The overturning of Roe v. Wade would seriously hinder women’s education, employment, and earning prospects.

By Sheelah Kolhatkar, The New Yorker

Last December, oral arguments were held before the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case leading to the leaked draft opinion last week that, if finalized, would overturn Roe v. Wade. During one especially illuminating moment, Chief Justice John Roberts attempted to draw Julie Rikelman—the litigation director of the Center for Reproductive Rights, who was arguing to have a ban on abortions after fifteen weeks in the state of Mississippi overturned—into a back-and-forth about the significance of the cutoff for having access to an abortion. Rikelman made a broader argument, that narrowing women’s access to the procedure could disproportionately harm low-income women or those experiencing personal crises. She turned to numbers to bolster her argument. “In fact,” Rikelman said, “the data has been very clear over the last fifty years that abortion has been critical to women’s equal participation in society. It’s been critical to their health, to their lives, their ability to pursue—”

Womens March in Washington demanding continued access to abortion after the ban on most abortions in Texas and looming threat to Roe v Wade in upcoming Supreme Court

“I’m sorry, what—what kind of data is that?” Roberts interrupted.

When Rikelman tried to answer, Roberts interrupted again. “Well, putting that data aside,” he said, “why would fifteen weeks be an inappropriate line?”

Listening to the exchange, Caitlin Myers, an economics professor at Middlebury College who studies gender, race, and the effects of reproductive-health policies on people’s lives, was stunned. Why would a Supreme Court Justice, in considering such a crucial issue, not be interested in knowing “the data”? Roberts’s colleagues signalled a similar disregard in the draft opinion for the Dobbs case that was published by Politico: the Justices behind the opinion seemed not to care about the issue. Where the original Roe decision acknowledged that making people carry and raise unwanted children could “force upon” women “a distressful life and future,” the draft opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, barely mentioned the substantial ways that the loss of access to safe, legal abortion would hamper the ability of women to participate fully in society.

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