Supreme Court leaked abortion draft: U-M experts can comment on political, health effects


The U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged a leaked draft opinion on Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 court decision that granted federal protection of abortion rights. The University of Michigan has experts who can weigh in on the potential decision, which is expected to be formally announced before the term ends this summer.

Paula Lantz, professor of public policy and health management and policy, studies the role of public policy in improving population health and reducing social disparities in health.

“Since abortion has been a legal and private health care service for almost 50 years, the data systems and resources needed to accurately measure and track the health injuries and deaths that will occur from illegal abortions are nonexistent,” she said.

“As I wrote in a 2019 opinion piece regarding restrictive state abortion laws: ‘It is in society’s best interest for experts reach consensus on the best methods for producing nonbiased, valid estimates of the death and severe morbidity toll from restrictive abortion policies. This is critically important because we know that when abortion and other reproductive health services are severely restricted, women do suffer and die. The numbers represent real people, are important regardless of ideology and deserve to be known, believed and respected.'”

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Barbara McQuade, professor from practice of law, specializes in civil rights, public interest law and criminal law.

“It’s unprecedented to see a draft opinion like this leak out, though sometimes in the past there have been leaks of the way the court was leaning or the way an individual justice might be inclined to vote,” she said. “But the leak, I think, at the very least, does tend to undermine the credibility of the court because it suggests that it bows to political whims and is a political actor.

“And what does it mean for the women of America? Well, it means that in 13 states where they already have trigger laws, there will no longer be a right to abortion. Those laws were passed since 1973 that say if Roe v. Wade is overturned, it is immediately illegal to have an abortion in those states, to varying degrees. There are other states like Michigan where there are old laws on the books that will be resuscitated if Roe v. Wade is overturned.”

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Siobán Harlow is a professor emerita of epidemiology and global public health, and obstetrics and gynecology. She is also the director of the Center for Midlife Science.

“At a time when other countries, such as Mexico and Ireland, are recognizing the harmful toll of laws that prohibit or restrict access to abortion, it is very troubling that the Supreme Court of the United States is planning to overturn Roe v. Wade,” she said. “The restrictive laws passed in Texas and other states reflect a woeful disregard of the science, the context of many women’s lives, the danger to the high proportion of women who miscarry and health equity.

“These laws will increase maternal morbidity and mortality—they will not stop abortion. I worry most about girls who are victims of incest, adolescents and young women who are trafficked, poor women who do not have the same means to travel that their well-to-do counterparts have, and women who miscarry.”

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Sarah Miller is an assistant professor of business economics and public policy and faculty associate at the Population Studies Center at the Institute for Social Research. She researches health care and health economics and recently published a paper on the economic consequences of being denied an abortion.

“Our recent study compared women who are denied abortions on the basis of gestational age to women who sought and obtained abortions slightly earlier in the pregnancy,” she said. “Those denied abortions experience a spike in financial problems—including serious financial problems such as bankruptcies—that persisted for many years. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, millions will be put in a position where an unplanned pregnancy could expose them to serious long-term financial and economic hardship.”

Contact: 734-647-6978, [email protected]

Josh Pasek is an associate professor of communication and media and faculty associate at the Center for Political Studies in the Institute for Social Research. His research explores how new media and psychological processes each shape political attitudes and behaviors and public opinion. He is also leading a project assessing abortion and public opinion.

“As supporters of abortion access think about ways to respond to the decision, there will be a temptation for some to frame the issue as men trying to control women’s bodies. Although that may well be the effect of the changing legal landscape, the frame is unlikely to be persuasive, as women represent not just the strongest advocates for legal abortion, but also its strongest opponents,” he said. “The landscape on abortion attitudes has shifted massively over time. It’s easy to forget that when Roe was first decided, Republicans were more likely to support abortion access than Democrats and men favored legal access more than women.”

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Anna Kirkland is a professor and director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender.

“The leaked majority opinion shows that the court is willing to take the most dramatic route to overturning Roe v. Wade, completely overruling it and calling into question the entire line of cases that it is connected to,” she said. “Abortion access is about to be dramatically restricted across large swaths of the United States. Some people who need abortions will still be able to get them by traveling or using medication, but many more people will be forced to give birth against their will. Some will take desperate actions and some will die from pregnancy complications.

“This is by far the most radical right-wing majority we have ever seen on the Supreme Court, and so I am wondering whether and when they will take further steps like declaring that a fetus is a person, making all abortions illegal no matter what the state would like to do, or removing rights of access to same-sex marriage or contraception. Republican state legislatures are certainly ready to oblige them with these laws. These are theocratically driven ideas that have found a majority on our court.”

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William Lopez is a clinical assistant professor of health behavior and health education who researches and teaches on the ways in which policies impact communities of color.

“Public health research is clear that access to abortion is part of a full suite of reproductive health care,” he said. “Eliminating abortion access will increase cycles of poverty, criminalize pregnancy and unquestionably lead to maternal mortality. As is the case with all regressive health care policies, the burden of morbidity and mortality will be born most heavily by people of color.”

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Ruth Zielinski is a clinical professor and head of the graduate midwifery program at the School of Nursing. Her research expertise is in women’s health around body image and sexuality and maternal health outcomes. In this recent Q&A, she discusses how the state of Michigan limits reproductive health services that midwives and nurses can provide, further limiting services women receive.

“Michigan unnecessarily restricts where abortion can be provided by requiring that abortions be performed in a hospital or a specialized facility (in compliance with the requirements of a surgical facility),” she said. “This is unnecessarily restrictive and could make accessing abortion more difficult for those in rural communities, especially if they are lower income.”

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Richard Friedman, professor of law, is an expert on evidence and U.S. Supreme Court history.

“If the draft opinion that was released becomes (after some revisions) a majority opinion of the Supreme Court, as seems likely, it will obviously be a bombshell, though not a surprise,” he said. “But the long-term effect may be very different from what is apparent right now.

“Most of the American public consistently supports allowing women to abort pregnancies, at least in the first trimester, and the full force of that view will now be directed into political channels. We can expect this to help Democrats and put many Republicans on the spot. Pro-choice organizations will raise money much more easily, and I believe that, though some states will try to prevent them, far more women will be able to travel out of state for safe and legal abortions. Also, the great majority of abortions are performed in states where the law will not change as a result of this decision.”

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Leah Litman is an assistant professor of law focusing on constitutional law, federal courts and federal sentencing. Her research examines unidentified and implicit values that are used to structure the legal system, the federal courts and the legal profession. She’s the host of “Strict Scrutiny,” a podcast exploring news, arguments and opinions from the Supreme Court.

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Lisa Harris, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, directs U-M’s Fellowship in Family Planning. Her clinical work includes most aspects of general obstetrics and gynecology care, with a focus on miscarriage and family planning. In particular, her research explores abortion stigma, the experiences of abortion care providers, race and social class stratification of reproduction, and strategies for providing health care within a reproductive justice framework.

Contact: Beata Mostafavi, [email protected]

Laura Owens is a clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology with specialist training in complex family planning and abortion care. Her research team will study the impact of geography on abortion care access in Michigan by analyzing data on the distance to abortion care by Michigan county, identifying areas that are most likely to be affected by a ban, and examining whether distance to abortion care is associated with county-level maternal morbidity, racial composition and socioeconomic status.

Contact: Beata Mostafavi, [email protected]

Joelle Abramowitz, assistant research scientist at the Survey Research Center in the Institute for Social Research, studies health insurance, medical expenditures, marriage, fertility and general health topics.

“Research has shown the detrimental effects on women’s health and well-being of policies restricting access to abortion services at the time they seek an abortion and over the course of the rest of their lives,” she said. “Policy environments in which abortion was legal and readily accessible by young women are estimated to have caused a 34% reduction in first births, a 19% reduction in first marriages and a 63% reduction in ‘shotgun marriages’ prior to age 19.

“I’ve found that when women ages 20-24 have ready access to birth control through health insurance, abortion rates fall by 10%. These findings suggest that when women use more effective birth control when they have access to it, resulting in fewer unwanted pregnancies, but despite the Affordable Care Act provisions mandating the availability of free contraception, in practice, insurers often do not provide full coverage.”

Contact: 609-334-2162, [email protected]