Seven Northwestern University academics, experts in a variety of disciplines, including law, gender studies, sociology and reproductive health came together Friday at a virtual news conference.
Ostensibly, the gather was meant for reporters to ask questions about the overturning of Roe V. Wade. But there were a few moments when it felt a bit more like it was meant to highlight the country’s continuing debate and divisions on the issue of abortion.
During a discussion about the life-saving nature of abortions, Dr. Cassing Hammond, an Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said states passing restrictive abortion legislation are preventing doctors from carrying out potentially life-saving procedures.
“The Supreme Court justices are nine attorneys. They’re not physicians,” said Hammond. “And what they did today was considered a form of medical malpractice. That’s what they did. They are truly putting mental health and the lives of women at risk.”
Ronald J. Allen, the John Henry Wigmore Professor of Law at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, disagreed with Hammond’s statement about the justice’s decision. He said while he supports abortions on a personal level, the structure of the government does not suggest that abortion should be a right.
“Cassing, you say that what the Supreme Court did is medical malpractice? Actually, what the Supreme Court did is say that’s not our job,” said Allen. “You want the Supreme Court to decide what kind of drugs to use and what kind of therapies are appropriate? I dont.”
Allen argued that the decision to ban or permit abortions lay in the realm of the legislature, and that citizens should make sure they’re voting for legislators with whom they have common values.
“If you’re gonna accept the decision-making process of these nine unelected people posing complex moral, social, political structures on the rest of us, you got to take the risk that you’re gonna lose,” he added.
Banning or permitting abortions is a question of liberty and life, said Laura Beth Nielsen, a Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology, and the director of legal studies at Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University, in response to Allen’s remarks. She said the maternal mortality rate is projected to go by 7 to 9% overall, and 13% for Black women, just from forced birth. Abortions are also extremely expensive, and states aren’t going to pay for women to raise a child, she added.
dr Melissa Simon, the Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Director of the Center for Heath Equity Transformation at Feinberg, also spoke to the life-saving nature of an abortion, saying that in an ectopic pregnancy, a person could the without an abortion.
“If the state outlaws you from removing the pregnancy, and you will get put in jail, or you let the person die, what do you do?” said Simon. “To put us [medical providers] in the situation of watching someone die, I’ve been there, and it is absolutely untenable and awful.”
Panelists also expressed some differing thoughts on whether citizens should anticipate cross-border prosecutions for individuals traveling to another state to receive an abortion
Allen said he believes the probability of that happening is close to zero. “There’s a right to travel,” he said. “Indiana can’t make it illegal to go to Las Vegas to gamble.”
Speaking up, Watson said she hopes the right to travel will prevent this issue, but that anti-choice advocates may try and push the limits. “Although some of those prosecutions may not ultimately be successful, it won’t mean that they won’t be pursued,” she said. This could lead to pictures and names of those individuals ending up in the news, breaching their medical privacy, she added.
Nielsen also jumped in, reminding the audience that the Supreme Court decision allows a state to criminalize abortions, but does not require it. While there are states with trigger laws, which would immediately establish anti-abortion laws, there are still many where abortion is legal and safe, she said.
Abortion policies across the US from The Guttmacher Institute.
A breakdown of the various abortion laws within the United States. Credit: The Guttmacher Institute