This week marks the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that secured the right to abortion in America.
For abortion rights supporters, it’s a bittersweet birthday because the Supreme Court overturned Roe in the Dobbs decision last year. More than a dozen states have since banned or heavily restricted abortion.
In Massachusetts, abortion remains legal and enjoys broad support from the medical community. More than 100 medical professionals gathered at Brigham and Women’s Hospital on Monday to celebrate Roe’s birthday and discuss the future of access to abortion.
WBUR asked two midwives and abortion care providers how they feel about abortion rights 50 years after Roe — and seven months after Roe was reversed.
Dr. Deborah Bartz is associate director of Brigham’s Family Planning Clinic and Dr. Alisa Goldberg runs Brigham’s Family Planning Division. This interview has been edited and shortened.
What does Roe’s anniversary mean for you as a healthcare provider?
Bartz: “We like to do this work. This work is incredibly inspiring and we don’t want to lose the focus of this mission. So the 50th anniversary, it’s a day for us to recognize what Roe v. Wade was, and what it has meant to so many people for so long, and just come together in celebration for the work we do.”
Goldberg: “Why celebrate Roe now that it’s gone? I think the reason to celebrate is to recognize a time and many years that followed when government and policy put women’s health, life and well-being first – women and people who can get pregnant.
“What’s been so strong since the Dobbs decision is that the policy is now shifting away from being a primary concern for the health and well-being of pregnant people. I hope maybe we can get back to that at some point, where the policy is protecting primarily the health and well-being of the people for whom they are designed.”
Why do you think abortion is an essential part of healthcare and should it be widely available?
Goldberg: “The risk of death is 14 times higher with childbirth than with early abortion. So if someone is pregnant and considering whether or not to continue that pregnancy, the option with the lowest risk to her health and life is an early abortion.
“Even in patients who want to conceive, things don’t always go according to plan and all sorts of maternal health problems or obstetric complications arise. In those circumstances, the risks become even greater. And often the best-case scenario is the importance of the health of the patient to terminate the pregnancy.
“In weighing how much risk to take for the person’s health and life, the person must have the casting vote.”
Bart: “Those of us who work in abortion care in no way ignore the idea that abortion is difficult, that there is a tension we all feel when we think about the moral status of the fetus and the reproductive rights and reproductive health concerns of the pregnant.
“We have cared for many patients across the spectrum – including patients who firmly believe that abortion is wrong at the same time as they are having their own abortion. We strongly believe that each case is complex and nuanced, and that each patient that is in the best position to make her own reproductive health care decisions, and we give them the space to make those decisions.
“There are some life-saving abortions. Some cases are emotionally life-saving.”
Doctors are sometimes the target of this work. Do you feel a greater risk of providing abortion care since Roe was overthrown last year?
Goldberg: “This isn’t new, and it comes in waves. There are times when things flare up and some people get confused. And then the rhetoric settles down, and then maybe the people who are confused are a little bit settled.
“It’s something that we had to think about in the back of our minds from the beginning. When you take this on, you have to think about it.”
Bart: “There is no doubt that society is indeed becoming more polarized on a whole range of issues. It is about how society moves in this direction.
“I think we just need to take a deep breath, and we just need to do the work that we think is important, and do it in a smart and safe way, and make sure our patients are included.” to take care of as much as possible.”
Is your clinic seeing more patients from states that have recently restricted abortion?
Goldberg: “We are definitely seeing a steady stream. We definitely see people from those states – people who have the means, who can travel, and largely people who have a reason to come to Massachusetts, either because they have family or friends here, because they have ties to the region, or sometimes because they have a healthcare provider in their state who knows and refers a healthcare provider in our state. We probably see the most people from Texas.”
Bartz: “We’ve seen patients come in from the South and the Midwest, but unfortunately it’s usually patients with demographics who have the ability to make those travel arrangements. So it has really fueled inequality in health care.”