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The high costs of reproductive freedom 

At the beginning of May, a leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion informed the public of the court’s position on overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that has been used to protect the reproductive rights of birthing people across the country since the 1970s. Protests began to erupt throughout the nation as the fear of losing reproductive protections became real and the urgency of the situation more apparent.  

The chances of Roe v. Wade getting overturned became real for me on October 26, 2020, when the U.S. Senate confirmed Amy Coney Barrett to become a Supreme Court Justice. Justice Barret is clear about her political beliefs, specifically her position on Roe v. Wade. For decades, many states have pushed the Supreme Court to overturn this historic human rights case. With the addition of Justice Barrett to the bench, I knew the likelihood of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade increased exponentially. 

While Barrett’s confirmation was upsetting for many people, I found it terrifying. I am from Louisiana, a state well known for its conservative politics. I distinctly remember voting on a 2020 amendment that would add language to our constitution stating that the “right to abortion and the funding of abortion shall not be found in the Louisiana Constitution.” Much to my dismay (but not surprise), the amendment passed with 62% of the vote and is now part of the Louisiana Constitution. Legislation such as Louisiana’s amendment are referred to as “trigger laws”– laws that automatically ban abortion in the first and second trimesters if Roe v. Wade is overturned. As of today, 13 states have passed trigger laws. 

In response to the public’s concern and the growing fear of losing federal abortion protections, states like California strengthened protections for reproductive rights in their constitutions. California, specifically, is also reinforcing its ability to be a “safe haven” for those who come from states with trigger laws. Recent legislation in California is focused on expanding access to abortion and protecting individuals from legal liability if they travel to the state to get an abortion. Theoretically, that’s progress. Unfortunately, California residents often struggle with restricted access to abortion services, which presents a challenge. 40% of California counties don’t have a clinic offering abortion services, rendering them unaffordable and inaccessible for many.  

Given soaring gas and plane ticket prices, travel within and to a state like California is a luxury not equally accessible to every person, and consequently, the promise of California as a safe haven is only available to those who can afford it.  

It’s no shocker that like most bad policies, the overturn of Roe v. Wade will have a disproportionate impact on people living in poverty. Research shows that nearly half of those who have sought an abortion live below the poverty line. If they are residents of states that have restrictive access to reproductive services—such as only having one clinic in the whole state—people dealing with financial struggles often must consider additional factors when assessing their ability to travel to a reproductive health provider. These factors often include finding childcare, their ability (or inability) to take time away from work, and securing transportation. 

As we consider the future of reproductive rights post Roe v. Wade, it is crucial that people with lower incomes are explicitly considered and protected. That’s why Western Center continues to actively advocate for the maternal and reproductive rights of marginalized birthing people. 

Last year, Western Center worked alongside coalition partners to get SB 65 signed into law. SB 65 aims to improve data collection on race and economic-based factors that lead to higher rates of maternal and infant mortality in Black and Indigenous communities. It also creates a fund to support midwives and guarantees the option of obtaining a doula as a Medi-Cal benefit. While SB 65 does not address abortion, its passage expands reproductive protections for many Californians and reinforces the ability of birthing people to have agency in their reproductive journey. It also brought important dialogue to the forefront of the birthing rights conversation about the medical vulnerability of people existing in the intersection of non-whiteness and poverty. 

Bodily autonomy is a fundamental right that should not only be accessible to those who are better off financially. Until the reproductive rights of all people are protected, regardless of their economic status, we have work to do. 

Dalyn Smith is an intern at Western Center. She is a junior at the University of Southern California and is part of USC’s Agents of Change Program.