Now Is the Time to “Aid and Abet” Abortion

As reproductive rights organizers have long anticipated — and as a leaked memo all but confirmed last month — the Supreme Court has ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade. Thomas E. Dobbs, State Health Officer of the Mississippi Department of Health v. Jackson Women’s Health OrganizationThis lawsuit is against a Mississippi law that prohibits abortions after 15 weeks, except in cases of severe fetal abnormality or medical emergency. This suit is part a legal challenge to the constitutionally protected right of abortion in Roe. The court has sided for Mississippi to repeal this right. This ruling invalidates the federal protection against abortion and results in the complete or near-total prohibition of abortion in 26 US states.

The right has long been organizing for this moment, creating “trigger bans” in expectation of Roe’s overturn, as well as mobilizing to harass and intimidate patients in places where abortion remains legal, like New York and Washington, D.C. Republicans are poised to attempt passing a federal ban on abortion.

Despite Justice Samuel Alito’s claim that the ruling does not affect contraceptive access, the anti-abortion right has also opposed hormonal contraception, the copper IUD, and the morning-after pill on the grounds that they are “abortifacients” since from their perspective, human life begins at conception and these methods prevent the fertilized egg from implanting. Louisiana lawmakers considered a bill that would have made the IUD and morning-after pill illegal. Although the bill was ultimately defeated, similar initiatives can be expected to gain ground in other states that are hostile to abortion rights.

The anti-abortion law frames the overturning Roe as an act of democracy, “returning the decision to the states,” and correcting federal overreach. This is misleading at best. The states in which abortion is now illegal are heavily gerrymandered and undemocratic themselvesIt is simply not true that abortion bans reflect people’s will. In fact, a majority of Americans––about 60 percent––believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Residents who had been subject to abortion restrictions in red states before this moment have been left with disastrous consequences. They have been forced to travel outside their state to obtain care at a significant personal expense. Texas’s notorious Senate Bill 8 law resulted in a significant number of patients from Texas with a gestational age past six weeks traveling to Oklahoma for abortion appointments — until Oklahoma passed a total abortion ban, leaving Texans seeking abortions with even fewer options.

This situation will likely spread across the country, with more abortion patients having to travel longer distances in order to get abortion. Of course, this will place an undue hardship on patients without the means to travel out of state — whether that be due to the financial burden, lack of access to child care, sick leave, or other reasons.

More grotesquely, abortion patients will not only have to face undue financial and logistical hurdles to access essential health care — but they will also have to brave the police, or in some cases, state-funded vigilantes, in order to do so. Texas’s SB 8 law allows literally anyone to file suit against someone who aids or abets in an abortion — though not the abortion patient themselves. A plaintiff could be sued if he or she transports a patient to a bus in order to allow them to have an abortion outside of Texas. The plaintiff would be entitled $10,000 in damages. Patients who have had an abortion cannot be sued.

While the law has been carefully designed so that there is no criminal penalty — and thus, ironically, protecting it from certain legal challenges — it still invites police violence against abortion patients. Lizelle Herrera, 26, was recently arrested in South Texas. She was accused of having incited her own abortion following a stillbirth. Even if the states that criminalize abortion only penalize providers and those who “aid and abet” abortion, patients themselves can still be subject to police violence in cases of self-managed abortions, which will become the only recourse available to many patients who cannot travel out of state to a clinic. Only a few states currently criminalize self managed abortion. in over half the states there have been criminal investigations into pregnancy loss based on suspicion of self-managed abortion. People who live in communities with high levels of policing or state surveillance, or who choose to manage their own abortions, are at increased risk of being charged.

Even if patients who are seeking abortions can reach states with less restrictions, access to safe and unrestricted abortions in those states is not guaranteed. Many clinics are already operating at full capacity, even before the increased influx of patients from other countries. The anti-abortion movement is now focused on New York City. Their base has been galvanized to confront “the evil of abortion” at its center — the clinics where abortions happen. We can expect harassment campaigns to expand at clinics in less restricted states if abortion is stopped in half of the states. This will lead to anti-abortion groups shifting their attention to areas where abortions are still legally performed.

In New York City, the Archdiocese leads a campaign of clinic harassment every month in all five boroughs — with the blessing and sanction of the police. The police do not help patients enter the clinic safely but escort the clinic harassers — whom they seem to be on friendly terms with — and threaten and intimidate clinic defenders. It is well-known that police and far right are close allies, sometimes one and the exact same. We cannot rely on them to protect abortion patients. We will need to mount a militant response against the right in less restrictive states.

Moreover, the criminalization of providing abortion care and “aiding and abetting” abortion puts pregnant people in grave danger. Some states may make “life of the mother” exemptions. However, most American hospitals are not for-profit and religiously affiliated nonprofits. They also oppose abortion. There is seldom a clearly demarcated point at which an abortion becomes absolutely, unambiguously medically necessary. A private health care facility may not risk criminal charges in order to save a patient’s life. Savita Halappanavar succumbed to sepsis after doctors refused to perform an abortifacient. The doctors said that even though her pregnancy was not viable, a fetal beat was still detected. Andrea Prudente from America, who is currently being airlifted out to Malta, the only country in Europe that has a total ban on abortion, is at this time. Despite her pregnancy being unviable and her doctor refusing to perform an abortion, Prudente still faces the same fate. Her fetal heartbeat has been detected and her doctors have refused to give an abortion. The U.S. leads the developed countries in childbirth-related mortality. With the end RoeIt will be more dangerous to give birth in America.

Many reproductive rights organizations advise that pro-choice activists put aside “coat hanger” imagery and refrain from dwelling on history of dangerous back-alley abortions. This is not to erase the past of violence that was associated with abortion bans, but it unproductively obscures today’s abortion situation. Because of the availability of the abortion pill and the networks that allow for access via the mail, self-managed abortions have never been safer. Even home abortions can be safely performed using aspiration. They are actually safer than home births, contrary to the right-wing rumor that abortion and the abortion pills are more dangerous than childbirth. This lies is used by the right to force clinics to close and make it unnecessary burdensome to obtain the abortion pill.

However, the secrecy in which abortions have had to happen historically is what made them so dangerous — that people don’t know how such abortions can be performed safely, or even the basic facts of pregnancy (a situation that’s especially dire in red states given a lack of sex education in schools). The police enforce this secrecy. Laws against “aiding and abetting abortion” — and the ensuing climate of fear, secrecy, and isolation — are what kill pregnant people, not self-managed abortions.

If we are to resist abortion bans, each one of us must be prepared to “aid and abet abortion,” whether that’s being trained in administering a self-managed abortion, buying and donating abortion pills, driving someone across state lines to receive an abortion, participating in clinic defense, or donating to an abortion fund. We must not lose sight of the ultimate goal, which is to create a mass movement for free abortion on demand as an inalienable human right.