prevents medicaid from covering abortion services. 

The average abortion can range from $0 to $1,000, depending on insurance coverage, the state you live in, and how far along in the pregnancy it is performed. These costs can be detrimental to lower income women who are seeking abortion. One of the most common factors that determine whether or not a woman chooses to continue a pregnancy is income; Nearly half of all abortion patients in the United State are considered poor, and an additional 26% live below the poverty line. 

Because of cuts to family planning clinics, abortion clinics around the country shut down every year. Infact, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, and West Virginia all have just one clinic each. Numbers are falling in other states as well; In 2013, before lawmakers approved new restrictions,  there were over 40 aboortion clinics in Texas. Today there are only 23. A imited amount of providers, coupled with more and more laws restricting abortion early on in pregnancy, forces women to drive for hours and sometimes days, just to access reproductive care. Nobody should have to deal with those barriers on top of trying to make such a difficult decision.

A conservative judge being appointed to the Supreme Court would make it impossible to address these issues and could undo decades of progress we’ve made in not just reproductive access, but gender equality and LGBTQ rights. 

We must continue the fight that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and so many other women before her, fought her entire life. Keeping abortion safe and legal and expanding access to women regardless of location or income is crucial for the health and wellbeing of everyone in this country.

As Ginsburg put it: “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, her well being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself.” 

If you’re concerned about abortion laws in the U.S, don’t just vote blue in the Presidential election. Electing more pro-choice members to the Senate is just as important. Here is a comprehensive list of the candidates NARAL Pro-Choice America has endorsed. Please consider donating to or even phonebanking for these candidates that will fight for abortion access for their constiuents.