Abortion Policy in the United States: The New Legal Landscape and Its Threats to Health and Socioeconomic Well-Being

Tags:
Centennial Issue
Topics:
Population Health Health Equity

Policy Points:

  • The historic 2022 Supreme Court Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision has created a new public policy landscape in the United States that will restrict access to legal and safe abortion for a significant proportion of the population.
  • Policies restricting access to abortion bring with them significant threats and harms to health by delaying or denying essential evidence based medical care and increasing the risks for adverse maternal and infant outcomes, including death.
  • Restrictive abortion policies will increase the number of children born into and living in poverty, increase the number of families experiencing serious financial instability and hardship, increase racial inequities in socioeconomic security, and put significant additional pressure on under-resourced social welfare systems.

On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued a historic decision in the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization case1 overturning previous court rulings regarding privacy rights and abortion, including the Roe v Wade decision of 1973.2 The Dobbs decision reversed a nearly 50-year precedent of constitutionally protected federal access to abortion nationwide, relegating its legal oversight back to individual states and territories. In the absence of a constitutionally protected right to abortion care, states are now free to set strict legal parameters around access to abortion.3

It is predicted that at least one-half of US states will either fully ban or severely restrict access to and provision of induced abortion, with 13 states already operating under “trigger laws” that were not struck down after Roe v Wade took effect.4 At this time, the full impact of the 2022 SCOTUS decision remains unclear. However, with an ongoing deluge of lawsuits being filed, new state and federal legislation being introduced, and ballot initiatives being brought to voters across the country, abortion policy will continue to play out in the United States for decades to come. This new landscape for abortion law and policy likely means that a significant proportion of the US population will not have access to safe and legal abortion services—a health care procedure chosen in approximately one out of five pregnancies for a wide variety of reasons.5

Open Access

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References

  1. Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, 597 US ___ (2022).
  2. Roe v Wade, 410 US 113 (1973).
  3. Abortion in the United States. Kaiser Family Foundation. July 1,2022. Accessed December 1, 2022. https://www.kff.org/womenshealth-policy/press-release/abortion-in-the-united-states/
  4. Sawhill IV, Welch M. The end of Roe will create more inequality of opportunity for children. Brookings. June 30, 2022. Accessed December 1, 2022. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/upfront/2022/06/30/the-end-of-roe-will-create-more-inequalityof-opportunity-for-children/
  5. Unintended pregnancy and abortion worldwide. Guttmacher Institute. March 2022. Accessed December 1, 2022. https://www.
    guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/factsheet/fb_iaw.pdf

Citation:
Lantz PM, Michelmore K, Moniz MH, Mmeje O, Axinn WG, Spector-Bagdady Kayte. Abortion Policy in the United States: The New Legal Landscape and Its Threats to Health and Socioeconomic Well-Being. Milbank Q. 2023;101(S1): 283-301.