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If you’re anything like us over here at Team Cosmo, you’re still reeling from last week’s controversial news that Roe v. Wade—the landmark decision that has allowed pregnant Americans to get safe and legal abortions since 1973—may be overturned by the Supreme Court before the end of summer. (ICYMI, read all about the leaked draft decision here.)
Learning that the majority of our (very white, very male) Supreme Court justices aren’t in support of one’s legal right to an abortion was admittedly a hard pill to swallow (no pun intended). The topic of abortion has been a hotly debated topic for decades, but fighting for its continued legalization feels more important now than ever before.
According to the Pew Research Center, only 8 percent of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal in all cases, with no exceptions. But if Roe is overturned, states will be free to enforce their own restrictions on all their citizens. (Not only that, but the reversal would make doctors who perform abortions liable and subject to possible lawsuits and imprisonment, impact other laws related to fertility and contraception, and prevent pregnant people from getting life-saving medical care…but I won’t get into that right now.)
So what do we, the other 92 percent of Americans, do in a situation like this? To put it simply: We speak up. We share our opinions and personal stories—and not just with like-minded friends. One of the most powerful ways to make formative change is to talk with people whose mindsets differ from your own—whether it be your adamantly anti-choice uncle or your college BFF who has been a staunch conservative since your dorm days. Sure, those cringey conversations can be v awkward and uncomfortable, but I’m not being dramatic when I say that the lives of so many people depend on it.
To help make your discussions a little less disastrous, I tapped four experts to help put together a script of sorts, which you can use when responding to certain common (and often problematic) refrains related to the topics of Roe and abortion. A bit more about the brilliant experts I consulted, below.
Emily Amick, attorney at the Perles Law Firm, former counsel to Senator Chuck Schumer, and former legislative director of the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition. Her viral political Instagram account, @EmilyinYourPhone, shares bite-sized opinions relating to politics and the law.
Carliss Chatman, associate professor of law at William and Lee University School of Law, host of the podcast Getting Common, and author of the children’s book Companies Are People Too. Her primary scholarly focuses are legal personhood and corporate governance.
Michelle Simpson Tuegel, a nationally recognized victims’ rights attorney at The Simpson Tuegel Law Firm. A sexual abuse survivor herself, Simpson Tuegel has represented survivors in many high-profile cases, including the Larry Nassar litigation and litigation against the University of Southern California. She was also one of the first attorneys to sue Texas Governor Greg Abbott over the state’s anti-abortion legislation.
Mary Ziegler, the Stearns Weaver Miller professor at Florida State University College of Law, legal historian, and expert on the politics of reproduction, health care, and conservatism in the U.S. Ziegler has written four books on the subject of abortion in America: Dollars for Life, Abortion and the Law in America, Beyond Abortion, and After Roe.
Of course, it’s important to remember that abortion can be a tricky topic to navigate—especially if you’re deep in a debate with those who are privileged enough to have never had to think about it on a deeper level. Listen to friends and family members who have differing opinions, and try to understand where they’re coming from. Agree to disagree if you realize you aren’t getting anywhere.
Read on for some common refrains related to reproductive rights, and our experts’ responses.
“Sorry, but I’m just never going to change my mind because of my religion.”
Carliss Chatman: While you are entitled to your religious beliefs and guaranteed their protection under the First Amendment, the First Amendment also protects the rights of others to exercise their religious beliefs. The law does not allow you to impose your beliefs on others. For those of us who are Christians, the Bible explicitly states that we are not to judge others—as Christians, our mandate is to love. To love others without judgment or condition requires respect for their autonomy and their beliefs. The good news is that, in America, you do not have to change your mind. If you do not believe in abortion for religious reasons, no one will force you to have one. But, in return, that means that you cannot force your religious beliefs on someone else.
Emily Amick: That’s okay! The idea of being pro-choice is that everyone is free to make their own decisions about abortion, whether that be because of religious, moral, practical, or other reasons. You can be pro-choice and anti-abortion. How would you feel if the government was forcing someone else’s religious beliefs on you?
“We know better now than to think that a fetus is just a clump of cells—it’s a human life. Life begins at conception, and I'm against murder.”
Carliss Chatman: Where life begins medically is not clearly defined. Various religious traditions also define life as beginning at different points in time. For this reason, the decision of how late a woman can safely have an abortion without ending a viable life should be between her and her physician. Some fetal abnormalities do not present themselves until late in pregnancy. Some women have died from sepsis because a ban on abortion meant that when they began to miscarry very late into the pregnancy, the law prevented doctors from doing what was medically necessary to save their life: remove the fetus. Only a doctor can make a final decision on viability.
Mary Ziegler: There is no question that biological life begins at conception, and for those who oppose abortion, anyone who is biologically alive has legal rights and moral personhood. But the connection between moral and biological personhood is contested. Some religions permit abortion and even require it if a pregnant person’s life is at risk. Others may have secular reasons for believing abortion to be the most ethical choice. You may have sound reasons for your own moral views on abortion, but writing those views into law—and imposing them on others who disagree—is a different matter, especially when that will result in a spike in incarceration.
“We have to value ALL life—babies can’t defend themselves. Why shouldn’t a baby have the same rights as a woman?”
Michelle Simpson Tuegel: Instead of getting lost in the debate over when cells become a life, I would argue that the real question here is: What rights do we as human beings deserve to have over our own bodies? I would argue that, first and foremost, bodily autonomy when it comes to pregnancy is a fundamental right. Further, if the concern were truly about life, the same people calling for an end to abortion would be calling for measures related to gun control, nationalized health care and childcare, improving maternal health, and government assistance programs.
“If you don’t want to have a kid, then there’s always adoption. There are so many people who want a child.”
Carliss Chatman: Abortion is not simply about whether someone wants a child or not. Many people who have abortions do so for the protection of their own health or because the fetus is not viable. However, the reason for the abortion does not matter. A pregnant person should not be forced to give up control of their body for 10 months simply because there are others in the world who might want their child.
“Pregnancy is natural. Abortion is medically dangerous.”
Mary Ziegler: Research from 2012 indicates that in the United States, the risk of death in childbirth is 14 times higher than in induced abortion. And medication abortion, which now accounts for more than half of all abortions in the United States, has a similar safety profile to drugs we never give a second thought, including Viagra and even Tylenol.
Carliss Chatman: While pregnancy is natural, it can also be medically dangerous. Many conditions developed during pregnancy, like gestational diabetes and hypertension, continue after delivery, causing harm to the mother’s life forever. Maternal mortality rates are especially high for Black women, so remaining pregnant can be a death sentence. Abortion performed in a safe medical environment or under a doctor’s supervision is a relatively low-risk procedure. It has risks similar to other procedures performed by gynecologists and is less risky than some preventative diagnostic procedures, like colonoscopies.
“If people don’t want a baby...they shouldn’t have sex. Simple as that.”
Michelle Simpson Tuegel: The choice to engage in sexual relationships or activity should never be a source of shame or a reason for punishment. But somehow, in 2022, women are still bearing the brunt of society’s shame for sexual activity outside the confines dictated by men. In addition to the blatant sexism at the root of this argument, the unfortunate reality for many women in this country is that sex is not a choice but one of the many acts of violence threatened against us. It also omits or ignores situations of rape, incest, and danger to the health of the mother.
Mary Ziegler: Not all people who have abortions choose to have sex, and most states introducing abortion bans have no exceptions for rape and incest. Also, people who use birth control have to deal with the fact that every form of contraception has a failure rate. Beyond that, there is no reason to impose a double standard on people who can get pregnant. These are the people who are left alone to face the consequences of pregnancy, with no support from the government. Punishing people who can get pregnant because they can get pregnant is fundamentally unfair.
“Why is it ’my body, my choice’ when it comes to abortions but not when it comes to vaccines?”
Michelle Simpson Tuegel: As an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse and violence, I know that too often, women face pregnancies they had no choice in. I firmly believe that the choice of whether or not to end a pregnancy should be left entirely to the person who will have to see it to full-term, give birth, and one way or another deal with their life being forever changed.
Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, no one wants to be stripped of their ability to make private decisions about their own body. The raging reaction regarding vaccines and COVID-19 restrictions demonstrates this point more than ever, as many have a newfound love for bodily autonomy. Think of it like this: If the government should not be allowed to interfere with the medical decisions of a person during a worldwide pandemic, why should they be allowed to control a woman’s private decision regarding a pregnancy? Also, the decision of whether or not to get the COVID-19 vaccine is one that can put others at risk (if you choose not to get vaccinated, you can spread COVID-19 more easily since your immune system may not clear the coronavirus as quickly, making you contagious for longer), whereas the decision to get an abortion is one that impacts your body alone.
“Overturning Roe is just making it a state decision instead of federal. Don’t like it? Move. Or stay where it’s legal.”
Emily Amick: The immediate impact of overturning Roe is to allow states to make their own laws. Twenty-two states already have laws banning abortion that will go into effect if Roe is overturned, and at least four more are likely to ban abortion. However, that is not the end goal. Anti-choice activists and many Republican politicians have been working for years to pass a national abortion ban. In 2015 and 2018, congressional Republicans pushed for a national ban on abortions after 20 weeks. Some anti-choice activists have even been pushing for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion since Roe was decided.
More practically though, what about people who can’t afford to move? People who can’t take a bunch of days off work or away from their children? The impact of overturning Roe will be to make abortion only accessible to those who have the funds and time to travel. The Roe decision hinges on a right to privacy—that what we do in our bedrooms and with our bodies is our own business and constitutionally protected. Roe deemed abortion a fundamental right, and by putting the decision up to the states, it is saying that the liberty to make decisions about one’s own body will only be available to those who can afford it.
Michelle Simpson Tuegel: Living in one state in our country versus another should not dictate if a person has autonomy over their body. That argument also assumes that all women have the freedom and resources to simply move to a new state or travel to a state that allows abortions, which is fundamentally incorrect. The reality is that the women most impacted by Roe being overturned will not be the women who are able to pick up and move to another state. Our most vulnerable—immigrant women, women in poverty, women who are victims of sexual violence—will be the most impacted.
“This is just too divisive of a topic. I don’t want to say anything about it either way. People get too up in arms.”
Emily Amick: It can definitely be difficult to have conversations about abortion access, as it’s an extremely fraught and polarized issue. However, there are two things I’d ask you to think about:
1. Maybe the reason that people feel that it’s “too divisive” is because too many people are silent on the issue. The majority of Americans support legal abortion. Two-thirds of American oppose overturning Roe. However, anti-choice advocates are extremely loud and fervent in their campaigns, so sometimes it can feel like their voice is louder. To change the balance of voices in the public square, more people need to voice their opinion on the issue!
2. Making abortion illegal doesn’t end abortion, it ends safe and legal abortions. Thousands of people will die or have their lives forever changed in a way they did not want. Little girls who’ve been raped will be forced to carry to term. There will be a chilling effect on medical providers who can do a D&C (dilation and curettage procedure) leaving people who have a medical need for an abortion with trouble finding one. Additionally, the laws that outlaw abortion may be personhood laws that define a fertilized egg as a person, which will impact IVF. Without the right to privacy, the court may overturn other decisions such as Obergefell, which legalized same-sex marriage, or allow new laws, such as bans on gender-affirming care for trans youth.
While the discussions may be difficult, is it worth making your voice heard to stand up for all those who will be harmed?
Mary Ziegler: When the Supreme Court recognized abortion as a constitutional right, it might have been possible to avoid talking about abortion. Even then, avoiding the conversation was a way of signaling indifference to what was happening to people in some states, especially people of color. But now, votes for state and national office will dictate whether abortion is a crime at the state or even national level (and shape what we mean by “abortion”) as well as laws that apply to IUDs, infertility treatment, and the morning-after pill. Saying nothing is not a luxury most have anymore.
“I’m against Roe v. Wade being overturned, but I don’t feel like I need to protest or any of that stuff. I don’t think it’ll help, realistically.”
Emily Amick: If you feel like you don’t have the bandwidth to get involved for whatever reason, I totally understand. It’s super important to take care of your own well-being! However, politics is not a spectator sport. For democracy to work, we must all be out there expressing our views. Going to protests isn’t the only option—sharing your views online is extremely important. Social media is the new public square and not only are politicians watching the conversations online, but your voice will empower others in your community to speak up!
You could also volunteer for a political campaign (state or federal), join an advocacy group and participate in their actions, call your legislators, write an op-ed for your local newspaper, or talk to family and friends. And, of course, vote in every election! There’s no right way to be involved, but your voice will absolutely make a difference. If folks who care about access to abortion sit on the sidelines, it’s like laying out the carpet for [anti-abortion lawmakers] to take over.
Photos courtesy of subjects. Answers have been lightly condensed and edited for clarity.
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