The Implication of Changes to the Supreme Court on Reproductive Health

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement raises questions about the future of Roe v. Wade and how any changes to the federal law could impact women’s access to abortion and reproductive health care more generally. In September, before Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the court, the Center for Law, Health & Society at Georgia State Law hosted a panel presentation “Beyond Roe: Changes to the Supreme Court and Implications for Reproductive Health.”

Moderator, Paul Lombardo

Paul Lombardo, Regents’ Professor and Bobby Lee Cook Professor of Law, moderated the panel. His introduction emphasized the domino effect of overturning Roe. “If Roe is overturned, other important Supreme Court cases will be up for grabs, including Griswold on birth control, Skinner on sterilization, and cases relying on a right to privacy, such as Cruzan on the right to die, and Windsor and Obergefell on same sex marriage,” said Lombardo.

Lauren MacIvor Thompson (Ph.D. ’16), a faculty fellow with the center and a lecturer of history at Georgia State’s Perimeter College, reminded the audience of physicians’ critical role in the development of reproductive rights in the United States historically and in the future. “Physicians viewed laws against abortion as improper government imposition on their medical practice. While Roe is seen as a feminist success story, in actuality, the physician lobby was integral in achieving this victory,” said Thompson. “Roe is on shaky ground, and the continued support and expertise of physicians will be critical moving forward.”

Eric Segall, Kathy and Laurence Ashe Professor of Law, argued that Roe is unlikely to be overturned. “Roe is the single best tool the Republicans have in an election,” he said. “Republican candidates can run against the court’s stance on abortion rather than their Democrat opponent.” Segall thinks the real danger is in the court allowing states to impose more restrictions on abortion. “Wealthy women will be able to obtain safe abortions, but poor women will have a much harder time, with substantially increased medical risks.”

Jerri Nims Rooker (J.D. ’03), COO of Teach Every Nation and a pro-life advocate presented the pro-life perspective. “At what stage should human life be protected?” she asked, before outlining the many different biological, religious and legal answers to this question from conception to birth. “The interests of both parties, mothers and fetuses, must be considered,” said Nims Rooker. “The Supreme Court has the opportunity to provide greater human rights protections for fetuses, a vulnerable population, by reconsidering the decision in Roe.”

Unsurprisingly, the question period following the presentations was lively, but the panelists agreed that education and public health efforts to address the social determinants of health and to prevent unintended pregnancies are critical for the future of reproductive health, whatever the fate of Roe.

View a recording of the event.