Measuring Dobbs’ Lasting Harm

On the anniversary of the SCOTUS decision that overthrew Roe, two Chicago-based pro-choice groups discuss what the fallout has been.

Nayanika Guha

Protesters in Chicago at an abortion rights rally on June 24, 2022. They were protesting the Supreme Court decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health case, which overturned the landmark case of Roe. Photo by Natasha Moustache/Getty Images

One year ago this week, the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, upholding Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, invalidating the precedents set by both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey and revoking the constitutional right to abortion.

Today, 22 million U.S. women and girls of reproductive age live in states where abortion access is now heavily restricted or completely inaccessible. Since the Dobbs decision, 14 states have passed full abortion bans and another six have enacted bans after six to 20 weeks of gestation. The impact of the ruling extends far beyond just abortion, resulting in higher rates of maternal mortality, health complications and additional forms of physical, emotional and financial distress. Human Rights Watch has declared the fallout a human rights crisis.

As the nation has been divided into two countries — one where people are able to control their bodies and one where they cannot — groups like the Chicago Abortion Fund (CAF) and Personal PAC have worked tirelessly to stand in the gap, connecting abortion seekers from across the Midwest to providers in Illinois and beyond, and organizing to support political leaders who might undo the damage done, respectively. CAF’s policy of not turning any caller away means that their work has more than quadrupled in the past year, while Personal PAC is busy organizing regional chapters across the state to strengthen local activism.

Megan Jeyifo, executive director of CAF, and Sarah Garza Resnick, CEO of Personal PAC, spoke to In These Times this week about the year since Dobbs, and what might happen next. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Nayanika Guha: A year after Dobbs, how is the abortion crisis unfolding on a day-to-day basis?

Megan Jeyifo: A human rights crisis, a public health crisis is exactly what this is. What people are now experiencing in order to access abortion care is excruciating. It was already a very frayed line pre-Dobbs, and this has made it that much worse. While Roe was not great — it did not guarantee access to abortion — it was at least something. It’s been devastating to see the consequences of this decision not just on individuals, but on families. And that’s the thing we stress the most: the majority of people having abortions are already parenting. Forcing parents to figure out how to take care of their children while having to drive or fly or take a train to access an abortion, how to pay for that, how to get time off work — I can’t tell you how many people I speak to that say, I’ve lost my job because of this, because I’ve taken too much time off trying to access this procedure, because I don’t have the time banked.”

We hear from 250-300 people a week now. It should not be this way. What we are forcing people to go through right now is inhumane.

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NG: Who’s been harmed most by the Dobbs decision?

MJ: I think Black women in particular, as well as Indigenous people, people of color, queer people and people in rural communities. The rural piece is really difficult, since typically people are most able to access care in a major city and it’s not always easy to access a major city. We’ve worked with many people who need to fly a small plane from a regional airport in order to get to the nearest airport that flies into Chicago. 

This is also not just an issue facing people that we consider low income. The middle class in this country is disappearing, and most people don’t have $500 set aside for a first-trimester abortion, let alone how much money they need to spend to actually get to that abortion. This is hitting people very deeply in their pockets.

"Last year, we spent about $590,000 on abortion care. This year, we've spent close to $3 million. That's more than four times as much. We've had to increase our staff from five people to 17, and we still can't keep up with the demand."

NG: What consequences do people face if they’re denied an abortion? 

Sarah Garza Resnick: It’s forced parenthood. We’re forcing people to become parents when they’re not ready — economically, emotionally and mentally. And people who already are parents, who know how hard it is to be a parent, are trying to do what’s right for our children, and know they can’t do any more. If people are denied access to an abortion, that really is an economic, kitchen table issue. This country does not have a care economy, and we do a terrible job supporting families. And so we’re just basically destituting people to be further sent down that spiral.

MJ: There’s no legal recourse when someone is denied an abortion; it is legal in this country to deny them access to life-saving, life-affirming health care, and there’s really nothing you can do other than figure out a way to travel. There is medication abortion, which can be taken up to a certain gestation, and there are organizations that support people getting access to medication abortion in states where it’s banned. But medication abortion is not always a good choice for everyone. And that option comes with the fear of criminalization. We know that Black and brown people are already criminalized for pregnancy outcomes, just as a result of living their day-to-day lives, so it can be really nerve-racking for someone to consider abortion pills as an option. There’s also the cost of medication — that’s not free. 

In terms of what it means to be denied an abortion, it causes lasting harm. Again, the majority of people seeking abortions are parents, so there are lasting impacts, for decades, for their families. Compared to people who are denied the abortion they seek, people who are able to access abortion are more financially stable, more likely to have a wanted child later on, have better health outcomes and are better able to cover basic food and other expenses even years later. Those who are denied abortions are more likely to experience debt, eviction and bankruptcy. So denying someone this has really long implications — economic implications in particular — which affect not just individuals, and not just families, but entire communities.

NG: Are abortion clinics in states that maintain abortion rights overburdened by the influx of abortion seekers from states where it’s been banned? What resources are needed to manage this? 

MJ: Last year, we spent about $590,000 on abortion care. This year, we’ve spent close to $3 million. That’s more than four times as much. We’ve had to increase our staff from five people to 17, and we still can’t keep up with the demand. Our director-level staff does direct service every day. I woke up at 7:00 today, texting with a grantee whose ride to a hospital this morning fell through. We’re a really small organization, without any dedicated development team, so as we’re managing this influx, we’re also figuring out how to talk about it, to make sure we have the resources to sustain our work. 

The first time that I’ve been very scared about our budget was over the weekend. It just keeps going up. We’re going to be a year post-Dobbs, and I worried, is this going to be important to people anymore? Are people going to continue to move their money to support abortion access? Are they going to continue to invest in our work, when there’s so many other competing crises in this country? CAF is carrying so much. We hear from every single provider in the state, every single day, about what their patients need. And if we’re not resourced, people won’t get to their appointments. I think providers need us and we need them, and we both need to be resourced to be able to support people.

NG: What kind of organizing efforts are happening in the Midwest around abortion rights now?

SGR: Illinois is so fortunate from a legal and statutory perspective. We have an amazing champion in the governor’s office; we have overwhelming pro-choice super-majorities in our General Assembly in Springfield. But unfortunately, I don’t see a federal fix coming for decades, unless it‘s an outright ban, which would be cataclysmic for all of us. So what Illinois must do next is create a long-term ecosystem where we have these amazing policies on the books, but we’re also looking operationally at how we can continue to be the leader in receiving medical refugees into our state. And that takes a lot of coordination. 

Here at Personal PAC, we’re not abortion providers. We convene everybody to think about what are you doing at the state level, at the county level, at the municipal level? What do the providers and abortion funds need? What has really changed post-Dobbs is that the fight is now at the local level. In Danville, Illinois, anti-choice advocates are trying to pass sanctuaries for the unborn” in local communities, which clearly violate Illinois law. But that is going to spread and we must organize and make sure voters know what’s going on. 

From an electoral perspective, abortion rights is a huge motivator for people — especially young people — to go to the polls. It was a central point of the Chicago mayoral election and I believe it’s one of the main reasons we saw such an increase in youth turnout between the February and April elections: because we put this front and center in front of voters, that saying you’re pro-choice ain’t enough. We are the third-largest city in America. We need a mayor who is going to talk about equitable access to abortion. Mayor Lightfoot’s office did a tremendous amount, but now we have a full-time staffer in the office who just deals with reproductive health care and gender violence issues. We also worked to create a pledge that our new mayor, Brandon Johnson, signed concerning a lot of other things that are going to happen. 

"I hope the last couple of years have crystallized for people that there aren't any single-issue struggles, and the struggles that working class people are facing, people of color are facing, women and LGBTQIA folks are experiencing, are all really interconnected."

NG: What are you concerned about in terms of future attacks on reproductive rights and justice? What’s coming next?

SGR: My hope is that this insanity can end and abortion can just be treated like every other type of health care, and we can move on to create a care economy that actually works for women and working families. I unfortunately think that we are misogynistic enough [as a country] that we are not going to solve this problem. It’s probably going to take a lot more pain happening to people who become pregnant in the decades to come. I just don’t see the extremist right wing doing an about-face on this, because they wanted to have this issue to always rile people up for election purposes. And now that it’s actually happened, I don’t think they can go backwards. But I do think that if we organize well, we will continue to win elections, and we will continue to galvanize people, and that is good for our society. I do hope people get more involved in local elections and know that is what matters. 

We’re going to have two very competitive state’s attorneys races, in Cook and Lake counties. To me, those are the most important races: who ends up being our state’s attorney, and their use of prosecutorial discretion about who gets prosecuted in cases about abortion rights, is so deeply important. 

MJ: I hope the last couple of years have crystallized for people that there aren’t any single-issue struggles, and the struggles that working class people are facing, people of color are facing, women and LGBTQIA folks are experiencing, are all really interconnected. So it’s really important for us to come together and make sure that we defeat white Christian nationalism and fascism. 

I don’t think we are going to solve this in our lifetime, or maybe our children’s lifetimes. So what kind of harm reduction can we do to try to support people navigating real cruelty? I think continuing to partner with like-minded people and really building your community is so important. And making sure that we’re raising our young people as best we can to navigate what is probably going to get worse before it gets better.

SGR: I’ll add that people have to talk about abortion. We have allowed it to become this shameful thing that it is not. I talk all the time about my own abortion. I am so grateful that I had the health care and the means to get it. It fundamentally shaped my life. I chose to become a mom later, and I know my children are better off that I became a mom when I did, and not in my early 20s. So people need to talk about it, and not shy away from it. There’s nothing that we’ve done wrong.

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Nayanika Guha is a freelance writer who writes about social justice, identity and community. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Lily, Refinery 29, and more. You can find her on Twitter.

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