From South Queens to the Caribbean: The US Failed Abortion Policy Puts all People Who Can Get Pregnant at Risk

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South Queens Women's March (SQWM) Member Denera Pope-Ragoonanan and her partner at an abortion access rally.

By South Queens Women’s March
Written by: Denera Pope-Ragoonanan, Tannuja Rozario, Nicole Cagar

U.S Abortions – Illegal to Federally Protected to in Limbo

Abortions were initially illegal the United States. Nonetheless, if a person needed an abortion, they would go to an untrained provider, and use unsafe and illegally provided medications, risking their life and safety. In 1973, the Supreme Court recognized the need to protect pregnant people and ruled in Roe v. Wade that they have a federal right to privacy from all government levels. Abortion was a private choice, and the government would have no interest in the first and second trimesters of pregnancy because the fetus is not yet viable.

In March 2018, the Mississippi Legislature passed the Gestational Age Act which banned any abortion operation after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for a medical emergency or severe fetal abnormality but none for cases of rape or incest. Mississippi’s only abortion clinic filed a suit to challenge the law’s unconstitutionality captioned Dobbs v. Jackson. Typically, the Supreme Court should strike this type of law because of the Roe and post-Roe cases protections. Instead, it held that abortion would now become an issue for states to regulate. The Court would no longer use the Roe precedents to protect individuals against anti-abortion laws that may severely restrict, if not ban, abortion access and violate established privacy rights, in further reaching ways than pre-Roe.

We are in NY. Why does this affect me? I am anti-abortion, why does this affect me?

This affects all pregnant capable people in the United States regardless of their political stance. Rights to privacy are no longer upheld and protected. Under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, the government is not allowed “to search or seize a person or their belongings without probable cause.”

As written, The Texas Heartbeat Act authorizes anyone in public to sue anyone who performs or facilitates an illegal abortion for a minimum of $10,000 in statutory damages per abortion. This makes the suspicion of an abortion a ground “to search and seize.” Data regarding period tracking and travel to and from states are all easily discoverable and can create probable cause to search a person and their property to determine whether they committed the crime of abortion. A person across state lines who accommodates a person traveling for abortions, knowingly or unknowing, may also be prosecuted if they were to visit a state where simply aiding an abortion is criminal. Yes, New Yorkers, you may be incriminated for having guests from another state or even visiting other states.

SQWM Board Member Tannuja Rozario at an abortion access rally at Brookfield Park organized by SQWM.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) privacy protections are at risk. A HIPAA-covered entity may “disclose private health information to law enforcement without an individual’s authorization when required to do so by law and when complying with court orders or a judicial summons.” This means there is a probability that abortion’s criminality could force healthcare providers to provide prosecutors with information regarding cases of self-administered abortions that resulted in a patient needing medical attention.

Doctors in states with trigger laws have taken extreme measures to avoid culpability from these laws. In Texas, prior to the Dobbs’ ruling, OBGYNs have refrained from performing one of the most common gynecologic procedures, Dilation and Curettage (D&C), which is vital to feminine health. In 2021, a Texan OBGYN refused to perform a D&C on a miscarriage patient. He gave her pills to self-administer and flush the fetus’ remains out of her body at home. This woman carried the dead fetus for two weeks while she tried to find a provider who would help her. People needing this basic procedure will now have to find a way to manage the bleeding and remove the fetus’ remains, polyp, or tumor out of their body on their own or hope a doctor in their state is brave enough to operate. New Yorkers, if you are pregnant or have uterine conditions, think twice before crossing state lines.

I am not from the US, but from Trinidad, Guyana, or Suriname, where abortions are already highly restricted. How does this affect me?

In Trinidad and Suriname, there are very few statistics regarding the number of people receiving an abortion because it is illegal unless it relates to the mother’s survival. It is local knowledge that people take pills such as Misoprostol (Cytotec) in unregulated amounts to terminate pregnancies and then claim they have a miscarriage to have an OBGYNs perform a D&C. In Guyana, abortion is legal during the first eight weeks of pregnancy but is illegal after eight weeks unless it is approved by two medical practitioners–this includes cases of endangering maternal or fetal health. Even though abortion is legal, it is inaccessible. Pregnant people living in rural communities do not have adequate access to care. The few who can afford it would come to the USA to access a safe, low risk abortion. However, these new restrictions would limit West Indians’ ability to safely access abortions.

SQWM Member Sarah Mohamed at the Bans Off Our Bodies rally in Foley Square on June 24, the day Roe v. Wade was overturned.

The Indo-Caribbean diaspora’s voices are lost in the weeds when it comes to abortion rights. Our community is grouped under the category of “South Asian” or “Other” in important race and statistical recording, such as the Census, despite having stark socioeconomic differences from the general populace of these categories. As a result, abortion information and health for our community is grossly understudied to our detriment.

What now?

At least 29 states have laws stating a person can be charged with homicide for an abortion at any stage of pregnancy. The only outcome in this is prosecuting people for a choice they should be free to make. Beyond partisan lines, this decision will change privacy rights and redefine our health privacy expectations in ways we haven’t anticipated.
As individuals, we need to assist people who need abortions and donating to the abortion clinics remaining. As a society, we need to force our lawmakers to codify Roe v. Wade’s privacy protections and have them stop State law’s invasions of privacy in Congress.