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What happens to patients if Roe v. Wade is overturned?

Medical Pharmaceutical Translations • May 9, 2022 12:00:00 AM

On May 2, Politico leaked a document showing that the US Supreme Court is likely to overturn Roe v. Wade this summer. If this comes to be, up to 26 states could either make abortion illegal or put restrictions in place.

A number of recent polls, including one by Pew Research, show that around 60% of Americans believe abortion should be legal. It’s an estimated 1 in 4 women in the US will get an abortion in the course of their lifetime.

And yet, in a few months, access to abortion may no longer be the reality for many Americans.

This likely change in national legislation has a number of implications for patients and healthcare providers. There’s so much to say about that we’re going to divide our look at this issue into two parts.

This week’s article will focus on what will happen to patients if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Next week’s article will explore what will happen to healthcare providers if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

What will happen to patients if Roe v. Wade is overturned?

Before we look at what specifically will happen to people seeking an abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned, there are two issues that would affect both patients and healthcare providers:

- More states may implement laws like Texas’s S.B.8, which penalizes abortion providers as well as anyone who might be seen as helping someone get or perform an abortion.

Planned Parenthood’s Ianthe Metzger states that this would “not only [put] providers and support networks at risk of frivolous lawsuits but strike fear into abortion patients and their loved ones.”

If plaintiffs lose, they may face jail time. Equally worrisome is the fact that some people may be wrongly accused. For instance, on the patient side of things, some women have been and could be prosecuted for having a miscarriage, if their healthcare provider, neighbor, estranged partner, etc., believes it was an abortion.

-Abortion pills may be restricted or banned. This is a worst-case scenario and there may be workarounds, such as ordering the pills from overseas pharmacies.

How patients in particular would be affected

Here are some ways patients in particular could be affected if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Up to 58% of women in the US could be be blocked from getting an abortion in their state of residence.

This will mean that a majority of women in America would need to travel out of state to get care. For some, that might be an inconvenience, but for lower income patients or people without access to transportation, it would be a major obstacle or an outright block.

There’s likely to be an increase in domestic violence. Studies have shown that when people don’t have the option to have an abortion, they are more likely to stay in relationships where they’ve experienced abuse, since it might seem easier financially or otherwise than being a single parent.

Banning abortion would mean a higher health risk and mortality rate for people of color. Already underrepresented and less likely to be listened to by doctors, women of color would have even more difficulty if Roe v. Wade was overturned. For one thing, since people of color have higher poverty rates, it may be more difficult for them to leave their state for abortion care.

Another issue is that black women have a higher maternal mortality rate than the rest of the population. In Texas alone, where abortion restrictions are currently the most severe in the US , forcing black women to bring at-risk pregnancies to term could cause that rate to reach 33% by 2023, Time Magazine estimates.

Medical abortion would become the norm. The World Health Organization points out that abortion restrictions don’t stop abortions; they often cause people to search for riskier solutions. Fortunately, an article in The Verge explains that if patients have to get an abortion illegally, the implications aren’t the same as they were before Roe v. Wade made the procedure not only accessible, but safe. Nowadays, pills - namely the combination of mifepristone and misoprostol - often make surgical abortion unnecessary. The pills are safe and can be used at home, without medical supervision.

The use of abortion pills actually seems like a natural evolution of the procedure. The article reveals that pills are used in over 90% of abortions in some European countries. They’re gaining ground in the US, too, being used in over 50% of the abortions in the United States in 2020.

Not only are pills an effective and usually safe way to have an abortion for most people; one of them, misoprostol, can be effective on its own and can be obtained in places where abortions and its partner drug, mifepristone, are illegal. This is because misoprostol has multiple uses, including inducing labor and managing ulcers. As the article very helpfully states, “Doulas have access to it. Doctors can prescribe it off label….In countries like Mexico, it’s available over the counter.”

Speaking of access, there are also ways to obtain abortion pills from overseas pharmacies. Patients can find these sites via AidAccess, an organization that also allows patients to purchase abortion pills in advance, so that they have them if they’re needed and don’t have to wait for the long shipping delay.

Patients will increasingly rely on the internet for information about and access to abortions. In addition to searching for general information about abortion pills and the steps of a medical abortion, patients can turn to organizations like Plan C,

whose website features lists of abortion-related sites and pharmacies that can send abortion pills to patients.

Patients may feel obligated to disclose the fact that they’ve had an abortion to their healthcare provider. But it’s important to remember that this is not required by law and that there’s no way to tell the difference between a medical abortion and a miscarriage. Knowing this could keep many patients from lawsuits and incarceration.

If you or someone you know is seeking an abortion or is worried about future access to a safe abortion, there is hope. In addition to some of the organizations and workarounds mentioned in this article, there are some groups who are fighting in other ways, including individual states and even religious organizations. We’ll take a look at them in part 2 of our article, which will be online next week.

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