Complacency Is Not An Option: Why States Must Protect Reproductive Rights Under The Biden Administration

At the Supreme Court, the Mississippi abortion case—or 18 others like it—could overturn Roe v. Wade altogether. States must be one step ahead in ensuring reproductive health access is protected.

 

Roe v. Wade
Complacency Is Not An Option: Why States Must Protect Reproductive Rights Under The Biden Administration
As of today only 14 states have laws protecting an individual’s right to an abortion. (Seattle City Council / Flickr)

On January 20, 2021, Americans who care about reproductive rights breathed a sigh of relief as President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn into office. Some have posted on social media that our rights are “safe” for the next four years—but such complacency is dangerous. In fact, just this week we learned that the Supreme Court will hear a Mississippi abortion case that could limit Roe v. Wade. We should press for a more lasting bulwark of laws protecting reproductive rights at the state level. 

If there is one lesson we learned over the past four years under the Trump administration, it is that politics moves fast. Only 39 days after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, and only 8 before the election, Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the Supreme Court. 

Nor should we forget that now six out of nine justices on the United States Supreme Court have anti-choice records. According to Helene T. Krasnoff, vice president of public policy litigation and law at Planned Parenthood Action Fund, at this very moment, “There are already 19 cases about abortion restrictions that are only one step away from the Supreme Court.” The Mississippi case will be heard by the court in the upcoming months. This case and each of the other 18 cases could undermine reproductive rights across the country by upholding abortion restrictions or overturning Roe v. Wade altogether. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion access becomes a state issue. In other words, the right to access an an abortion will vary state to state. This means states need to be one step ahead in ensuring reproductive health access is protected. 


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The first step is for states to codify access to abortion into state law. As of today only 14 states have laws protecting an individual’s right to an abortion. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a mere two states (Oregon and Vermont) and the District of Columbia have the most robust protections, codifying the right to abortion throughout pregnancy without state interference. With the current makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court, now more than ever, it is essential that other states follow suit and codify the right to abortion access into state law. 

Roe v. Wade
Complacency Is Not An Option: Why States Must Protect Reproductive Rights Under The Biden Administration
A January 2020 abortion rally in D.C. (Hillel Steinberg / Flickr)

It is also important that states pursue legislation that ensures access to abortion and contraception for everyone, including low-income individuals, young people, people of color, and people living in rural communities. In 2017, Oregon Governor Kate Brown (D) signed the Reproductive Health Equity Act (HB3391) which not only codified the right to abortion in Oregon, but also required expanded coverage for reproductive health services by private health insurance, prohibited private health plans from discriminating on the basis of gender identity, and established reproductive health coverage for undocumented individuals. New Jersey also has similar legislation, the Reproductive Freedom Act (S3030 / A4848), which was introduced in October 2020.

Our reproductive rights are in jeopardy and we need to be one step ahead. Working in the political sphere, I can attest that politics moves fast, especially when dealing with politicized topics. If anything, Monday’s announcement about the upcoming Supreme Court hearing has proved that. But as advocates, we can organize and move fast too by focusing our energy at the state level to secure reproductive rights. 

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About

Antoinette ‘Toni’ Gingerelli is public service fellow and master of public policy candidate at Harvard Kennedy School of Government. She formerly served as chief of staff for a New Jersey state senator and has worked on numerous projects and initiatives regarding reproductive health.