Statement on Dobbs Decision, Published July 26, 2022
This statement is co-signed by the Director and Core Faculty in Health & Medical Humanities (HHUM), College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (now CHESS), University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
As teachers and scholars of health and medical humanities, we are concerned about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Overturning nearly fifty years of legal precedent, a politicized court has willfully deprived Americans of a fundamental right to bodily autonomy and to make medical decisions free from excessive government intervention in the face of widespread public support for abortion as healthcare. Patient autonomy is a cornerstone of Western medicine. Still, the Court’s decision effectively disempowers pregnant patients by denying them the authority to make informed decisions about their own medical care. In addition, the decision gives state governments the power to override physicians’ judgment, even going so far as allowing states to fine or imprison healthcare providers who terminate pregnancies to save the mother’s life. This threatens the physician-patient relationship by undermining the patient's trust that the physician is acting in her best medical interest or is more concerned about legal liability. It directly endangers medicine as an attractive industry or field. It ensures that individuals will die for want of necessary healthcare, for example, from sepsis from an ectopic pregnancy, while a doctor waits for legal permission to operate. Physicians from across the country have raised serious ethical questions about the clinical implications of state-mandated abortion bans.
The American Public Health Care Association has denounced the Supreme Court Abortion decision as a setback to reproductive rights. The APHA Executive Director, Georges Benjamin, MD, stated that "a pubic health strategy to achieve health in all policies, economic equality, social justice and human rights should protect and advance access to abortions and reproductive justice" (as cited in the Nation's Health, August 2022, page 7). The article also cited U.N. Women who argue that "reproductive rights are central to women's rights… the ability of women to control what happens to their own bodies is also associated with the roles women are able to play in society." The two most critical historical associations in the U.S. (the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians) filed a joint friend of the court brief in opposition to Dobbs case. In response to the Dobbs decision, the AHA and OAH issued a joint statement denouncing its rationale as historically inaccurate (see link below).
In many of their core courses and electives, our HHUM students explore issues around healthcare access and marginalization. The recent Court decision raises questions: What does a post-Roe America hold in store for patients and providers alike in different regions of the country? Who will benefit from this decision, and which groups will it disadvantage? How will abortion access vary depending on factors related to race, class, gender identity, (dis)ability, and immigration status? And what role does reproductive justice entail in political and clinical practice?
This decision will be the most detrimental for those already marginalized, further ingraining inequalities (e.g., Black and QTPOC people). We affirm that abortion access, birth control, affordable housing, paid family leaves, affordable, high-quality childcare, employment opportunities, and healthcare are fundamental rights. The setbacks for racial and gender equality cannot be exaggerated. The Dobbs decision will have devastating consequences for all individuals in need of abortion services, whatever their reason for wanting to end their pregnancy. Personal decisions about reproduction are among the most consequential choices a person can make. People living in states with abortion bans will be disempowered to make autonomous choices about their own reproductive healthcare for themselves. Absent constitutional protections, anyone who can become pregnant will suffer since ending Roe will not end the need for abortion; it will simply shift where abortions are happening, for whom, and under what conditions. Some pregnant people will die without the ability to terminate life-threatening pregnancies.
Despite these attacks HHUM professors and students will continue to talk about fundamental human rights as outlined by the United Nations and World Health Organization. We will continue to create spaces in which our students ask critical questions about the outcomes of this activist court. In short, abortion access is healthcare access.
*The term ‘women/mothers’ is used; however, we recognize that the term ‘pregnant women’ or ‘woman’ may not reflect how some pregnant individuals may identify.