COVID has laid bare our country's terrible health disparities for all to see. One cannot be human and turn away from these life-threatening inequities.
In this pandemic, communities of color have faced substantially higher rates of infection, hospitalization and death. And despite laudable efforts from leaders and health care providers, these disparities persist.
Now, while still in the midst of the pandemic, the Supreme Court is preparing to issue a monumental decision that many of us believe will either eliminate or dramatically weaken access to abortion in at least 26 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
So instead of moving forward on eliminating health disparities, we are about to take a huge step backward.
This week, the new conservative majority on the Supreme Court begins reviewing a Mississippi state law that bans all abortion after 15 weeks. By July 2022, the court is likely to overturn or significantly weaken the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in this country since 1973.
Without Roe, the question of abortion rights will be left to individual states — and with abortion opponents in power in many state legislatures and governor's offices, we are likely to see more abortion bans take effect nationwide.
But when we talk about abortion bans, let's be honest that a ban is only an actual ban for people with low incomes, people of color and those in rural communities. Wealthier people will suffer no "ban" at all; they will book a hotel and jump on a plane to a state where abortion is protected.
It would be more apt to describe these policies as an assault on people who are already banned from other health care they need. Restricting abortion access will result in forced pregnancy for many people and will worsen existing race- and income-based health disparities by driving up maternal and infant mortality rates, according to a brief from 550 public-health and reproductive-health researchers asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the dangerous Mississippi abortion law.
Abortion is health care and all health care decisions — including whether or not to have an abortion — are deeply personal and should be made between a patient and doctor. Each pregnancy is a unique and individual situation that is best left to patients and their doctors to navigate, without interference from politicians or courts.
That's why respected organizations like the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) have also filed amicus briefs opposing the Mississippi abortion law. Locally, the Minnesota chapters of the AMA and ACOG recently joined Planned Parenthood and hundreds of other clinicians to speak out on this pivotal health justice issue in a full-page Star Tribune ad.
Beyond medical professionals, large majorities of citizens in our state and country also support the right to safe, legal abortion. A September 2018 Star Tribune/Minnesota Public Radio survey found just 12% of Minnesotans support overturning Roe and this is also true nationwide, a reminder that a vocal minority who oppose abortion are currently overrepresented in state legislatures nationwide.
Minnesota is surrounded by states that are set to ban abortion once the Supreme Court issues its decision in the Mississippi case. This includes South Dakota and North Dakota, which are among the 12 states with "trigger laws" that will ban abortion at the state level as soon as the court strikes down the Roe decision.
This reality makes protecting the right to abortion in Minnesota more critical than ever, both for our state and our region.
While we await the court's decision, Planned Parenthood health centers in Minnesota are actively preparing to care for an influx of patients from restricted states who may need abortion services in the near future. It will be difficult, but we are committed to working with our amazing staff, donors and partners to help as many people as possible.
But despite our best efforts, not all people will be able to make the long, expensive trips to get the care they need across state lines. So when we talk about abortion bans, let's be clear about who is — and is not — affected by these bans.
Sarah Stoesz is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States.