A Post-Roe America: An Update
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Hey, It’s Sabrina. This week, “The Daily” is revisiting some of our favorite episodes of the year and hearing what’s happened in the time since they first ran. Today, we return to the moment in May when the nation was stunned by a leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion that previewed the end of Roe v. Wade. After it came out, we spoke to people on both sides of the abortion fight. Now we’re revisiting two of those conversations, one with an anti-abortion activist and the other with an abortion provider, to find out what’s changed for them since the federal protection for abortion went away.
It’s Thursday, December 29.
My name is Anja Baker, and I’m 27. I live in Jackson, Mississippi, and I am married. I have two little boys. One is three. One is one year old. And my one-year-old has multiple disabilities. And the organization I work with now is the Susan B. Anthony List Education Fund, which expands across many services.
So what this means is not just explicitly pro-life centers, but also groups that just assist along the way, whether that be a prenatal chiropractor, lactation, transportation, housing, addiction recovery, basically anything and everything that can affect a woman who is pregnant or parenting and try to find resources in those worlds and bring them together.
So I got involved at 15 years old. Often, you will hear people say, I grew up in a home where we were just pro-life from the beginning. Many women in my family — I have a Hispanic family — have experienced abortion. Not all of them are on the same page about what they think abortion policy should be. But this came upon me. And I think even my family members who find themselves pro-choice are appreciative of the side of the movement that I’ve been able to expose them to, which is legitimately caring and legitimately meeting needs.
Hmm, interesting. But Anja, I want to go back to when you were 15. Because I guess in my mind, I’m thinking, why would a 15-year-old get so interested in this? I mean, you could be — I don’t know — going to the mall, playing video games, being a 15-year-old. Why such a serious topic for you at that age? Bring me back to that moment.
Well, Mississippi has some of the highest unplanned pregnancy rates, some of the highest teen pregnancy rates, as you probably have heard before. And I did have peers who had become pregnant or who had considered abortion or adoption or parenthood young. I had seen it myself.
And I recall a friend reaching out to me, I believe, when I was 15 and she was 16. And why she called me, I don’t really know. You could call that divine providence. You could just call it the rapport we had. But I needed to know where to send her.
And so when this came across my — you would say my desk, but I was 15, so in plain view for me — I knew, OK, this is going to keep happening. I’m going to need to know where to send people. And she was able to connect with a student group and a church that helped her with childcare, that — people supplied me with items to drive down to give her. And stories like that have sprung up time after time all across our state.
You mentioned, Anja, that this question kept popping up. I mean, were there a lot of young women in your life, girls in your life in school who this happened to?
Yes, and especially in college. Many, many women that I went to school with or found were pregnant on campus club would come to us. We had a baby shower for student-parents at Mississippi State that first served 15 student-parents, and then the next year, doubled to 30 student-parents.
Do you have a memory, Anja, of anyone you were working with during those times who was struggling with the choice of whether to have an abortion? I mean, was that ever come up for you?
Yes. I had a very good friend, to this day, who I barely knew in high school who reached out to me because she had seen me posting on social media about if you ever need support or resources, to reach out. And she took the better part of an entire month to make her decision because she knew she was pregnant pretty early on. She had a big window to obtain an abortion. And she really was grappling with her own decision.
And, of course, I want her to make her own decision and tell me what she needs. I want to serve her in a way that she wants to be served. And really, she wanted to parent her child, but she was worried about a number of things, like, will my parents accept me? This child was not going to be just white.
Were there going to be racial tensions around the fact that her child was mixed race? And that’s something she had to confront within her own family. And was she going to have what she needed financially, or where was she going to live? And so these are the things we had to walk through together. And I think it’s completely understandable to be afraid in any of those scenarios.
You wanted her to make her own decision, but would it have been hard to support her if that decision was abortion?
I would have not driven her to an abortion. I would have not given her information to obtain an abortion. But oftentimes, women need support emotionally after they make that choice. And so I would be able to point her towards professionals who can help her piece out the maybe complex emotions she’s having.
And she ended up parenting her child, who is a beautiful little boy to this day. She went on to marry a man who has become dad to that little boy, and she’s had two more children and started her own business. And she says all the time that when she was, I believe, 17 at the time, she saw no future for herself. She thought that perhaps abortion was the only way for her to find happiness. And I’ve seen her bloom and help other women in her own same situation later on.
How did you see your work? Like, do you think of yourself as a feminist?
I do. I think that the goal of feminism is to elevate women. And I don’t believe the vision of feminism includes removing the reproductive qualities of a woman. I believe that society needs to take women for all that they are and not treat their fertility like a disease.
Anja, do you feel embraced as a feminist? Or do you feel like you have been rejected by other feminists?
I know there are times where pro-life feminist friends of mine have been, for instance, disinvited to the Women’s March. I know that in college when I said I was writing for a pro-life feminist publication, I had a professor say, well, that’s kind of an oxymoron, isn’t it? So I understand that there’s rejection involved, but I’m fully embraced by the communities that I want an embrace from. And so I ultimately don’t feel rejected.
Where were you, Anja, when you heard the news about the leak of the draft from the Supreme Court?
I was actually nursing my baby, just sitting at home with my family. And we just — everyone was, I’m sure as in your world, texting and calling each other, trying to find out if this was legitimate, what it means, has this happened before. I don’t feel it’s the time yet to make toasts, but I feel hopeful. So I think that’s where I have to reside until we have more information.
Right. You’re referring to the fact that it’s just a draft.
Yes. And I think, time and time again, different challenges have come to the Supreme Court. And being in Mississippi, knowing that the challenge is coming from our own state, I think Mississippi sometimes can be the butt of jokes. And to be able to set a precedent like this that sets free all of the states who’ve been working on the same things that we have is historical. It makes you feel like you’re experiencing something that is going to be written about — or in this instance, recorded — for us to understand for years to come.
Yeah, that in a way, it’s your home state that made the history.
Yes. I’m really proud. This was built by regular people. So to see that opinion reflected in the major court of opinion is really encouraging because we feel seen.
You feel seen.
Anja, thank you so much for talking to us.
Yes, of course.
Recently, my colleague, senior producer Jessica Cheung called Anja back to see what’s changed in her life since Roe was overturned.
Hi. Can you hear me OK?
Yeah, I can hear you fine.
Well, it’s great to connect with you. How are you?
Yeah, I’m pretty good. It’s actually my birthday, so it’s a fun day to talk about my work and round out my year.
Wow. Happy birthday, December 15. How old are you?
I’m 28 today.
Oh, wow. So we wanted to connect with you because when we last talked to you, the draft of the Supreme Court opinion on Roe had just leaked, and you were really encouraged by that. Can you describe where you were when you actually heard the ruling?
I was just at home, and I was by myself. No one was at home with me, and I was on the phone with my colleague. And so we read, at the same time, an organization-wide message. And I read it out loud to her. And I initially had almost a shock. Even though it was a decision a lot of people were anticipating, the pro-life side almost wins with the cards held close to our chest.
Like, don’t get too excited. Don’t celebrate too much. Don’t get your hopes up. But I had a friend who, all year, was saying, you get your hopes up. So I tried to internalize some of that. But until the moment happened, I didn’t realize how much I really was holding close maybe an emotional safeguard for if things don’t go the way that we want.
And in that moment, you felt like you could finally let yourself have that feeling sink in that you wouldn’t allow yourself to have before this moment.
Yes. I’ll say it was brief because even just minutes or hours after, OK, it’s time to get to work. It’s time to make sure people have what they need. It’s not like now it’s time to sit back and relax, and we win for all time.
Mm-hmm. I have to imagine that your work has gotten a lot more busy since Roe was overturned, that you’re meeting more people, more women who are keeping their pregnancies who will need your help. Is that right? Is that reflective of what you’re seeing with your job?
I myself don’t do the case management of women. So I communicate with the providers in the different service areas, and they are telling me what they’re seeing more of. So before, we were talking about something a little more abstract, something that may become an uptick in their community. OK. Now we’re talking about something that really is happening and that actually has made my job easier as far as explaining what it is we do and what our goal is to have a more seamless referral process.
So you’re seeing more resources, more services being offered because of the demand of women who are now keeping their pregnancies.
I would say the initial uptick in resources has actually been led by community organization leaders and church leaders who have heard from their congregation or their members who have said, I’m so glad this happened. Hooray. But what are we doing? What are we doing at our church? What are we doing at our club?
And so oftentimes, then they’re appointed back to me, or someone calls me up with an idea. An example would be — I’ve heard of multiple pastors, especially pastors of children’s programs, saying, well, we have a preschool here. We have a daycare here at the church. How many spots can we open up? Let’s talk about that.
But I’m really not having to beg people to get involved. It’s their own communities that are holding them accountable. They have made sure, OK, we’ve been praying for this a long time, and now here it is. And so what is the thing that I’m a member of doing?
Do you have a sense of how many more women with pregnancies that would have resulted in abortions are now not, meaning how many more women have to serve because of Roe being overturned, and now they’re having to keep their pregnancies?
I don’t, because while we do have this statewide data from previous years, we don’t have the data of all the states that women previously went to. For instance, DeSoto County is on the border of Tennessee. Perhaps a lot of people fall into the Tennessee numbers. I think what’s most helpful is pulling that county-by-county data and saying that this is at least how many we anticipate in your county.
And is there a county you have projections for that you’re working with?
I was talking with someone in Madison County, which is pretty close to me. The data was around 200.
200 women whose pregnancy may have resulted in abortions but are now not.
That is something we talked about when we’re actually projecting how many spots for daycare might be available. What makes projections like this difficult to be precise on is we don’t know how many women are choosing adoption. We don’t know how many women are finding a way to work part-time and arrange childcare with a parent, for instance. These are early days. So really, any numbers would be a projection, a guess. And the best we can do is, like I said, plan and anticipate based on what comes next.
I know 200 is just a projection, and you’re only working with projections at this point. But do you ever worry that you and the providers might not ever be able to keep up with the demand?
Well, we know that no two women’s stories are the same. And so every single woman is not going to need every single thing. I hear what you’re saying about, do I worry that there won’t be enough of a specific resource or multiple resources? The reason I have so much faith in my community is because I get to see it from the receiving end.
So while every provider does say, hey, we could use more hands, we could use more toiletries, we could use more presents for Christmas this year, I see, every single day, these needs fulfilled that usually start out feeling way too big. I mean, I’m in these groups for foster and adoption support. And sometimes, the needs are posted in a community group. And honestly, I can’t even get to help before the community comes through.
I’m really optimistic, and I’m ready to see what happens in the spring. I think that the world is going to be pleasantly surprised once the babies are here. And that’s not to say there won’t be struggles, and we won’t be learning along the way what to do better, what there’s a need to have more of. But I think we have to get back to that mother and child and meet each of them where they’re at in a really human way. And I think seeing the children will change things for a lot of people.
After the break we revisit the other side of the abortion fight — abortion providers.
So Jessica, by the way, is it OK if I call you Jess? Do you prefer Dr. Rubino? How do you prefer I address you?
Jess is fine. I really — it’s fine.
OK. So I’m Dr. Jessica Rubino, and I work at Austin Women’s Health Center. I’ve been there for about four Years I’ve been doing abortions for a little bit longer than that — almost five years, I think, at this point. I am going to be 37 years old this summer and have been just practicing under all those other restrictions that made me mad — the 24-hour waiting period, and the script of things that aren’t true, and blah, blah, blah, blah. And that all lasted until September. And then September started, and we entered a new kind of hell. We are only allowed to provide roughly up until six weeks.
And that’s SB8, the six-week ban. Right, Jess?
Correct. So not only do we have to wade through the stress of feeling like, OK, are you too far, are you not? But even if they are OK, and they’re under the limit, and I say, yes, I can see you, even then, they are like, OK, well, I don’t know if I even want to have an abortion yet. Some patients have told us that they feel so rushed in their choice, but they had to come to the clinic to get their consultation just in case because we also have the 24-hour waiting period.
I had a patient yesterday who said, I wish I could just be in peace while I’m making this decision, because right now, every social media feed everywhere, this is everywhere. And I just happen to be pregnant during this time. And she’s someone that I’m going to be able to see. She’s early enough, but it’s still so overwhelming for her to try to actually know what she really wants to do aside from all the crap around us.
Jess, what happens when a patient comes to you, and you have to tell them that they’re beyond six weeks?
Once I tell them that they’re beyond six weeks, that they’re past the point, some patients just sit up and swear a lot. And they’re like, it’s not at you. I just can’t believe that this is even happening. Other patients, it’s complete fear. I had a patient who just sat up and started crying the other day and said, well, I mean, if I don’t get an abortion, my partner said they’re going to kill me. What am I supposed to do?
And what am I supposed to tell them? I can’t offer you the appropriate medical care in this situation if that’s what you want. If you want to terminate your pregnancy in this situation for your safety, you don’t have the ability to do that. So she matters so much less than the pregnancy.
What did you say to her?
I literally, like — OK, I have resources. Take a few breaths. Let’s not give up. Here’s what we need to do. And then I’m able — at least currently, I’m able to give her resources to get one legally outside of the state. And for someone who’s just disclosed something like that, her brain is in three other places, and she’s freaking out.
But I also — I have to bring her back down to Earth a little bit in that moment and be like, OK, but what are we going to do practically? What are you going to do? Here are the steps.
I mean, it’s like you’re watching the doors closing in real time and having to game it out like some — I don’t know — army general or something.
Yep. We have patients who — I had one two weeks ago — that day was really, really hard to be a provider, was when she said, but this pregnancy wasn’t a choice. I was raped. And I want it out now. And I can’t do it for her. And I can show her where to go legally. How long I’m even able to do that is questionable. Is aiding and abetting going to be a problem?
And what do I tell her? I told her, I am a survivor. I know how you feel. But I need you to take some deep breaths. We need to get you some help. Here are resources. We have to get back to Earth from the trauma that you’re in right now. And that is awful that she needs space to be taken care of and told that she’s more important than that pregnancy. And that is not what she’s getting right now. I mean, it’s absolutely — I mean, it’s awful. My job has become awful.
Were you a survivor of rape?
Do you feel comfortable talking to us about it, or would you rather not?
Yeah, actually, I’m OK with that. I had actually traveled down to Mexico to study medical Spanish at one point during medical school, and it was someone that I knew. It was basically — I was just attacked, so it was a pretty brutal experience. And so at the time, I was worried about physical damage down there. I did a full exam, and then I tested myself for pregnancy. And I consider — I feel just really lucky that I didn’t get pregnant from that encounter. I knew exactly what that patient was talking about when she said how that would feel. Something from that person inside your body is just an appalling thought. I feel that in the pit of my stomach.
And I don’t talk about my trauma, necessarily, with the patients. It’s very rare, actually. But it has definitely made an impact on how careful I am with people’s pelvises. I don’t take for granted doing vaginal ultrasounds. I do that with permission. We talk it through. There’s consent, and you can stop at any time. I don’t know that I would have been as careful with some of that practice and as careful with my words. I would have liked to think I could have learned that without having to go through it, but it definitely shaped my desire to give really good, safe care to someone and make them feel like I’m treating your body with respect.
And I’m still doing all of those things amidst this. That’s already difficult enough to do in Texas, even before SB8. And then it’s way more difficult during SB8 because it’s a layer that I’m maintaining while also helping patients with all of the emotional layering on top. And we’re just looking ahead at maybe the biggest train wreck I’ve ever seen in my lifetime so far. And it’s just going to get worse.
Jess, we’ve talked to some folks on the anti-abortion side.
And one thing that they were saying, a lot of people were saying, was now is the moment when we really need to ramp up social services — diapers, help with transportation, that a lot more women are going to be carrying their pregnancies to term, and we need to be out there in force, helping with that. How do you see that argument? If there was a robust social safety net, is there any world in which maybe this could actually work, that you wouldn’t necessarily need abortion, that it would be OK?
No. Actually, there’s no world in which there aren’t abortions. And I actually wish I could get them to understand that. Even if we give all the best birth control in the world, and all of it works, and no one has a failure, even if we give all of the best resources we have, Medicare for all, even if we had all that, there will still be pregnancies where someone just doesn’t want to continue it, where someone has a fetal anomaly and decides that they would like to have an abortion as opposed to continuing a delivery because that feels better for them and their body and their choice.
The point that I really want them to understand is that having a delivery, taking a pregnancy all the way to term, is at least 10 to 12 times more dangerous than having an abortion. So when you tell me that I have to do that, that that’s my job, that once I’m pregnant, that’s what’s required of me because there’s a human being inside of me, you are sentencing me to a process that is 10 to 12 times more dangerous than the one I want. You are possibly sentencing me to death or a uterine rupture or a rip during a c-section, something’s cut, a problem with the intestines.
I mean, pregnancy isn’t a joke. It isn’t easy. For some people, it is. For some people, it’s incredibly hard. And some people, it’s incredibly dangerous. And none of that, none of that will change if Roe v. Wade is overturned. None of that will change even if everyone had all the resources they need.
I mean, do you see, in some way, Jess, just fundamentally, these two positions are just fundamentally incompatible? It’s like, it has to be one or the other? Like, where is the compromise? Is there a compromise anywhere in this?
No, I really don’t think so. It’s not their body. I really think it’s as basic as that. And I think when we get tangled up in everything else, then it’s just more confusing. But it really comes down to something really basic. I do not consider it acceptable to be a, quote-unquote, “pro-life physician.” I do not consider that acceptable. Because if you believe that you know better what I should do with my pregnancy than I do, then who’s to say you won’t make that choice for me in other medical settings? You won’t withhold a blood transfusion because you don’t think I need it? You won’t withhold another medication because you don’t like where it was manufactured? Where does that line stop?
But Jess, what about you? I mean, are you thinking that maybe you would need to leave the state? Is that something that’s been weighing on your mind?
Yeah, definitely. The way I look at it is, I feel like we’re in a battle here. And we’re so close to somewhere that needs help. And I have the procedural skills to safely help. It’s harder to sit here and not do that. It feels hard for me to stay. But I am also really tied to the patients I see here. And I have some patients that have seen me more than once that I know trust me. And so it’s also hard to think about leaving. I really hate this position that I’ve been put in. It’s confusing. I shouldn’t really be in this position, I don’t think.
After the break, I call Jess back to catch up on her life post-Roe.
Hey. It’s Sabrina.
Hey. How are you?
I’m good. I’m good. How are you?
I’m all right. I’ll turn off my little heater so it won’t make noise.
So the last time we spoke, you were kind of reeling, but also really seething in this kind of quiet but really angry way. You didn’t know if your clinic was going to close. You didn’t know if you’d stay in Texas. There were all these huge questions before you. So now we’re at the end of December. Catch me up, Jess. What happened?
So my anger stayed. That’s for sure. I essentially started doing more broad gynecological care, opening up our services, really, to help keep the clinic afloat. I spent the last few months face to face with all these people who a good majority of them did not want to continue their pregnancy to term. And we couldn’t help them in the way that I always have been able to help them. I don’t even know where the legality is in explaining to someone basic health care questions.
And I felt like I was doing someone else’s job of, like, when I was doing the gynecology portion of the care where someone wasn’t pregnant, and I was seeing them for birth control or any number of other things that someone goes to the gynecologist or a family medicine physician for — when I was doing those things, I just felt deflated, like I’m just really not living up to my passion.
Being in that state for so long, I eventually — it broke me. And I feel like I was physically breaking down. I’ve been having terrible abdominal pain, having physical manifestations of what I can tell is part of anxiety. And emotionally, I was like, I cannot be a good physician in this situation anymore. I mean, I quit just a few weeks ago.
Oh, wow. You quit, Jess?
Yeah. I was planning on staying there through December, and then that was it. Because I knew pretty quickly after June passed that this isn’t my role. I am an abortion provider. I specialize in helping patients through that delicate process, both just in the consultation with them but then also surgically, procedurally, all that I spent all that time learning, training, getting good at. I take pride in that, and now I’m suddenly not doing it. And it’s just not right for me. And so I knew I have to do something else. I have to leave.
Yeah. Was there a moment for you, Jess, when you decided, I can’t do this anymore?
It happened right after I got back from — I took a week off and traveled abroad to London.
When was that?
It was mid-November. I have been in the process of getting to know some folks over there with Doctors for Choice UK. Doctors for Choice UK is sort of like our National Abortion Federation. It’s a group in the United Kingdom that works on abortion care, sexual reproductive health care, promoting it, et cetera.
And I went over there, again, to see them, but also to have vacation. And I just was really — really just so happy that whole week. And obviously, on vacation, you’re happier than when you’re at work for some people. But actually, I used to miss my job when I’d be on vacation. I really love my work.
And coming back, and the oppression of it immediately — like, I can’t do it anymore. It was just midway through my day that first day back, and I can’t live — this is untenable. And since I can’t do what I feel is right — right now, I can’t conscientiously provide abortion in the way that people can conscientiously refuse — I just couldn’t be there anymore.
Did you think, Jess, of maybe going to a state, like a border state where women from Texas were going? What was your thought process after you decided to leave?
I considered it. There were actually a surprising number of barriers between me just suddenly starting to provide somewhere else. Let’s say, OK, I move to Colorado, and I work for someone, or I set up my own clinic. Because I definitely thought of that. But then what if the Colorado legislature flips and becomes Republican, and I can’t do abortions there? Or what if abortions become illegal at the national level?
And I feel like after everything I’ve gone through with the clinic, after everything all of us went through, I need to live in a place where I have rights right now, and I need to live in a place where I can do my job and I can breathe for a while and not have to look over my shoulder.
The light at the end of the tunnel for me — I finally have this little dim light of I could be doing abortions again, and I could maybe be doing abortions again and be really happy.
I wanted to ask you before I let you go about how you’re thinking right now about abortion access in the United States. I mean, we’ve talked a lot about your excitement about going to the UK and leaving the US. But like you’re leaving the US in what state? I mean, how do you see the current situation with abortion?
I think we’re in a bad state. And I don’t know that people everywhere even realize how bad it is. Because some places, it might feel normal, but other places, it really doesn’t. All of my anger has turned to really profound grief since I left. It’s grief for the patients and the people here — I mean, my neighbors and their children and their little girls. I mean, I’m really grieving for the people of Texas. And I don’t see a way it’s going to change.
I feel that I will gain some perspective by being away for a little bit, doing my job in a different set of scenarios. But I’m hoping that I can, in the next chapter of my life, try to learn and take something away that if I were to come back, we’ve got to be doing something different. I just don’t know what it is.
Jess, it’s so nice to talk to you.
It’s been really great talking with you.
You sound better.
Yeah. Yeah, I’m getting much better.
Today’s episode was produced by Jessica Cheung, Lynsea Garrison, Diana Nguyen and Michael Simon Johnson. It was edited by Paige Cowett, Liz O. Baylen, Patricia Willens and Anita Badejo; contains original music by Marion Lozano and Chelsea Daniel; and was engineered by Chris Wood and Corey Schreppel. Our theme music is by Jim Brunberg and Ben Landsverk of Wonderly. That’s it for “The Daily.” I’m Sabrina Tavernise. See you tomorrow.