On June 24, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning federal protections for abortion.
“I think it’s important that people understand not just the impact of the Dobbs v. Jackson case,” Ayers says. “We have to look at the lesson that Texas already taught us.”
Ayers was speaking about the way Texas’ SB-8 law took an unprecedented approach to restricting reproductive rights. Since September 2021, Texas has banned abortions after six weeks and private citizens can sue for $10,000 anyone who aids someone seeking an abortion. Ayers sees the effects of Texas’ law as a model for what the Dobbs decision will lead to. “Depending on your zip code, you’re already living in a place where it’s pre-Roe abortion times. With the 50-year precedent that has upheld access to your right to reproductive health care including abortion going away, we’re going to see Texas times 26.”
Ayers said Planned Parenthood estimates up to 26 states will try to further restrict abortion, stretching reproductive health care availability beyond capacity. “There’s no world where 24 states who have supportive laws on access to abortion can absorb patients from all 50 states. That’s going to mean people having to make horrible choices about their care.”
Ayers describes the testimonials of people in Texas and Oklahoma following the SB-8 laws where people drove hundreds of miles in a day to receive care in a supportive state. Reproductive rights being weakened affects more than just abortion. Ayers anticipates decline in overall health, particularly for women of color. “The maternal health care crisis for Black and Brown women in this country is already unchecked. The additional impact is only going to exacerbate the [maternal mortality] numbers we’ve seen.”
To try to mitigate the damage done by the Dobbs decision through education and communication, Ayers is particularly interested in reaching unlikely allies who will be affected by reproductive rights being rolled back. “This is a business and a corporate issue, an economic issue. It’s an educational issue. It’s a health care issue. I do think that maybe people who previously thought they could sit on the sidelines are starting to realize this is at their front door.”
“I think just making sure that people know that the opinion, that’s not the end of the fight. Keeping people informed of its effects will help them stay engaged and know that the drum beat’s going to continue. Everybody’s voice is needed.”
Ayers believes colleges and businesses that perhaps have previously been uninvolved in reproductive health care policy may jump in because they could have a harder time recruiting. Businesses won’t want to open offices in these regions if people don’t want to live there. Planned Parenthood is supporting policy expansion where possible to shore up access to reproductive care. “How do we do more with telehealth? We’re going to need bold new policy areas maybe that we haven’t had to broach before. We think there’s opportunity for the Biden Harris administration to declare a public health emergency around abortion access, making it clear where they stand.”
But the fight for reproductive health care goes beyond policy. Ayers encourages everyone to communicate. Talk on social media. Donate, volunteer, rally, and support abortion funds to get someone access. “It took 50 years to roll back Roe v. Wade. We don’t know how long it’s going to take to build it back, but the young people at BU will be a big part of how we put forward the new policies that we’re going to need to get back into the Constitution. There’s something that everybody can do in this fight.”
Voting, Ayers, said, will be very important. And pushing candidates for office to make clear where they stand on access to reproductive health care.
Kansas will be the first state with a ballot initiative to further restrict reproductive care. “In August 2022, that’s going to be really important to defeat that ballot initiative,” says Ayers. “That’s going to be the first opportunity that voters have to go to the polls after the decision. We want to make sure that fails so that people can see this is a winning issue. This is defining.”
These are the moments that will decide how our nation functions now that Roe has been overturned. Every voice matters. Ayers and other lobbyists for reproductive justice will continue to fight, but she knows it will take more than that. “I think just making sure that people know that the opinion, that’s not the end of the fight. Keeping people informed of its effects will help them stay engaged and know that the drum beat’s going to continue. Everybody’s voice is needed.”