This information reflects CORE members’ expertise in reproductive health and is not an official statement of the university.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturns the federal right to abortion established by Roe v. Wade five decades ago. The legality of abortion access is now determined by each state. Here in Wisconsin, a pre-Roe abortion ban from 1849 is on the books. It makes performing an abortion a felony—even in the case of rape, incest, and/or health risks to the pregnant person (except to save their life). It remains unclear whether the law is enforceable, and its exact legal status could remain unknown for some time. In the meantime, Wisconsin’s abortion clinics will no longer provide abortion services. Some clinics will offer pre-abortion and post-abortion care. The Supreme Court’s decision runs counter to conclusive scientific evidence documenting that abortion is safe, common, and necessary health care, and that access to abortion is a determinant of health and wellbeing across the life course. As reproductive health researchers, clinicians, and public health professionals, we know this decision will significantly impact people in our state, particularly those individuals facing the greatest social inequities. Some Wisconsinites may be able travel to Illinois, Minnesota, or other states to access abortion care, although many will have to overcome significant financial and logistical barriers to do so. Some Wisconsinites will likely self-manage their own abortions. And some will not be able to get them at all. Research shows that denial of desired abortion care has serious negative impacts for individuals, families, and communities. Compared to abortion, risks of maternal mortality and morbidity are much higher for those who carry pregnancies to term and give birth. Other harms of abortion denial include increased likelihood of staying in abusive relationships, lower likelihood of completing postsecondary education or achieving aspirational life goals, and increased likelihood of poverty for both parents and children. Evidence also establishes that banning access to abortion will cause the greatest harms to people who are already marginalized: people living on low incomes, people of color, young people, and rural Wisconsinites. In fact, given Wisconsin’s restrictive abortion laws even before Roe v. Wade was overturned, many of these individuals and communities have already experienced significant declines in abortion access and significant increases in unwanted births in recent years. Racism, economic insecurity, and immigration status also multiply the already massive barriers to abortion care.
A person cannot be prosecuted for having an abortion under Wisconsin’s criminal law. However, the post-Roe legal climate may embolden state or local officials to investigate people who seek care following a self-managed abortion and the circumstances of that abortion. The burden of this surveillance falls most heavily on Black and Brown people, whose communities are already policed more than white communities. Policies, including reproductive health policies, should be informed by evidence. As reproductive health researchers, clinicians, and public health professionals, we look forward to a day when all people can prioritize their own health, security, and reproductive autonomy: the power to decide and control contraceptive use, pregnancy, and childbearing, without interference or coercion. Thank you for being part of CORE’s community. To learn more, visit our new After Roe page.