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Seven Northwestern University academics, experts in a variety of disciplines, including law, gender studies, sociology and reproductive health came together Friday at a virtual news conference.

Ostensibly the gathering was meant for reporters to ask questions about yesterday’s Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. But there were moments when it exemplified the country’s continuing debate and divisions on abortion.

During a discussion about the life-saving nature of abortions, Dr. Cassing Hammond, an Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, said states passing restrictive abortion legislation are preventing doctors from carrying out potentially life-saving procedures. 

“The Supreme Court justices are nine attorneys. They’re not physicians,” said Hammond. “And what they did today was considered a form of medical malpractice. That’s what they did. They are truly putting mental health and the lives of women at risk.”

Ronald J. Allen, the John Henry Wigmore Professor of Law at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law, disagreed with Hammond’s statement about the justice’s decision. He said while he supports abortions on a personal level, the structure of the government does not suggest that abortion should be a right.

“Cassing, you say that what the Supreme Court did is medical malpractice? Actually, what the Supreme Court did is say that that’s not our job,” said Allen. “You want the Supreme Court to be deciding what kind of drugs to use and what kind of therapies are appropriate? I don’t.”

Allen argued that the decision to ban or permit abortions lies in the legislative realm, and that citizens should make sure they’re voting for legislators with whom they have common values.

“If you’re going to accept the decision-making process of these nine unelected people posing complex moral, social, political structures on the rest of us, you’ve got to take the risk that you’re going to lose,” he added.

Banning or permitting abortions is a question of liberty and life, said Laura Beth Nielsen, a Professor and Chair of the Department of Sociology, and the Director of Legal Studies at NU’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, in response to Allen’s remarks. She said as a result of the decision the maternal mortality rate is projected to rise by 7% to 9% overall, and 13% for Black women, just from forced birth. Abortions are also extremely expensive, and states aren’t going to pay for women to raise a child, she added.

Dr. Melissa Simon, the Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Director of the Center for Heath Equity Transformation at Feinberg, also spoke to the life-saving nature of an abortion, saying that in an ectopic pregnancy, a person could die without one.

“If the state outlaws you from removing the pregnancy, and you will get put in jail, or you let the person die, what do you do?” said Simon. “To put us [medical providers] in the situation of watching someone die, I’ve been there, and it is absolutely untenable and awful.”

Panelists also expressed some differing thoughts on whether citizens should anticipate cross-border prosecutions for individuals traveling to another state to receive an abortion

Allen said he believes the probability of that happening is close to zero. “There’s a right to travel,” he said. “Indiana can’t make it illegal to go to Las Vegas to gamble.” 

Speaking up, Watson said she hopes the right to travel will prevent this issue, but that anti-choice advocates may try to push the limits. “Although some of those prosecutions may not ultimately be successful, it won’t mean that they won’t be pursued,” she said. This could lead to pictures and names of those individuals ending up in the news, breaching their medical privacy, she added. 

Nielsen also jumped in, reminding the audience that the Supreme Court decision allows a state to criminalize abortions, but does not require it. While there are states with trigger laws, which would immediately establish anti-abortion laws, there are still many where abortion is legal and safe, she said.

Abortion policies across the U.S. from The Guttmacher Institute.

Credit: The Guttmacher Institute

Adina Keeling

Adina Keeling is a photojournalist and reporter, covering city news, sustainability, schools, and art. She also investigates mental health systems and environmental injustices in Evanston, and puts together...

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