What Roe v. Wade Actually Looks Like in America

Abortion access debates have resurged across the country after the Supreme Court announced it will take a case challenging Roe v. Wade, a historical legal event that the national media has misrepresented. Playful headlines and contradicting articles are misleading readers and failing to accurately gauge the impact of this case.

The Supreme Court will be ruling on abortion access—as it announced on October 4th—in the case of June Medical Services v. Gee. While the case does not directly challenge Roe v. Wade, it does place restrictions on clinics that would significantly reduce access to abortions, according to CNN.  

The language used by the media to describe this news could be confusing for someone looking to understand the weight of what is ahead. Vox, in their coverage of the Supreme Court’s announcement, started a piece with the subtitle “Roe v. Wade had a good run.”

Before Roe v. Wade, women’s health was at risk. Because only the wealthy could afford to get secret or foreign abortions, “some women resorted to illegal, dangerous, “back-alley” abortions or self-induced abortions,” according to History.com

Nancy Northup, the CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in an interview with Refinery29: “Women need to have an ability to control their reproduction so that they can participate fully in the economic, social, and political life of the nation.”

Given the significance of the rights women received from Roe v. Wade, Vox’s decision to introduce news of its potential with a lighthearted catchphrase was irresponsible. 

To present the Supreme Court’s decision in taking a new case as the sudden death of Roe v. Wade does not provide an accurate depiction of reality because the precedent has already faded across the country through restricting abortion access.

In the same article, the authors explain that “many people already live in a post-Roe reality.” The last section of their piece does a thorough job in detailing how little access to abortion there is already, and that “[a]s of 2017, 89 percent of counties had no abortion clinic.”

While Vox’s story had significant faults, the article included one important perspective that many other pieces missed: a look into what abortion access is currently like in America. While the information was buried in the article, the fact that Vox provided a fuller picture gave readers a chance to fairly interpret the news of this new case.

Coverage from NPR, The Atlantic and NBC news failed to accurately describe the extent of the restrictions already placed on abortion access.

The NPR article dove into the details of the June Medical Services v. Gee case, providing its entire history but failed to mention the arguably more relevant degradation of Roe. The Atlantic follows suit, explaining how the Gee case would limit abortion access without destroying Roe, a process that has been happening since the original precedent in 1973. 

Scott Lemieux, in his article for NBC, said: “A woman’s nominal right to choose to have an abortion is worth nothing if Republican-led state legislatures and governors — with the blessing of the Supreme Court — can ensure that there are no or almost no clinics or doctors available to provide the procedure.” 

Access to doctors and clinics has already been extremely limited, a fact that would change readers’ impressions of all the articles announcing the end of Roe. The reality is that Roe has been ending for years. Refinery29 has been one of the few networks to provide an accurate picture of the state of abortion access.

An interactive map from Refinery29 compares the number of abortion clinics in each state; California has 152, while South Dakota, Wyoming and Missouri are a few of the eight states that have one clinic. Refinery29 also lists some of the other restrictions placed on abortion access, including parental consent requirements, waiting periods and mandatory counseling. 

When covering a topic with such impact, it is important to provide adequate context in order for the information to come across as accurately as possible. Other publications should follow Refinery29’s lead in addressing the actual state of abortion access in America as well as use language and tone that matches the severity of the issue being debated.

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