The recent 5-4 decision in NIFLA v. Becerra shows just how delicately Roe v. Wade teeters on the brink of collapse. In a narrow decision, five male justices on the Supreme Court sided with anti-abortion fake clinics that mislead and shame people seeking abortion. In making that decision, those men failed women in America. They signaled lack of respect for women under the law, and sent dangerous signals about the future of access to reproductive healthcare in this country. However, they also sent a clear blueprint for what abortion rights supporters must do next.
The case concerned whether women are entitled to basic consumer protections regarding pregnancy-related care, including commonsense measures undertaken by the state of California to address the fact that the anti-abortion movement is systematically lying to pregnant women through anti-abortion fake clinics, sometimes referred to as crisis pregnancy centers or pregnancy resource centers.
According to long-term research undertaken by Reproaction, there are roughly 2,700 anti-abortion fake clinics in the United States. They often masquerade as abortion clinics, using intentionally deceptive names like “A Woman’s Choice,” with the aim of luring unsuspecting women in the door so they can present heaping doses of guilt and false claims about abortion. California had required that anti-abortion fake clinics post a notification if they were not licensed, and also to post information about reproductive health services available to California residents; in the majority opinion authored by Justice Clarence Thomas, five men in robes said no. In particular, the NIFLA v. Becerra decision was a firm thumbing of the nose to low-income women and women of color who are most heavily targeted by crisis pregnancy centers.
Make no mistake: The future of legal access to abortion in this country has not been this threatened since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision affirmed the constitutional right to abortion. The Supreme Court has just concluded a markedly conservative term, allowing the Muslim ban, aligning itself with gerrymandering, and undermining collective bargaining rights. After the decisions came, it got worse. Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, which could reshape the balance of power in the Supreme Court for generations to come; this is truly it – the singular Supreme Court vacancy that can lead to overturning Roe. As a candidate Donald Trump repeatedly promised to only nominate justices who would overturn Roe, and as the country has seen he has repeatedly kept his campaign promises.
In the wake of the NIFLA v. Becerra decision and Justice Kennedy’s catastrophic retirement, the first thing abortion rights supporters must do is remain vigilant. Educate yourself, your neighbors, and your elected officials about the dramatically escalating threat to abortion access in this country. Take action and sound the alarm now – call your Senators and demand they vote “NO” on any Supreme Court justice that would overturn Roe v. Wade.
Abortion has never been just a theoretical right. Since the 2010 mid-term elections in particular, hardline conservatives have consolidated power, one result being that access to abortion has decreased dramatically in the United States. Between mandatory waiting periods, abortion clinic shutdown laws, and bans on specific procedures and even medication abortion, abortion is accessible to those who live in the right states and have the money to pay for it. Increasingly, self-managed abortion – which draws on long-held traditions practiced in communities of color – is becoming the future of abortion access in this country.
To be clear, self-managed abortion is not inherently a method of last resort; people may choose self-managed abortion for a variety of reasons. What we do know conclusively is that abortion pills are safe, effective, and data from other countries where abortion is extremely restricted demonstrates women are capable of using abortion pills on their own to safely end their pregnancies. Thus, the next step for abortion rights supporters is to educate ourselves, and then others, about self-managed abortion. One great place to start is with the World Health Organization protocol for use of abortion pills.
Finally, we must not lose sight of the fact that there are roughly 2,700 fake clinics in this country and they are operating with little to no accountability or oversight. We may have lost the most recent battle for accountability at the Supreme Court, but we can’t stop working to lessen the harm fake clinics are causing our communities.
Seven states misdirect federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families dollars to fake clinics – literally taking millions of dollars intended to feed hungry children and instead redirecting them to deception. What is happening with these dollars? What services are being provided?
Providing public education about what these fake clinics do is critical to warning pregnant people looking for support about the wolves masquerading as neutral medical service providers, and that’s why dedicated activists around the country will continue to engage in physical protest outside them. Further, public officials should continue to investigate the use of public funds to fake clinics – an action already taken or underway in multiple states. In Pennsylvania, for example, an audit revealed misuse of funds by the so-called Real Alternatives fake clinic network. Ultimately, the way forward is demand an end to funding anti-abortion fake clinics, so long as they continue to deceive pregnant people and the public.