There’s a reason “my body, my choice” is the most recognizable pro-choice slogan. It’s that abortion rights are about far more than the right to end a pregnancy. In the days since the Supreme Court overturned five decades of precedent to revoke the right to privacy and abortion, there’s been a lot of discussion about how this decision will
If you’re active in reproductive justice circles, none of this is new to you. But people who want to criminalize abortion, almost by definition, do not understand the wide-reaching effects of this decision.
It doesn’t matter if you heed far right advice to “keep your legs closed.”
It doesn’t matter if you want to be pregnant.
Or if you seek permanent sterilization.
If the far right has their way, the criminalization of abortion and the advent of fetal personhood will affect the lives of everyone who can get pregnant.
That’s not an unanticipated consequence. That’s the entire point.
In Vitro Fertilization
If embryos and fetuses are people, then in vitro fertilization is murder. The practice involves fertilizing several eggs outside of the body, then reimplanting them in the uterus. People commonly elect to freeze some embryos for future use. Then they may or may not use them. If they don’t, then the destruction of those embryos is morally indistinct from an early abortion. People who desperately want to become pregnant may now be banned from doing so by the same laws designed to keep pregnant those who do not want to be.
Republicans are already moving swiftly to ban in vitro fertilization in some states.
Medically, a miscarriage looks identical to an abortion, and doctors cannot tell the difference between an early miscarriage and an induced abortion. This means that every miscarriage is a potential abortion—and in states that criminalize abortion or grant fetal personhood, a potential murder.
This creates an impossible conflict of interest for doctors. It also means they may have to seek approval from lawyers or ethics committees before they can treat miscarriages. When a miscarriage doesn’t pass on its own, an infection can endanger a woman’s fertility, and even be fatal. The treatment is an abortion (of an already-dead fetus or embryo). Delays matter, and will kill people. Catholic hospitals already have a history of denying proper care for miscarriages.
No matter how “pro-life” you are, no matter how much you want to be pregnant, no matter how much you oppose abortion, if you have any chance of becoming pregnant, you can experience a miscarriage. And that means you could die thanks to anti-choice laws.
This article goes into more detail about how anti-choice legislation criminalizes miscarriages, and potentially even periods.
An ectopic pregnancy is absolutely non-viable, and an imminent threat to the life of the pregnant person. Left untreated, it will inevitably rupture, causing catastrophic bleeding and infections. The pregnant person will die without appropriate medical care.
If an embryo is a person, though, it cannot be removed. Moreover, Republicans in numerous states are working to pass legislation requiring doctors to remove ectopic pregnancies and implant them in the uterus. Many women who have survived ectopic pregnancies would love for this to be possible. But it is not. Touching the embryo will kill it. Reimplantation is a fantasy that will kill pregnant people as they wait for medical care.
The state of the American maternity care system is already in crisis. Fully 45% of women describe their births as traumatic, and many cite medical providers who coerce them into unwanted and medically unnecessary interventions for the provider’s convenience.
If a fetus is a person, then they now have equal rights to the pregnant person. And this means that doctors can falsely label women’s reasonable birth choices as child abuse. Want to have a vaginal birth after a cesarean, something the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says is safe, but your doctor doesn’t want to take the time this requires? Your doctor may call CPS, or even force you to have unnecessary surgery based on false claims about the well-being of the fetus.
Personal Choices During Pregnancy
The list of things pregnant people should avoid is long, internally contradictory, and constantly shifting. That skincare routine that was fine in your first pregnancy may now be considered verboten. Need antidepressants to survive pregnancy without self-harm? There are plenty of medical providers who think this is unacceptable.
Now, the reasonable personal choices that responsible people make during pregnancy can be considered child abuse if even one unhinged doctor is willing to call them that and call CPS. We’ve already seen a surge in prosecutions of women for pregnancy choices. The number of women facing government involvement in their medications, nutrition, and lifestyle is going to swell.
They’re coming for birth control now, because the goal is to get and keep women pregnant, not to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Republicans have made no secret of this fact. They believe that any birth control that prevents implantation—including IUDs, emergency contraceptives, birth control pills, implants, and injections—cause abortions. If a fertilized egg is a person, then it must be allowed to implant, and birth control must therefore be illegal.
This limits not only women’s ability to avoid pregnancy, but also their access to care for endometriosis, PCOS, and a host of other endocrine and reproductive disorders. It doesn’t matter, though, because in the new Republican world, a uterus is an incubator, and it doesn’t matter if it’s attached to a person.
It’s a scary world, and we need to be honest about what lies ahead for people with uteruses. We also need to push back against the urge to become so demoralized that we do nothing at all. That’s what the right wants.
It took them 50 years to get here, and we need to be prepared to show the same dedication they have. We can fix this, but it will take time, dedication, and a deep understanding of what’s truly at stake.