How the end of Roe v Wade will affect birth control, abortion pills and IVF treatments in the US
The Supreme Court decision that overturned abortion rights nearly 50 years ago will have far-reaching implications for reproductive health care in the United States
The United States is witnessing massive protests, with chants of “My body, my rights” blaring across the country after the Supreme Court overturned the historic Roe v. Wade decision and abolished federally protected abortion laws.
On Friday, the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark ruling that was unthinkable just a few years ago that is expected to lead to abortion bans in about half of the states.
Judge Samuel Alito wrote in his final opinion that Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision upholding abortion rights was wrong and needed to be overturned.
“We therefore believe that the constitution does not grant a right to abortion. Roe and Casey must be overridden and authority to regulate abortion returned to the people and their elected representatives,” Alito wrote in a statement closely resembling the leaked draft.
In response to the verdict, Gloria Steinem, the country’s most visible feminist and women’s rights advocate, said succinctly: “Obviously without the right of women and men to make decisions about our own bodies, there is no democracy.”
The US SC’s decision not only stripped women of their right to an abortion, but also challenged other areas of reproductive medicine, including fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization.
Abortion pills in the post-Roe world
Shortly after the Roe v. Wade decision was made, fears grew that states might ban abortion pills, with some states noticing a surge in abortion pill sales.
To date, 13 states are enacting trigger laws banning all or almost all abortions, including medical abortions. For the uninitiated, a medical abortion is when a patient takes a drug called mifepristone, also known as RU-486, followed by a second drug called misoprostol to terminate a pregnancy instead of undergoing surgery.
In 2020, more than half of all abortions in the United States were medical abortions — up from 39 percent in 2017, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research and advocacy organization.
However, with the repeal of Roe v Wade, at least 26 states will pass new abortion laws. These state laws have not previously differentiated between surgical and medical abortion, so they are expected to ban medical abortion entirely. Some will ban abortions almost entirely, while others will ban abortions after six or 15 weeks.
Another fear is that abortion bans will force many clinics to close, ending this route to obtaining abortion pills.
However, the implementation of such a ban on medical abortion will be difficult to track and implement. For example, those who seek abortions despite bans in their states could travel to another state to get the pills where they’re legal, use an address in another state, and then have the package forwarded to providers in other states Look for people willing to ship pills in the mail. Under the table, rely on suppliers in other countries to ship pills to the US, or source abroad.
Joe Biden’s administration also defended medical abortion, saying the government will seek to protect access to medical abortion, saying efforts to limit it are “wrong and extreme and out of touch with the majority of Americans.”
“Today, I am directing the Department of Health and Human Services to take steps to ensure the widest possible availability of these critical drugs,” President Joe Biden said at the White House on Friday.
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On the face of it, the end of Roe v Wade shouldn’t affect the availability or legality of in vitro fertilization (IVF).
But activists point to the far-reaching impact on women’s ability to receive medical attention to conceive a child in a post-Roe America.
The debate over whether and at what stage of human development life begins threatens to limit doctors’ ability to use IVF to help a woman conceive. The success of IVF depends on delivering a larger number of eggs, but usually only using a small number of them.
Experts caution that states that define life as beginning at conception or fertilization could legally jeopardize IVF.
Power, a group that links women struggling to conceive to clinical fertility studies, and the Guttmacher Institute estimate that Roe v Wade’s ouster could result in as many as 30 states banning IVF.
Activists also believe a Roe v Wade fall could make IVF more expensive to access by limiting the number of embryos made or implanted, leading to fewer chances of a successful pregnancy, more IVF cycles and higher costs.
Birth control measures
Supporters of the election are also concerned about the future of birth control in the US following the Roe v Wade reversal.
Judge Clarence Thomas wrote in his opinion that other cases protecting the right to contraception, same-sex marriage and private, consensual sexual activity are “not at issue” in this particular decision. But he also writes that “in future cases” the court should “reconsider” the decisions in the cases where these rights were established.
“States trying to restrict abortion from the moment of conception — not even from the moment of pregnancy, as the medical profession would define it — may well be trying to challenge Plan B, emergency contraception, possibly even IUDs,” said Wendy Parmet. Director of the Center for Health Policy and Law at Northeastern University, was quoted as telling NBC News.
States like Oklahoma, for example, have passed legislation recognizing the beginning of an unborn child’s life at fertilization. This means birth control devices such as an IUD (intra-uterine device) and the morning-after pill, which could prevent a fertilized egg from implanting, could be at risk.
IUDs work by preventing fertilization: the sperm and egg never meet. However, they may also prevent implantation.
The morning-after pill prevents fertilization in the first place, which may be illegal in states that recognize life if fertilized.
As the protests rage on, one thing is certain: the Roe v Wade reversal will undoubtedly usher in a new era for healthcare in the US. Whether this should be celebrated or not, only time will tell.
With contributions from agencies
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