June 5, 2019

CONTACT: Johan Marulanda / Johan.Marulanda@georgetown.edu

EMBARGOED: Wednesday, June 5, 2019; 11 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court is unlikely to overturn Roe v. Wade, but could uphold multiple abortion restrictions in newly passed state laws, say two prominent health law experts. They explain why such action would exacerbate health, social, and economic inequities for already disadvantaged and underserved women. Their opinion will be published online June 5 in JAMA.

In 1973, Roe v. Wade established a privacy right to choose abortion. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey in 1992 reaffirmed the Supreme Court’s ruling.

However, Casey leaves open options for a conservative Supreme Court to redefine abortion access, explains Lawrence Gostin, professor and faculty director of Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law.

“Speculation centers on whether the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade. It won’t in the short term at least,” Gostin says. “Rather the Court is likely to systematically chip away at abortion rights. We should be deeply concerned that in the United States, a woman’s access to reproductive services will depend on where she lives and her income. That is a grave injustice.”

Recent state laws run the gamut from abortion bans in all or most cases, to limitations on medical procedures, restrictions on health professionals and institutions, and restrictions on women’s decision-making.

In the JAMA Viewpoint, Gostin and his co-author Rebecca Reingold, JD, a senior associate at the O’Neill Institute, express an array of concerns regarding the impact of new state laws including a woman’s dignity and safety as well as matters of equity and justice. But of great importance is the impact on a woman’s health care.

“The new legal environment would make it harder for women to make meaningful, science-based decisions in consultation with their physicians,” while at the same time, “Burdensome rules will deter many health professionals and institutions from providing abortions,” Gostin and Reingold write.

Gostin emphasizes that the relationship between a woman and her physician must be preserved, and health care should not be criminalized. “Physicians take an oath to care for their patients using the best available medical evidence. This doesn’t include legally prescribed counseling or compelled showing of an ultrasound image. And the state should never penalize physicians, who are threatened with imprisonment in some states simply for providing medically accepted abortions services,” he says.

Ultimately, decisions by the Court could significantly restrict access to abortions, limiting the service only to those who can afford to travel and pay for safe abortion services.

“Wealthier, more privileged women will be able to travel further and pay more for a safe abortion, but women who are poor, live in rural communities, or are women of color will find it hard, maybe impossible, to access abortion services,” Reingold explains. “Ultimately, women who are already marginalized and underserved will bear the primary burden of these restrictions, with devastating consequences for their health, well-being and dignity.”

To interview Gostin, contact him at gostin@georgetown.edu. To interview Reingold, contact her at rr951@law.georgetown.edu.

The O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University Law Center is the premier center for health law, scholarship, and policy. Its mission is to contribute to a more powerful and deeper understanding of the multiple ways in which law can be used to improve the public’s health, using objective evidence as a measure. The O’Neill Institute seeks to advance scholarship, science, research, and teaching that will encourage key decision-makers in the public, private, and civil society to employ the law as a positive tool for enabling more people in the United States and throughout the world to lead healthier lives.