- A leaked Supreme Court document shows that Roe v. Wade, which establishes a constitutional right to an abortion, may be overturned this summer. Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed the document’s authenticity.
- On May 11, a Democratic-led effort that would protect abortion rates was rejected on the Senate floor.
- If overturned, the historic ruling could lead to severe restrictions or total bans on abortions in at least 26 states.
- The ruling is an attack on reproductive rights for anyone with a uterus.
- Restricting safe access to abortion could have dire consequences for mental and physical health.
An impending Supreme Court decision that would restrict safe abortion access could affect the mental and physical health of millions of Americans.
On May 2, a leaked document published on Politico shows that the U.S. Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 ruling that provided the federal constitutional right to an abortion.
The court’s decision would come in June when it rules on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a pending case about a 2018 Mississippi state law that banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Chief Justice John Roberts released a statement on May 3 confirming the document’s authenticity but added that the court’s decision was not final, calling the leak an “egregious breach” of the court. That same day, a throng of demonstrators gathered in front of the Supreme Court in both protest and support of the leaked document.
Then on May 11, a Democratic effort to codify abortion protections was rejected by the Senate in a 49–51 vote.
The leaked initial draft majority opinion was written by Justice Samuel Alito in February and circulated around the court. The document claims there’s no constitutional right to an abortion and that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start.”
If the document, labeled as the “Opinion of the Court,” reflects the Supreme Court’s final decision, safe and legal abortion at the federal level will end, putting the decision to prohibit or provide abortions in the hands of state legislators.
“It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives,” Alito wrote.
While the document is only a first draft, the majority opinion of at least 5 votes suggests the end of Roe v. Wade is on the horizon. A formal opinion, which may include changes, is expected to be released in the next 2 months.
However, the draft opinion does not have an immediate effect on a person’s ability to have an abortion.
“This leaked opinion is horrifying,” said Meera Shah, MD, MA, MPH, Chief Medical Officer of Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic & National Medical Spokesperson at PPFA, in an email to Psych Central.
“Even though abortion is still a legal right —and anyone who could get an abortion yesterday can still get an abortion today —the consequences of this impending Supreme Court decision will be swift and devastating for communities nationwide.”
If Roe is overturned, 26 states could ban abortion, 13 of which — including Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Alabama — already have laws that could swiftly go into effect.
According to Shah, as many as 36 million women — nearly half of the women of reproductive age in the United States — plus anyone with a uterus who could become pregnant could soon lose abortion access.
“We know the harm that will come from this decision because we’ve seen it play out in Texas,” Shah said.
“People who do not have access to the financial resources and support they need to travel out of state are forced to carry pregnancies against their will, and some will seek abortion outside of the healthcare system.”
Roe v. Wade has been repeatedly challenged by conservatives for decades.
But in the case of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey in 1992, the court ruled that restrictions on abortion access were unconstitutional if they place an “undue burden” on the person in need of one.
This “undue burden” could have severe mental and physical health consequences for those who could be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.
Mental health effects
Imagine needing an abortion and not being able to get one safely, or having to travel across state lines to “illegally” obtain one.
Jennifer Litner, PhD, LMFT, CST, a sexologist and therapist at Embrace Sexual Wellness in Chicago and Psych Central Medical Advisory Board member told Psych Central that lack of access to abortion could have negative socioeconomic consequences for families, and affect the development of a person’s existing children.
“One study suggests people who are denied an abortion tend to be solo-parents, in abusive relationships, experience poverty, and be less likely to achieve their aspirational future plans,” Litner said.
Impact on marginalized groups
In states where abortion would become illegal or severely restricted, People of Color and the transgender community could be disproportionately affected.
“We know the physical, mental, and financial harm that being denied an abortion can cause and that those from Black, Latino, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, and other communities historically targeted by racism, bias, and discrimination will disproportionately feel the effects of abortion bans and restrictions,” Shah said.
The legal consequences of being denied an abortion are already evident in states like Texas, where 26-year-old Lizelle Herrera was charged with murder following an allegedly self-induced abortion, though the charges were later dropped.
But pregnant people seeking safe abortion access aren’t the only ones who face legal repercussions. In some states, healthcare workers, whose job it is to help others, could even be fined or sent to prison for providing an abortion.
“The threat of facing legal repercussions must be recognized as having the potential to impact the ways in which healthcare workers function both professionally and personally,” said Kendra Kubala, PsyD, a trauma psychologist in Pennsylvania and New York and Psych Central Medical Advisory Board member.
“By placing the additional stress of the potential for legal ramifications on the need to make crucial medical decisions, we are forcing medical professionals to question [or] revise what they know to be the best level of care for their patients.”
Kubala added that healthcare workers have their own families and lives outside of work, and adding the fear that their safety may be at risk could result in:
- heightened stress
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- other mental health challenges
The long-term repercussions of restricting or banning abortion access are wide-ranging and not yet understood. But if the possibility that Roe will be overturned has you feeling afraid or downright angry, you’re certainly not alone.
This surreal and historic moment is an opportunity for those of us who care about basic human rights to come together and support each other and stand up for justice in the pursuit of desired medical care.
“Abortion is healthcare,” Shah said. “Planned Parenthood and our partners have been preparing for every possible outcome in this case for decades. Even in light of this leaked opinion, we will continue to provide the healthcare and education that has made Planned Parenthood a trusted resource for millions of people — no matter what.”