Women’s Health Round Table–a Vital Conversation on the Future of Roe v. Wade


July 10, 2018 in Downers Grove, IL

The Panel:

  • Assistant Professor Martha Kanter, Northwestern University School of Law
  • Laura Greene Welch, president of Will County Chapter, National Organization for Women
  • Sean Casten, Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress, Illinois 6th District
  • Dr. Ramsey Ellis, M.D., MPH, advocate for NARAL and Pro-Choice America
  • Laura Carol DeBolt, pro-choice advocate
  • Dr. Susan Nedza, M.D., MBA, formerly an emergency room physician in the western suburbs of Chicago

There were approximately 75 attendees this morning in Downers Grove, mostly women, when the Women’s Health Round Table convened. The topic was primarily the future of Roe v. Wade and general reproductive health choices for women in light of yesterday’s nomination of Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sean Casten welcomed everyone and opened the panel discussion with his statement that he is pro-choice when it comes to women’s health care and reproductive health decisions, and that he was there to listen and learn as many of us were.

What followed was a discussion of Women’s Health Care in the context of abortion and contraception. Abortion has been under assault ever since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade in 1973. The case was brought on the constitutionality of laws that criminalized or restricted access to abortions, and the 7-2 decision was based on the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment, that is, that the right to privacy extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion. Over the next 45 years, the right to legal and safe abortion has been whittled away and in some states today, there remains only one clinic that provides this service, sometimes fettered with additional legal requirements for things like ultrasounds, counseling, and extended waiting periods up to several days.

Dr. Ramsey Ellis encouraged attendees to consider the abortion-related data available at the Guttmacher Institute (https://www.guttmacher.org). She cited several statistics from Guttmacher, which include the following.

  1. One out of four American women will have an abortion.
  2. Of abortions in the U.S., 90% occur within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
  3. Of abortions in the U.S., 98% occur within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  4. Only 2% of the abortions occur in late-term pregnancy, and most of these are done in the interest of the health of the mother or because of gross anomalies in the developing fetus.

Dr. Ellis also pointed out that for poor women and for many women of color, Roe is already dead. Having the right to abortion is different from having access to abortion and whether it’s affordable or not.

Laura Greene Welch, president of Will County NOW, spoke and shared with the audience that she had chosen to have one of the 2% late-term abortions, due to a non-viable fetus. Welch went on to make the following salient points.

  • In making her choice, she had had the support of her physician-husband, her family and her friends.
  • She pointed out that abortion, like the LGBT lifestyle 20 years ago, wrongly carries a sense of shame that will only disappear if and when personal stories are shared. She used the analogy that when LGBTQ persons came out to their family, friends, and work associates, the misplaced sense of shame and need to hide one’s sexual identity fell away quickly and the Marriage Equality Act happened to the relief of most Americans.
  • She pointed out that in some states where the right to abortion has been severely weakened, it is still available to victims of rape or incest. Laura said if you think about that, it means a girl or a woman has to be violated before she can legally exercise her right to choose what happens to her own body.
  • Welch also cited the economic skeleton underlying abortion rights and affordable and easy access to birth control. Women make up over 60% of the American workforce and white women earn $0.77 for every $1 earned by white men. Latino women earn $0.68 per $1, and black women earn closer to $0.60 per $1 earned by white men. The gender wage gap keeps poor women poor, and since most of them are single mothers, their children are also caught in a cycle of poverty that too often scars them for their lifetime.

POOR MOMS = POOR KIDS

POOR KIDS = POOR NUTRITION = POOR HEALTH CARE = POOR EDUCATION

Martha Kanter, assistant professor of Law at Northwestern University, shared her belief that “Roe will be chipped away” over the long term. In fact, we’ve already seen that happen. Eventually the legal right to abortion may rest with each state, so she admonished the audience to “pay attention to the small stuff,” meaning what’s happening at the state level.

Professor Kanter pointed out that a civil society supported by a system of laws offers its citizens a “stability in knowing your rights and being able to plan your life accordingly.” But women are not in a stable place right now, and we make up over 50% of those citizens.

Professor Kanter was posed the following question: If one more state passes the Equal Rights Amendment and if it becomes inscribed in our Constitution, would that make a difference? Her answer was, “It might.” In the meantime, she offered that Roe has been around for 45 years and has become for most Americans one of America’s “shared values,” which gives it some resiliency under legal assault. She cited the recent Marriage Equality Act that passed relatively quickly with so many Americans acknowledging family members and co-workers and friends who were members of the LGBTQ community. Attitudes change over time and the drive to go forward is greater than staying in place or moving backward. But can we rely on this effect given the current political climate?

Susan Nedza, M.D., shared several of her patient stories from her practice as an ER physician in suburban hospitals before the passage of the ACA.

  • Being an abused woman was a pre-existing condition. Thus many didn’t come to the hospital until they were so severely injured they had no choice. If it happened too often, they might lose insurance coverage, and then which insurance plan would cover them?
  • Using an economic argument, Dr. Nedza also emphasized that poor moms equal sick kids. Poor mothers didn’t have health care coverage, and they couldn’t afford treatment for their sick children, so they came to the ER when the situation became dire.

Dr. Nedza summarized it this way: Women’s Health = Community Health. When women are healthy, the community is too.

Women need choices to exercise their rights. Studies show that when birth control is readily available and affordable, the abortion rate drops. But the directed assault on Planned Parenthood and the gag rule allowing clinics to omit abortion information from, in many cases, poor women, blurs or erases their right to choose. Cutting funding to Planned Parenthood eliminates affordable birth control to many women, so either the abortion rate or children born into poverty climbs.

My final thought is simply this: No law will ever ban abortion; such a law can only ban safe and legal abortion, and that’s a negative outcome for all Americans in the 21st century.

Beverly George

Health Care