As the U.S. Supreme Court’s new term got underway Monday, a group of abortion-rights activists gathered downtown, warning of a possible return to the “Dark Ages” for women’s reproductive rights.
“I’m very angry that we are facing the concrete possibility that in the immediate future, birthing people could have fewer reproductive rights than we did when I was born 35 years ago,” said Gina Rozman-Wendle, president of the Chicago chapter of the National Organization for Women.
Or as Jennifer Welch, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, put it: “It may be the very last time that we have a Supreme Court that recognizes Roe [v. Wade] as the rule of our land.”
That stark language was spurred by a Texas law that went into effect Sept. 1 that prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, which is usually around six weeks and before some women even know they are pregnant. The ban is enforced through lawsuits brought by private citizens, who don’t have to be from Texas and who are entitled to claim at least $10,000 in damages if successful.
The Supreme Court declined to block the law from taking effect while that case makes its way through the legal system. In its 5-4 ruling, the court emphasized that it was not addressing the constitutionality of the law — only that those seeking an emergency stay had not met the high burden to block it.
The high court will hear arguments Dec. 1 in Mississippi’s bid to have the landmark Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing a woman’s right to an abortion overturned. Mississippi is asking the high court to uphold its ban on most abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.
In addition to the national implications for the high court’s ruling in the Mississippi case, the Chicago activists said they’re also worried about a slew of “copycat” anti-abortion laws around the country that are already “in the pipeline.”
Mary FioRito, a lawyer and the former director of the Respect Life Office at the Archdiocese of Chicago, said the Mississippi case could “very well overturn Roe vs. Wade.”
But FioRito, who describes Roe as “terrible constitutional law,” says that doesn’t mean Illinois women couldn’t get abortions here. She pointed to the state’s Reproductive Health Act, sweeping legislation that established women’s access to the procedure as a “fundamental right” and that Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law in 2019.
If Roe is overturned, “We’re going to have likely a patchwork of laws [nationally],” said FioRito, who is now a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
“Abortion is certainly going to remain legal in Illinois. It’s certainly going to remain legal in New York and probably in Colorado ... . So probably in the blue states, it will remain very much the way it is right now,” FioRito said.
Welch said there has been a steady uptick in recent years of women coming to Illinois to have abortions, and that she expects the numbers to increase “dramatically” as a result of the new Texas law.
“The people most impacted by this are the folks who don’t have the resources to travel easily,” Welch said.
Rozman-Wendle said it’s interesting that people who support anti-abortion laws have been known to march against COVID-19 vaccine mandates wearing signs that read, “My body, my choice.”
“But they take no issue with laws that dictate our choice whether or not to bear a child — a choice that [U.S. Supreme Court Justice] Ruth Bader Ginsburg once described as central to a person’s life, to their well-being and dignity,” she said.