Judge Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed to the United States Supreme Court by the Senate on Oct. 26, and since then, many people have been left wondering about the state of their reproductive rights.
The main issue on people’s minds, of course, is how this will affect the rights of individuals to seek an abortion. Barrett’s record suggests that she is in favor of overturning the historic Roe v. Wade decision, and the newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice has ruled against abortion rights while serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
Despite abortion taking the spotlight, Barrett’s stance on health care access may also affect reproductive rights and access for Americans. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been under fire by the Trump administration for a few years now, and legal experts are unsure how Barrett will vote on the issue. If she does vote in opposition to the law, however, the number of uninsured Americans could increase by about 20 million, directly affecting the pregnancy and birth processes for many individuals.
Barrett’s beliefs about contraception are also unclear. Though she stated during her Senate Supreme Court confirmation hearing that she doesn’t think Griswold v. Connecticut, which legalized contraception, is “in danger of going anywhere,” her signing on a 2006 advertisement which states “life begins at fertilization” has raised concerns. And, if she does vote in opposition to the ACA, many would lose access to affordable contraception.
The question is, do the residents of Oregon and Benton County have reason to worry?
Local Access to Reproductive Health Services
Melissa Cheyney, associate professor of anthropology at Oregon State University, midwife, and director of the Community Doula Project, said that the local community is considered quite lucky in regard to reproductive health rights and access.
“We have really the full range of care,” she said. “We have a lot going for us in Oregon in particular.”
Benton County houses hospitals, options for homebirths, and a doula program, giving pregnant individuals a wide range of options for the birth of their child(ren).
The Benton County Family Planning program also provides support for women and men in the area between the ages of 10 and 60 in the form of reproductive and sexual health services, including annual women’s exams, birth control supplies, emergency contraception, sexually transmitted infection (STI) screenings and treatment, and more.
Included in reproductive rights is also access to STI information, which the Valley Aids Network (VAIN), located in Corvallis, provides. VAIN distributes condoms around the local area and has a speaker’s bureau and information tabling to educate the public about STI’s.
Despite these options, Cheyney said that there are still systemic barriers, with marginalized communities being disproportionately affected by obstacles related to insurance and birth center capacity.
“We don’t have a system that makes it easy for people to access the care that best fits with their particular individual risk profile or their personal desires for their birth,” Cheyney said.
COVID-19 has also had an effect on reproductive health access, largely due to the fact that hospitals have had to change some of the ways in which they function. For pregnant people, new worries arise when giving birth in the hospital with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) being required, only one person being allowed in the room, and the risk of parent or baby contracting the virus.
For other birth options, like homebirths, necessary people to the process like midwives lack access to PPE.
These changes to the system, according to Cheyney, give people in the medical field the opportunity to reflect on how they can better serve communities. “It would be really cool, if in future situations, or in this ongoing pandemic, if we could find ways to do a better job of accommodating people,” she said.
When asked if Oregonians should be worried about their reproductive health rights being taken away, Cheyney said, “I think that they are worried regardless of whether they need to be or not.”
She continued, “I think among academics and the medical anthropologists that study this, what we see is that making something illegal doesn’t make it safer.”
In Oregon at least, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, “If Roe is weakened or overturned: Abortion will remain legal in Oregon. State law protects abortion and Oregon has enacted additional laws to expand abortion access.”
Oregon law includes a statutory protection for abortion, and public funding is provided for the procedure. Private insurance coverage of abortion is also required.
If Judge Amy Coney Barrett votes against abortion, affordable healthcare, and contraception, however, other Americans will be in danger.
Cheyney said, in regard to the government being opposed to rights like abortion, “You’re not actually serving women, or serving families, or making sure that people are safe.”
By Cara Nixon