New Supreme Court pick puts legal abortion in jeopardy

Locals discuss the future of abortive care


Ali Juell

Legal change may be on the horizon with the new confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

This year marks the 47th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a case that made abortion legal on the federal level in 1973.

And yet, many people across the country wonder if reproductive rights may soon be limited by a strongly conservative Supreme Court. 

For Joan Edelstein, a nursing professor at the University of California San Francisco, her work as a nurse for 50 years allowed her the opportunity to see an America both before and after the legalization of abortion, showing her the lengths at which women previously went to receive the procedure.

“One of my friends took three cruises to Puerto Rico for abortions, had (gotten) pregnant three times, and, ultimately, later, got married and had several children,” Edelstein said. “But at the time that’s what you go for; you go to Puerto Rico for your abortions. (Another friend) went to one of the Scandinavian countries, she flew there to get an abortion legally.”

While on duty as a nurse, Edelstein was also witness to the effects of many back alley abortions performed on women that couldn’t afford to fly to other countries.

“We had an entire gynecology ward that had many patients on it, who had complications from back alley abortions,” Edelstein said. “These were infected women, and some women died.”

One of my friends took three cruises to Puerto Rico for abortions, had (gotten) pregnant three times, and, ultimately, later, got married and had several children.

— Joan Edelstein

The legalization of abortion allowed for social equity to increase between those seeking the procedure. Many women of different backgrounds were provided an opportunity to receive a safer termination of pregnancy.

“When I was starting my master’s program in nursing at Yale, I got pregnant,” Edelstein said. “And I didn’t have to go to Puerto Rico because abortions were now legal in the United States. 

One thing that stands out for me is that when I went (to receive an abortion), there was a teenager, … probably from a Catholic school. She was very young”.

As Amy Coney Barrett joins the Supreme Court, her faith has been brought up numerous times throughout her confirmation process. Barrett is a part of the People of Praise, a group that practices charismatic Catholicism. Charismatic Catholics hold the belief that people can receive gifts, including the power to heal and prophetic abilities, from the Holy Spirit.

The group consists of practicing Catholics and Protestants, Barrett being a Catholic.

The Catholic Church holds the belief that abortion is a grave sin, meaning, to them, that it is considered to be one of the worst actions a person can take.

“Life begins at conception,” John Francis*, a practicing Catholic, said. “So for anyone to try and remove that life is a grave sin because it’s essentially like murder.”

It is commonly believed within Catholicism that since life begins at conception, the unborn child is still fully entitled to their rights.

“I don’t think this is what the Founding Fathers wanted for us,” Francis said. “If you look at a lot of the Democrats and the people who are pro-abortion, in my opinion, I think they are nervous because they realized that Roe v. Wade doesn’t really have legs to stand on. 

(The Constitution) was a declaration that says, all people have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s good to have women’s rights, but no one has the right to take innocent life. And so you have to think, what about the baby’s rights?”

The news of Barrett’s confirmation was welcome by religious people, as they believe a conservative court depends more on religiously-rooted morals.

“I would say (a more conservative court is a good thing),” Francis said. “They tend to hold strict moral standards. Conservatives tend to say there’s right and there’s wrong, and (they’re) going to try and uphold that.”

For many reproductive rights supporters, Barett’s confirmation, however, has not been a cause for celebration. It is not her religious affiliations but her record on reproductive freedom that acts as a point of tension for those in favor of Roe v. Wade.

“(Barrett) has called Roe v. Wade an erroneous decision,” Shannon Hovis, the Director of NARAL Pro-Choice California, said. “And one of the things that’s being talked about a lot is this newspaper ad that she signed, which called for an end to Roe v. Wade, and a signed statement as well that says she opposes abortion … and defends the right to life from fertilization.”

If this precedent were to be struck down, it would become the responsibility of individual states to determine whether or not abortions can be legally carried out within their state lines. 

For those that believe in a woman’s right to choose, it is feared that the decision being left to the states leaves room for many to lose access to abortion entirely in places where retrictions have previously created obstacles.

15 years ago, Edelstein witnessed the disparities between states regarding abortion access.

“What would happen (in Mississippi) is that these students who were pregnant would really be stuck, unless there was somebody who could drive them to another state to get an abortion,” said Edelstein.

“There were states that required two parents’ approval to get an abortion if you were a minor; it could be a parent and a grandparent, but you had to go through a whole lot in order to actually get an abortion as a minor. And of course, in California, we have minor consent, so that’s not an issue. But in the South it’s a huge issue.”

Women within Southern states continue to struggle with access to abortion care, despite it being legal as many states have remained limited in terms of facilities to complete the procedure.

“Legal abortion is a patchwork quilt across this country,” Hovis said. “There are many states where they have been able to make abortion so far out of reach that it is all but impossible to obtain abortion care; … places like Missouri, there’s literally one abortion clinic in the entire state.”

If the legality of abortion is left to the states, it can be assumed that liberal states like California may be responsible for the reproductive care of more than just their own occupants. Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, many people have already flocked to neighboring states after restrictions on abortion care.

At the beginning (of the pandemic), when lots of states were trying to say that abortion is elective, … and thereby, effectively (banned) abortion care during that month, we saw an uptick in patients coming into California from states like Texas and elsewhere to get care here.

— Shannon Hovis

“At the beginning (of the pandemic), when lots of states were trying to say that abortion is elective, … and thereby, effectively (banned) abortion care during that month, we saw an uptick in patients coming into California from states like Texas and elsewhere to get care here,” Hovis said, “…because it was one of the closest places where they could get an appointment to get the care they need.”

The demand for care within California would only surge if Roe v. Wade were to disappear, a demand that California is not currently equipped for.

“I don’t think we’re necessarily prepared for that kind of surge at the moment, but I think that we would be able to expand adequately,” Edelstein said. “But again, we’re talking about privilege, right? So people who can fly to California or can even drive or afford the trip (will get the care they need.)

(But in California) we’re still not going to be able to address the severely underserved populations that need access to abortion and don’t have it; minors and women who are in abusive situations, have to work or whose children are grown really can’t have that (access).”

Even though there will be states that choose to keep clinics open, such a ban may severely restrict specific demographics. Though there won’t be the need to travel as far as Puerto Rico to receive an abortion, many women will be simply out of options, making a journey across state lines the only way for them to obtain the procedure. 

But despite the high stakes and passion that does surround the court case, it remains likely that Roe v. Wade will in fact be maintained.

“I don’t think it’s ever a slam dunk, that (justices are) gonna vote the way the media said they’re going to vote,” Jarrod Westberg, an AP Government teacher, said, “as we’ve already seen, Trump’s picks have both voted against Trump a bunch of times already. 

(Roe v. Wade) has been to the Supreme Court almost 40 times. … So to magically assume, which I see in the media, that all of a sudden Roe v. Wade gets overturned? I don’t see it happening. It’s possible to happen, but I don’t see it that way.”

No matter what opinions or predictions are held regarding legal abortion, it’s important that everyone respects the opinions of those on the opposite side.

“You shouldn’t force religion on people and you shouldn’t force your opinions on anyone else,” Francis said. “You can encourage people and you can provide them with the truth, but as Jesus said, if they don’t listen, just shake the dust off your clothes and move on.”


*name changed for the purpose of anonymity

Editor’s Note: Several local leaders within the Catholic Church were contacted for comment but did not respond in time for publication.