Ericson: In case of abortion emergency, break glass

Roe is dead. Resuscitating it could take a long time — but there are many things Democrats should be doing right now.

by Sean Ericson

On June 24, the pro-life movement secured a long-awaited triumph: The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Center opened the door for far more restrictive abortion laws than had previously been permitted by the courts.

This is the culmination of a long battle. Opponents of abortion have spent decades building a social movement and engaging in legal strategizing. The pro-life movement’s most radical elements have even resorted to arson, murder and fetus theft.

Supporters of reproductive freedom will likely have to work for a long time to reverse this rollback in human rights.

However, we do have a couple of advantages over the pro-life movement of the early 1970s. First of all, Americans’ views on abortion are more partisan than they were back then. Second of all, the Democratic party holds a great deal of political power and can use it to protect the right to choose. This will be the key going forward. Overturning Roe took decades — but what can pro-choice leaders do right now?

The purpose of this op-ed is not to re-hash whether the Court’s decision was correct or incorrect. Many others have analyzed and critiqued the decision’s legal rationale, as well as its implications for health and for gender equality. Here, I’m preaching to the choir: what can be done right now by pro-choice leaders to alleviate the effects of this decision?

A clear — and overdue — move would be to regulate crisis pregnancy centers. Organizations like First Care in Prospect Park or Abria on campus offer to help people with an unplanned pregnancy.

However, the goal of these groups is not to inform people of all their options — it’s to dissuade them from getting an abortion. A 2018 article in the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics described these centers as “Legal but Unethical.”

This is because they are not licensed like real healthcare facilities are. “Although crisis pregnancy centers enjoy First Amendment rights protections,” the doctors who wrote the article explained, “their propagation of misinformation should be regarded as an ethical violation that undermines women’s health.”

The article also outlines how many of these centers have been found to propagate misleading information, like falsely suggesting a link between abortion and later mental health problems. A recent NBC News investigation of these centers in Texas backs this up. NBC also found that these centers falsely implied that abortion could cause cancer or infertility. Nationwide, there are about three times as many of these centers as there are abortion clinics.

I’m not an expert on First Amendment law, but it seems reasonable that the government could prevent the spread of medical misinformation from groups that present themselves as health facilities.

Recently, two abortion doctors argued in the LA Times that crisis pregnancy centers should be regulated under consumer protection laws. Laws have been proposed in several states that, if passed, would crack down on these fake healthcare facilities. These include Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New York (where the measure has been signed into law by the governor). There’s also a federal bill called the Stop Anti-Abortion Disinformation Act.

There are many other things pro-choice leaders can do besides just regulating so-called crisis pregnancy centers. Attorney General Merrick Garland has said he thinks it’s illegal for states to ban an FDA-approved abortion pill if they disagree about its safety or effectiveness. While this effort may run into the FDA’s own policies, it’d be worthwhile for the Biden administration to see if those policies can be changed.

It’s also disappointing that the administration has dismissed the idea of opening abortion clinics on federal or tribal lands. While this idea could run into issues with legality and indigenous sovereignty, in this time of crisis, it’s important to explore this idea further to see if it can be done while respecting the law and the rights of indigenous people.

Given that some opponents of abortion rights are planning to prosecute people who cross state lines to seek abortion care, it’s imperative that blue-state and federal leaders do everything they can to protect those people’s rights. For instance, Gov. Tim Walz has ordered that Minnesota law enforcement not help other states prosecute people who come here to get a legal abortion.

Americans’ hard-won reproductive freedom is in crisis. We need to be building a long-term movement and plan to get the right to abortion back — but we also need to do what we can right now.