Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to protect the privacy of a speaker.
The Committee to Protect Health Care denounced the U.S. Supreme Court’s draft opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, at a virtual press conference Tuesday evening. The Committee is a national organization of medical professionals advocating affordable and “pro-patient” health care. Three physicians based in Michigan spoke at the event to express concern over the impacts of this opinion, if finalized.
The draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade was obtained by Politico and released Monday night. Written by Justice Samuel Alito, the opinion holds that the restrictions around abortion access should be decided by individual states, not the Supreme Court.
The case being considered, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, centers on a 2018 Mississippi law outlawing all abortions after 15 weeks, with exceptions for medical emergencies or “severe” fetal abnormalities. Speakers at the press conference expressed concern over the impact harsher restrictions may have on the safety of pregnant individuals seeking abortions, stressing that pregnant individuals will continue to seek abortions but will face more barriers and greater risk in doing so.
In Sept. 2021, Gov. Greg Abbott, R-Texas, signed into law a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The law also gave citizens the power to privately sue anyone who provided or aided in the provision of abortion care. Michael Hertz, an assistant professor at Wayne State University’s School of Medicine and speaker at the conference, cited the state of Texas as an example of abortion bans only restricting safe abortions.
“The need for abortion will not evaporate,” Hertz said. “We’ve seen it play out in states like Texas, where people are forced to flee the state to find care, seek abortion outside the health care system or even to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.”
Farhan Bhatti, a family physician and speaker at the conference, said abortion should remain a private decision made between a patient and their health care provider, without government interference.
“The draft opinion that was leaked last night is truly horrifying, and affirms the worst fears of physicians,” Bhatti said. “We must work together to ensure that the deeply personal and private decision to undergo an abortion remains a decision that patients in Michigan can make safely in consultation with their health care provider.”
Bhatti added that there are often lasting psychological effects from having to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.
“Doctors like me know all too well how dangerous pregnancies can be,” Bhatti said. “And we know how harmful forcing pregnancy is. Forcing a person to carry a pregnancy to term can cause both physical and mental health trauma that can last a lifetime.”
Speakers also discussed the future of abortion legislation and protections in the state of Michigan if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Hertz referenced a 1931 law that criminalizes all abortions except those that could save the pregnant person’s life. He said that while the law is not currently being upheld, it could come back into effect should Roe v. Wade be overturned.
“Thankfully, that cruel and antiquated law hasn’t been enforced since the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling explicitly protected the constitutional right to an abortion,” Hertz said. “But if Roe v. Wade is indeed overturned, as the draft opinion seems to indicate, it could become much harder to access abortion in Michigan and perhaps impossible.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently filed a lawsuit calling on the Michigan Supreme Court to strike down this law. If the state Supreme Court rules in favor of Whitmer’s challenge, abortion will be legal in the state of Michigan even if Roe v. Wade is overruled by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hertz added that because abortions are not funded by the government of Michigan, overturning Roe v. Wade could exacerbate racial and class disparities.
“Marginalized communities are already disproportionately affected by access to abortion care, especially here in Michigan,” Hertz said. “Ever since 1988, state-funded health care no longer has provided for abortion care, which means that patients have to self-fund abortion care, and that is much more difficult for people of Color and other marginalized groups.”
Hertz also brought up a disparity in access to abortion care in rural areas of the state.
“You can draw a line from, essentially, Grand Rapids over to Saginaw, and anything north of that is virtually what we would call an ‘abortion desert,’” Hertz said. “There is almost no access to an abortion (in those places) as it is. So (overturning Roe v. Wade) would only make a dire consequence even worse.”
Lauren Owens, the Michigan State Advocacy Chair for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and a speaker at the event, discussed the socioeconomic inequities in abortion rates and access to care.
“Overall, in the United States, we’ve seen abortion rates actually go down in the last couple of decades,” Owens said. “However, among folks who are living below the poverty line, those rates have gone up. So we know that a ban is going to disproportionately impact those people.”
While not yet finalized, the leaked drafted opinion suggests that the Supreme Court could overturn Roe v. Wade in their official decision, which should be released sometime in the next two months.
Owens emphasized that abortion remains legal in the state of Michigan for now and encouraged attendees to continue to advocate safe, widespread abortion access.
“Thankfully, this opinion doesn’t have to be final,” Owens said. “We’re hopeful that the Supreme Court will eventually decide in favor of protecting the long-standing right to abortion for all Americans. But in the meantime, there’s work to be done here in Michigan to protect our patients … and all the residents of Michigan who could potentially need to access abortion care.”
Summer News Editor Samantha Rich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Dr. Farhan Bhatti is a family physician at Michigan State University. Dr. Bhatti is the CEO and medical director of Care Free Medical in East Lansing.