The recently leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that would serve to overturn Roe v. Wade has concerning implications for people of good faith.
This leak was apocryphal in many ways. Certainly, the leak exposed the widening chasm dividing public opinion in the increasingly polarized debate about abortion rights. Political pundits have expressed strong and opposing stances in response to the draft. Protests have erupted. Social media movements have catalyzed.
Perhaps, more significantly, the leak made evident the fact that maternal well- being remains an issue consistently under- prioritized within the United States.
According to an April 2022 report from The Commonwealth Fund, the United States has the highest rate of deaths from avoidable causes among women of reproductive age in any high-income country. This includes deaths from avoidable complications related to pregnancy.
In the most recent data set analyzed by the CDC, the average rate of maternal mortality was 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births for the year 2020. Maternal safety proved to be inconsistent across racial groups: for non-Hispanic Black women, the maternal mortality rate was 55.3 deaths per 100,000 live births, almost three times the rate of non-Hispanic White women. Additionally, non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic women experienced significant increases in maternal mortality rates from 2019-2020. By contrast, non-Hispanic White women did not experience a similar increase in maternal mortality rates.
These disparate rates of maternal mortality are likely reflective of multiple intersectional factors, such as racial income inequalities, higher incidence of chronic disease in people of color, and the historic dismissal of the medical concerns of black women. They also demonstrate the way in which policy that neglects to consider the lived experience of marginalized groups tends to fail those same marginalized groups.
Financial assistance for low-income families seeking childcare varies from state to state. Individuals and families typically qualify for subsidized childcare based on whether their income is comparable to the federal poverty level. States have discretion in determining how much income a family may have to qualify. In states that have created policies with strict income limits, families in need are often hindered from accessing subsidized childcare.
The nationwide lack of paid parental leave also proves concerning for those supportive of pro-mother policies. Currently, the United States is the only affluent country that does not mandate the provision of paid parental leave for new parents. Federal law allows for workers who qualify to take six weeks of unpaid leave from work. Pregnant and parenting employees who do not qualify for unpaid leave are often forced to spend their sick and vacation days on doctors’ appointments and childcare.
In states poised to criminalize or severely restrict access to abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned, pregnant women face particularly distressing circumstances. My home state, Texas, serves as an interesting case study in this respect.
After the 2013 revision to their Health and Safety Code, Texas instituted the Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee (MMMRC), which was tasked with investigating deaths from pregnancy-related complications in an attempt to reduce them statewide. In their 2020 report (republished in January of 2022), the committee found that most of the pregnancy-related deaths they studied were preventable to some degree.
One of the committee’s many recommendations to state legislators for preventing maternal deaths was to extend Medicaid coverage for low-income mothers to twelve months postpartum, a policy that could potentially eliminate 31% of pregnancy-related deaths in Texas, which occur between forty-three days to one year postpartum. In response, legislators voted to extend Medicaid coverage from two months postpartum to six, insufficiently addressing the committee’s findings.
The new law went into effect on the same day as the Texas Heartbeat Act, which limited access to abortions after six weeks of pregnancy except in case of a medical emergency that would threaten the life of the mother.
In Texas, as is consistent throughout the United States, non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic women are disproportionately affected by higher rates of maternal mortality. In Texas, nearly half of the women who gave birth in 2020 were reliant upon Medicaid at the time of their child’s birth.
Texas does not mandate paid parental leave for workers, nor does it guarantee unpaid leave for all workers. Texas provides limited childcare options for low-income families, who may or may not qualify for subsidized childcare programs.
In the aftermath of the leaked draft, discussion centered around the disproportionate ways in which the collapse of Roe v. Wade would impact marginalized women. This has already played out in states like Texas, where affluent women travel across state lines to obtain abortions while less privileged women fall through the holes of an insufficient social safety net.
No one is sufficiently prepared for Roe v. Wade to come crashing down. Pregnancy resource centers and abortion clinics alike are under-equipped to serve an increasing clientele. Social systems, inadequate now, will surely fail to meet the growing needs of the future. Though quick to offer powerful rhetoric on both sides of the abortion debate, communities of faith are unpracticed in matching word with deed and caring for the women and children they profess to love.
Regardless of whether one considers themself to be pro-life, pro-choice, or somewhere in between, care for marginalized people demands advocacy for policy that protects the lives of women in crisis pregnancies and promotes their agency. By demonstrating care for women in all manners of complex experiences in pregnancy and parenting, people of good faith may usher in a fuller realization of reproductive justice, even as the right to abortion comes under scrutiny.
A senior at Baylor University pursuing a University Scholars BA with focuses in Professional Writing and Rhetoric, Art History, Philosophy and Religion. She is proud to call herself disabled. Carroll was an Ernest C. Hynds Jr. intern at Good Faith Media during summer 2022.