A year and a half in post-Roe America: Looking back and moving forward

A female protester holds up a clear message for the U.S. Supreme Court. PHOTO BY LILY SEXTON

By Lily Sexton

In the 18 months since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, activists are using every tool they have to restore reproductive rights across the country. 

From new initiatives, to showing up at the ballot box, to an underground abortion network, the decision that was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court proved to energize the pro-choice movement–creating a pushback in a way that hasn’t been done before. 

“When the court ruling came out, I was deeply sad,” said Marty Walz, a former chief executive officer of Massachusetts Planned Parenthood. “But anyone who thinks this is the end is very naive.”

The decision to overturn Roe v. Wade made it so that the authority to regulate abortion is in the hands of the states and their elected officials. It also opened the door for states to ban abortion outright. Since then, the pro-choice movement has taken some devastating hits. 

Thirteen states saw their “trigger laws” enacted, which is an abortion ban passed in advance that could take effect the minute Roe was overturned. So almost immediately, women in those states lost what had been a constitutionally protected right and were left to navigate this post-roe America with no precedent. 

Other state representatives took the past year and a half to pass new anti-abortion legislation, bringing the new total to 21 states. Twelve of those completely ban abortion at any stage of pregnancy, in some cases, it does not even allow for exceptions in cases of rape, incest or health endangerment. 

Status of abortion across the United States as of January 2023. Note: Facts are changing quickly, an updated guide can be found at abortionfinder.org

But this chaos from the court’s controversial ruling fueled a response from the pro-choice movement. 

“The court’s ruling is the court’s ruling, we’re stuck with it now,” Walz said. “But we know the solution is to mobilize and organize around the country.”

One of the most measurable responses to that mobilization has been the millions of dollars donated to pro-choice organizations. According to the end-of-year impact report from Planned Parenthood, their donations spiked to seven times what it was before the Supreme Court decision. The report also details that they reached more than $2 million in unrestricted donations.  The organization was able to keep its hundreds of health centers in the United States open–and in the states where they had to stop performing abortions, they are still providing health services and motivating supporters to take action. 

The National Network of Abortion Funds, a network of organizations that help pay for people’s abortions, also saw a spike in donations. According to a report published by the Guttmacher Institute, the network was flooded with funding–estimated at $3 million from more than 30,000 donors in the few weeks following the Dobbs decision.

Abortion advocates stand in solidarity shortly after the Supreme Court Ruling, in May 2022. PHOTO BY LILY SEXTON.

Jess Pinckny, who serves on the board of an Abortion Access Fund said that she’s seen people step up philanthropically but that she isn’t surprised. 

“When abortion became banned, everyone felt this fire underneath them,” said Pinckny. “So many people are working hard to show up for our communities and provide the financial and logistical support needed to access abortion care.”

Abortion fund organizations help connect women seeking abortions with resources to assist with the procedure, including funding to cover medical costs. The outpouring of monetary support for these organizations reflects the support for those services and the resistance to the decision from the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Beyond funding, some activists have taken the fight into their own hands.

Protestors make homemade signs calling for action from the government. PHOTO BY LILY SEXTON.

The Auntie Network is a support group, known as a community on Reddit “dedicated to providing information and resources to those in need of abortion services.” Once the news broke that abortion was no longer protected by the Constitution, women and pro-choice activists used this platform to offer their support to each other directly. 

That support comes in all different methods, some women are offering to arrange rides and other transportation from states with bans to states with abortion access, and many others are offering their homes to someone who needs the procedure. Women are posting on the website from all across the map, offering what they’re able to. 

An Ohio “auntie” wrote that she can offer “a place to recover, transportation to and from, and other logistics along the way–just want to help in any way we can.”

Another “auntie” in Colorado wrote that she could offer food, transportation, and a bed, ending the message with: “Life is hard right now. But we can make it a little better by standing together. Compassion and understanding for everyone is the only way forward.”

Many women use this network to provide a consistent safe haven for women that isn’t regulated by the government. An activist from Virginia, who asked to go by her first name–Lisa–said she has assisted at least five women as they got a legal abortion by opening up the doors to her home. 

“I don’t ask them where they’re coming from if they don’t offer it up,” Lisa said. “They’re my nieces so I do what I can to help them, whether that’s a pickup from an airport or a shoulder to cry on. It’s my personal way of fighting back.”  

The women that use the service to ask for assistance are referred to as ‘nieces’, which Lisa said brings some normalcy and trust into the relationships if they’ve been family for life already.  

In her original introduction post in the Reddit group, she said that she is there for the women in whatever capacity they need. After five success stories of women flying in and staying with her for abortion access until they’re ready to return home, she said she plans to continue down this path because it feels like a calling. 

“There are two messages that I want to send out, taking the past year and a half into account,” said Lisa. “The first message is for any woman that is struggling with this difficult decision, and it’s that you are not alone and you never will be, not as long as I’m alive.”

“The other message is for the Supreme Court–and it’s that you’re going to need a lot more than a ruling to stop us from getting the healthcare we deserve,” she said. 

There is no real way to measure exactly how many women have utilized this network, but the Reddit group has more than 80,000 members–all supporting the cause.  

Another key way women are fighting back is by voting. “The most important tool that everyone has available to them is the right to vote,” Walz said.

Voters motivated by the ruling don’t have to be told twice. At every election since the ruling, voters have turned out in support of abortion rights initiatives even in red states like Kansas, Kentucky and Ohio. 

Ohio was the abortion battleground poll in this most recent election, and it resulted in new constitutional protections for abortion access in the state. It was the seventh straight victory in statewide votes for supporters of abortion access nationally. 

Statistics back up this turnout. Public opinion researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation published a study, where they found 55% of voters that they spoke to reported that access to abortion is “very important” to how they’re casting their ballot–which is a 9% increase from what they would said prior to the decision. 

“It makes sense. This issue should be on every voter’s mind unless they want to criminalize women’s bodies. It’s that simple.” said Walz. 

But activists know that the fight isn’t anywhere near done. 

“Sitting back and being scared is an option, but taking action is how we’re going to restore women’s access to health care,” she said. 

About Lillian Sexton 4 Articles
Lily Sexton is a broadcast news producer. She was raised in Queens, NY and now lives in Boston, MA. She loves music, baking and indoor cycling.