Skip To Content

    This OBGYN Went Viral For Explaining What Could Happen If Roe V. Wade Is Overturned, And It's Incredibly Eye-Opening

    "They should not be so afraid of pregnancy that they feel pushed to this."

    The leaked draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade suggests that the 1973 landmark decision that recognized the constitutional right to abortion could be overruled within the next two months. Though this would not ban abortion in the US, the right to abortion would be left for each state to independently decide. As of May 2022, 28 states are set to ban or restrict abortion if it is not federally protected.

    Pro-choice activists supporting legal access to abortion protest during a demonstration outside the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, March 4, 2020

    Beyond the principle of a constitutional right to abortion, the threat of an overturned Roe poises many questions: Can people in states with restricted abortion access seek abortion elsewhere? Is this equitable? What exactly does the Roe v. Wade ruling say that makes this debatable? What did abortion access in the US look like before?

    (Hint 1: The ruling has to do with the interpretation of the 14th Amendment. Hint 2: In 1972, out-of-state individuals accounted for 60% of abortions performed in Manhattan. We'll get to all of these questions in this article.)

    Dr. Jennifer Lincoln (@drjenniferlincoln), an OB/GYN, went viral for addressing these questions and outlining five potential ramifications of overturning the landmark decision on TikTok — amassing nearly 2 million views and more than 6,000 comments.

    She prefaces the video with, "It doesn’t mean that we can’t still protect abortion, that’s the topic for another day, it just means we can’t rely on the Supreme Court," before going on to list the following five potential ramifications:

    •  Twenty-six states will likely or very likely ban abortion immediately. Twenty-one states already have those laws in place. As of May 2022, there are now 28 states poised to ban or tightly restrict abortion access.

    •  In those 26 states, 36 million people with uteruses of reproductive age will not be able to access legal abortion.

    •  Driving distances for safe and legal abortions will dramatically increase. For example, a person who lives in Florida would have to drive 575 miles one way to access legal abortion.

    •  More pregnant people will be exposed to domestic violence/abuse in their households because they are less likely to leave their partners due to pregnancy.

    •  Poverty for people with uteruses will worsen. Studies show that people who were denied an abortion and carry an unwanted pregnancy to term have four times greater odds of living below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

    To speak more about these potential ramifications of overturning Roe v. Wade, BuzzFeed reached out to Dr. Lincoln. "My colleagues are truly disturbed to see the rights of our patients being taken away and to see the patient-doctor relationship be eroded and invaded by government regulation," Dr. Lincoln shared. "You can scroll through my TikTok comments section and see how many people living in Texas and other restrictive states are so scared to see their autonomy being taken away — to the point where they are looking into getting an IUD or stocking up on emergency contraception."

    Despite certain states protecting the right to abortion, overturning Roe v. Wade results in inequity, wherein only those with the means to travel to states with legalized abortion could obtain one. "This is not fair or equitable — that access to basic healthcare depends on your zip code. Pregnant people should have equal access to reproductive care no matter where they live, and this is why federal legislation is so needed," Dr. Lincoln asserted.

    Dr. Lincoln also recognized that overturning Roe would lead to a rise in unsafe abortions and deaths in pregnant people, and disproportionately affect traditionally underserved communities, such as BIPOC and low-income communities. Moreover, delegalizing abortion would not prevent abortions, only make them less accessible. "Illegal abortion will look a lot like what it did in the pre-Roe era," Dr. Lincoln specified.

    A pro-choice demonstration in New York City, 1968

    Deaths of pregnant people would also increase in part because, as Dr. Lincoln cited, legal abortion is safer than childbirth, with complications being extremely rare. In 2019, the US maternal mortality rate was 20 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. In contrast, there are 0.7 maternal deaths per 100,000 legal induced abortions, and there are 30 maternal deaths per 100,000 illegal induced abortions (in developed nations). Additionally, Dr. Lincoln stated that illegal abortions are associated with higher rates of infections, sepsis, and hemorrhage, and higher needs for hospitalization and hysterectomies.

    While Dr. Lincoln believes people may seek out more reliable contraception if abortion access is restricted (like IUDs and arm implants), she emphasized, "The problem is that, in these states, access to and coverage of family planning services can be harder to come by (ironically). I do worry that more people may consider tubal ligations or hysterectomies to ensure they don't get pregnant now but, down the road, may want children. They should not be so afraid of pregnancy that they feel pushed to this, but this is what happens when you have excessive government uterine regulation."

    To better understand what would be overturned and subsequent ramifications, let's talk about Roe v. Wade itself and the surrounding social climate: In 1968, 21-year-old Dallas woman Norma McCorvey — "Jane Roe" — was pregnant for the third time. She had given up her first two children and did not want to bring a third pregnancy to term. McCorvey's adoption lawyer referred her to attorneys Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, and in 1970, they filed a lawsuit against Dallas County district attorney Henry Wade. A Texas district court unanimously ruled that the anti-abortion law violated the constitutional right to privacy but declined to grant an injunction. Both parties appealed, resulting in Roe v. Wade reaching the Supreme Court later that year.

    Norma McCorvey at the March For Women's Lives outside the US Capitol in 1989

    At the time, abortion was legal in five states and illegal in 30 states without exception. The remaining 15 states prohibited it, as well, but had varying exceptions in cases of rape, health threats, etc. While some Americans could obtain safe, legal abortions by traveling out-of-state (or country) or by paying large sums for a secret, illegal abortion, McCorvey did not have the financial means to do so — and she wasn't the only one. "Back-alley" or self-induced abortions (both illegal and dangerous) were not uncommon at the time. Between 200,000 and 1.2 million illegal abortions took place every year in the 1950s and 1960s, as estimated by the Guttmacher Institute.

    Pro-choice demonstrators march down Pennsylvania Ave in Washington, DC in 1970

    In an interview with the New York Times, retired OBYGN Dr. Carmel J. Cohen, who practiced at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York for more than 60 years, said that "the overwhelming majority of his abortion patients in the early 1970s had traveled from outside the state," and patients "with the financial means would often travel to and from New York for an abortion in a single day." In 1972, out-of-state individuals accounted for 60% of the 118,000 abortions performed in Manhattan.

    A Pennsylvania billboard advertising legal abortions in New York

    In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of "Jane Roe" in a 7-2 decision, striking down the Texas law and federally legalizing abortion. The court declared that the state's anti-abortion law violated the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment, which essentially protects one's right to privacy against state action. This constitutional right to privacy, the court held, encompassed one's qualified right to terminate their pregnancy. However, the court also supported governments' interest in protecting one's health and prenatal life. To balance these, the court broke pregnancy into three trimesters: In the first trimester, state governments could not prohibit abortion. In the second trimester, state governments could regulate but not ban abortion. In the third trimester, state governments could prohibit abortion to protect a fetus unless the person's health is in danger.

    Supreme Court building exterior
    Attorney Gloria Allred and Norma McCorvey at a Pro Choice Rally in Burbank, California 1989

    To many, the pre-Roe v. Wade era mirrors a future era with Roe overturned — one in which, as Dr. Lincoln outlined, tens of millions of people with uteruses would be unable to access safe and legal abortion without substantial financial means. Instead, they would have to travel unnecessarily long distances and likely live in worsened poverty. Subsequently, more pregnant people would likely be exposed and subjected to domestic violence as they'd be less likely to leave their partners (and have lesser means to while pregnant or with a child). Because overturning Roe would allow states to independently regulate abortion rights, one way to impact abortion rights in your state is by voting locally.

    Protesters take part in the Women's March and Rally for Abortion Justice in Austin, Texas, on October 2, 2021

    Ultimately, Dr. Lincoln shared that she created her video to raise awareness and help fight back, "Abortion access is in grave danger, and most people don't realize just how bad it has gotten. It's easy to not notice this if you aren't paying attention. How many people know that 106 abortion restrictions were enacted in 2021, the most since 1973 when Roe v. Wade went into effect?"

    "It's scary stuff, and we need to see what these politicians are doing before it's too late," she said. "We can fight back, and I want people to realize what's at stake and that we can speak up and use our collective power."

    For more resources regarding abortion, visit the Guttmacher Institute and the Center For Reproductive Rights.