This week marks the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark US Supreme Court decision that guaranteed abortion rights in America.
For abortion rights supporters, this is a bittersweet anniversary because the Supreme Court overturned Roe in the Dobbs decision last year. Since then, more than a dozen states have banned or severely restricted abortion.
In Massachusetts, abortion remains legal and has broad support from the medical community. More than a hundred medical professionals gathered at Brigham and Women’s Hospital on Monday to mark Roe’s anniversary and discuss the future of abortion access.
WBUR asked two obstetricians and abortion providers how they think about abortion rights 50 years after Roe — and seven months after Roe was overturned.
Dr. Deborah Bartz is the associate director of Brigham’s Family Planning Clinic, and Dr. Alyssa Goldberg directs Brigham’s Division of Family Planning. This interview has been edited and condensed.
As a healthcare provider, what does the anniversary of Roe mean to you?
Bartz: “We love doing this job. This work is incredibly inspiring and we don’t want to lose focus on this mission. So the 50th anniversary is a day for us to recognize what Roe v. Wade was and what it meant to so many people for so long and just come together in a celebratory way for the work that we do.”
Goldberg: “Why celebrate Roe now that it’s gone? I think the reason we celebrate is in recognition of the time and many years that followed when government and politics put the health, lives and well-being of women first – women and people who can get pregnant.
“What has been so evident since the Dobbs decision is that policies are now shifting away from the primary concern for the health and well-being of pregnant people. I hope that maybe we can get back to that at some point where policies are primarily about protecting the health and well-being of the people they’re designed to serve.”
Why do you think abortion is an essential part of health care and should be widely available?
Goldberg: “The risk of death is 14 times higher in childbirth than in early abortion. So if someone is pregnant and considering whether or not to continue this pregnancy, the option with the least risk to her health and life is an early abortion.
“Even among patients who want to get pregnant, things don’t always go according to plan and various maternal illnesses or obstetric complications occur. Under these circumstances, the risks become even higher. And often it is in the best interest of the patient’s health to terminate the pregnancy.
“When considering what risk to take on a person’s health and life, the person himself should have the deciding vote.”
Bartz: “Those of us who work in the field of abortion, we in no way discount the idea that abortion is difficult, that there is a space of tension that we all feel when we consider the moral status of the fetus and the reproductive rights and reproductive health concerns of the pregnant one.
“We have cared for many patients across the spectrum—including patients who strongly believe abortion is wrong at the same time they are having their own abortion. We strongly believe that each case is complex and nuanced and that each patient is in the best position to make their own reproductive health care decisions. We give them the space to make those decisions.
“There are some life-saving abortions. Some cases are emotionally life-saving.”
Doctors are sometimes targeted for this work. Do you feel any greater risk in providing abortion care after Roe was overturned last year?
Goldberg: “This is not new and it comes in waves. There are times in time when things get heated and some people get angry. And then the rhetoric calms down, and then maybe the people who are angry calm down a little bit.
“It’s something we had to think about in the back of our minds from the beginning. When you take this on, you have to think about it.”
Bartz: “There is no doubt that society is indeed becoming more polarized on a number of issues. It is disturbing how society is moving in this direction.
“I think we just have to take a deep breath and we just have to do the work that we think is important and do it in a way that’s smart and in a way that’s safe and make sure that our patients are taken care of in the best possible way.”
Are you seeing more patients in your clinic from countries that have recently restricted abortion?
Goldberg: “We are definitely seeing a steady flow. We certainly see people from those states — people who have the resources to travel and, to a large extent, people who have a reason to come to Massachusetts, either because they have family or friends here, they have ties to the region, or sometimes because they have a supplier. of health services in their state who knows a health care provider in our state and provides a referral. We probably see the most people from Texas.”
Bartz: “We’ve seen patients come from the South and the Midwest, but they tend to be the patient demographic that has the ability to make those trips, unfortunately. So that really fueled the health disparity.”