In one brief, the Institute joins the American Public Health Association, the Center for U.S. Policy, and 547 deans, chairs, scholars and public health professionals in making the case why legal abortion is a public health imperative. In the other brief, Guttmacher experts join their social science colleagues in laying out the evidence explaining why the Mississippi ban would cause significant harm.
Today, the Guttmacher Institute and many of its research experts joined two amicus briefs urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reject Mississippi’s unconstitutional 15-week abortion ban and to uphold almost 50 years of precedent prohibiting states from banning previability abortions. The briefs were filed with the Court today. A summary of each brief is below.
Later this year, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Attorneys for Mississippi have asked the Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that affirmed the constitutional right to abortion. A decision in this case is expected by early summer 2022.
“Guttmacher Institute data and analysis are part of an overwhelming body of social science and public health research demonstrating the harms caused by ideologically motivated abortion restrictions,” says Dr. Herminia Palacio, President and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute. “These amicus briefs show clearly and compellingly that abortion bans like the one before the Court are not just a clear violation of basic human rights, but that their many harms fall hardest on communities already struggling to access basic health care—whether because of their lack of financial resources, young age, disability, immigration status or because they are Black, Indigenous or other people of color.”
About the Guttmacher Institute
The Guttmacher Institute is a leading research and policy organization committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights worldwide. The Institute generates data and analysis to defend and advance people’s ability to access the full range of sexual and reproductive health care—including safe, legal and affordable abortion care—with a particular focus on addressing historical and ongoing oppressions due to race, gender, sexuality, income, age or immigration status.
Summary of briefs
The ability to safely and legally terminate a pregnancy plays an essential role in the field of public health. Any total or near-total ban on pre-viability abortion such as that presented by Mississippi prohibiting abortions later than 15 weeks into gestation carries major public health implications, because it forces women to carry to term pregnancies under adverse circumstances marked by substantially greater risks to their health and that of their families. Of particular concern to Amici, any ban will disproportionately affect young women, women of color and low income women who live in families and communities already vulnerable to elevated health and social risks and facing poor access to health care.
Abortion is an essential component of reproductive health. Compared to those that are planned, unplanned pregnancies (including both mistimed and unwanted pregnancies), carry far greater health risks, especially in the case of unwanted pregnancies. Despite major advances in use of birth control, contraceptive failure is an underlying factor in 1 in 20 unplanned pregnancies. When forced to carry unplanned pregnancies to term, women face health risks exponentially greater than those who obtain abortions.
Children born to women who experience unplanned pregnancies face greater risks to life and health. These risks include low birthweight, prematurity, and developmental difficulties. Children born to women who experience unplanned pregnancies are also more at risk for adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), i.e. significant childhood traumas tied to physical and mental health challenges that continue into adulthood and can cause intergenerational harm.
A wealth of evidence demonstrates that Mississippi, along with thirteen other states with the most highly restrictive abortion laws in the nation, paradoxically and demonstrably invests the least in policies and programs that safeguard the reproductive health of women and the health and well-being of women, children, and families. Mothers, infants, and children in these fourteen states also experience the worst health outcomes, as revealed by sentinel measures of maternal and child health. Indeed, a leading study of state-level population health ranks Mississippi last in the nation on a composite score consisting of such measures as infant mortality; mortality amenable to health care or preventable deaths; and children without age-appropriate medical and dental preventive care visits in the past year.
Scientific research amply demonstrates that Mississippi’s 15-Week Ban would have significant negative consequences for women’s physical, psychological, and socioeconomic well-being. Amici understand that if this Court does anything but affirm the Fifth Circuit’s decision, that decision will be tantamount to overturning the central holdings of Roe and Casey. Dire consequences will follow: nearly half of the states in the United States are primed to ban abortion, millions of women will lose their constitutional right to determine whether they want to continue a pregnancy prior to viability, and they will also lose access to legal and essential abortion care.
As demonstrated by the research cited herein, abortion is one of the most common and safest medical procedures performed in the United States. People who decide to terminate their pregnancy after 15 weeks of pregnancy do not do so for frivolous reasons. Instead, they are often delayed in obtaining an abortion because of delays in recognizing they are pregnant, challenges raising funds, and logistical issues related to locating a clinic or traveling to the clinic. These delays are exacerbated in Mississippi which has only one abortion clinic in the entire state and where pre-existing regulations require, among other things, that patients make two trips to the clinic to obtain an abortion.
Mississippi’s 15-Week Ban will make it more difficult for people to obtain care, make some women unnecessarily delay their care, and for others, ultimately mean denial of abortion care altogether. In addition, social science research demonstrates that eliminating access to abortion has long-term negative socioeconomic consequences for women. Women who are denied an abortion are more likely to live below the poverty level and be unemployed years after being denied the abortion than people who receive their wanted abortion.
For these and the reasons set forth more fully below, Amici urge this Court to affirm the court of appeal’s decision.