This is an op-ed from former Congressional candidate Josh Riley. It was not written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit opinion pieces, send them to Matt Butler at email@example.com.
Last summer, the Supreme Court decided Dobbs v. Jackson, which overturned Roe v. Wade and tossed aside nearly fifty years of legal precedent establishing a woman’s constitutional right to make her own reproductive healthcare decisions. In Dobbs, the Court ruled that politicians may ban or significantly restrict access to abortion–even in cases of rape or incest and even when the mother’s life is at risk.
At the time, I argued that the Court’s decision undermined the Constitution’s guarantees of liberty and equality, and I set forth a legislative and regulatory plan of action to protect abortion access in a post-Dobbs world. I also urged the U.S. Justice Department to defend women’s access to abortion medications that were approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, including by challenging the constitutionality of conflicting state laws if necessary. Those legal actions are important because abortion medications–which are approved for the first ten weeks of a pregnancy–are used in about half of all abortions today.
In the months since Dobbs was decided, various legal developments have only confirmed the urgency with which action must be taken to protect women’s access to abortion medications.
Almost immediately after the Dobbs ruling, congressional Republicans introduced legislation that would impose a nationwide ban on abortions (even as other Republican politicians denied they’d do so and incorrectly stated that Dobbs left the issue to the states, not Congress). Meanwhile, anti-choice groups have seized on Dobbs to file lawsuits to eviscerate women’s access to abortion even absent legislative action.
In one case, anti-choice groups and nearly two dozen Republican Attorneys General are asking a federal judge in Texas to impose a nationwide ban on abortion medications. The lawsuit flies in the face of both science (decades of which prove the medicines to be safe and effective) and the law (which requires deference to FDA on these matters). However, with Dobbs now on the books, these once-fringe arguments are receiving their day in court. In other cases, the states of West Virginia and North Carolina have gone to federal court to defend their own restrictions on abortion medication, arguing that state laws banning the medication override federal laws approving it.
The consequences of these cases could be catastrophic for women’s reproductive freedom. They threaten to end access to abortion medications across the country–even in states where they are now legal. At a minimum, the cases could create a quagmire of conflicting rulings from different courts, causing confusion for medical providers and patients alike.
What is clear is that Dobbs opened the door to further attacks on women’s reproductive health. That is why Congress must act now to slam it shut. It should pass the Women’s Health Protection Act to restore Roe’s protections into federal law, and it should pass legislation making it unequivocally clear that women have a right to access FDA-approved abortion medications. In the meantime, the U.S. Justice Department should litigate as aggressively as possible to fend off potentially disastrous court rulings.
Josh Riley was the 2022 Democratic nominee for Congress in New York’s 19th Congressional District.