After nearly 50 years of what many Americans thought was settled law, the question of the regulation of abortion is left to the states after the U.S Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.
Roe v. Wade was the 1973 Supreme Court landmark decision that granted a constitutional right to an abortion. In upholding a Mississippi ban on aborition at 15 weeks of pregnancy, the high court’s action removed the federal protection, leaving the decision of protecting a woman’s choice to the states. States such as Texas, Idaho, Louisiana, Alabama, and Oklahoma have made abortions an illegal medical practice. In Alaska and many other states, abortion rights remain protected.
Many people report feeling fear in the wake of overturning Roe v. Wade, including Kate Zaczkowski, a 20-year-old UAS student. “What are we even supposed to do? I kind of got a little helpless after. It was a scary moment,” she said.
Another response people experienced was anger. “I was angry. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me for old people who are not capable of reproducing to be exclusively the ones deciding whether or not you can reproduce,” said Sophia Coleman, a 17-year-old at UAS.
The 5 – 4 opinion disappointed many in the U.S judicial system. “I think that is a big step backwards. It opens up possibilities for other detrimental legislation to be put through,” said a 22-year-old UAS student, who preferred to remain anonymous.
Across the country, the majority of Americans disapprove of the high court’s decision, according to the Pew Research Center.
“You know it’s kind of a sad day that young women of reproductive age do not have the privilege to think of it as they control their destiny,” said Rep. Sara Hannan (D), who represents a large section of Juneau in the Alaska House of Representatives. “So we’re back to fight for basic rights of control of your destiny on reproductive health, which we know drives many aspects of your life. If you can’t control that you can’t control your destiny.”
Some, like 20-year-old UAS student Isaac Richardson, favor the U.S Supreme Court’s decision. “Just giving power to the states in general is very constitutional. In my opinion, I do think that it should not have ever been the federal government’s decision. It should have been state by state,” Richardson said.
The Whalesong’s unscientific poll also found people who had no opinion on the topic. “I don’t really have a reaction to that. I don’t think I heard about it when it first happened,” said Jimmy Baggen, an 18-year-old UAS student.
According to Planned Parenthood, an abortion is the process of ending a pregnancy. There are many different types of abortion, such as taking an abortion pill, an abortifacient, which is a drug or device to cause abortion, and a surgical abortion.
Many organizations such as Planned Parenthood offer abortions. Alaska has three Planned Parenthood clinics, one in Anchorage, Juneau, and Fairbanks that offer reproductive health care and education, as well as abortion.
Hannan said it is important that Alaska continue to provide access to abortions. “I think it’s important everywhere in the nation, but it’s especially important in Alaska because we are a state where in many parts of our state we don’t have access to good medical care,” she said. “So, you know, if you live in a remote location your reproductive rights and your choices about birth control need to be yours,”
The right to an abortion is protected by the privacy clause in the Alaska Constitution which reads, “The right of the people to privacy is recognized and shall not infringed.” This means a person has the right to privacy and autonomy, which in turn means the right to an abortion is protected.
“Alaska has repeatedly upheld our privacy clause to mean that you have the right to this bodily autonomy,” Hannan said.
In the Nov. 8 general election, Alaskans will vote on Ballot Measure 1, which states: “Shall there be a constitutional convention?” According to the Alaska Constitution, voters must be given the chance to vote on the question if a convention has not been held during the last 10 years. Alaska has had only one Constitutional Convention, and the resulting constitution was ratified by voters in 1956. If the convention question passes this year, reproductive rights could be a major question.
Many who are for a Constitutional Convention want to permanently ban reproductive and abortion rights within the state. Even if it passed, it would be several years before a convention would be held.
“I don’t think that the majority of Alaskans support a constitutional convention. But remember, elections aren’t all Alaskans, they are voters,” Hannan said. “Something like 32% of Alaskans usually vote for a Constitutional Convention, and the polling was only showing 35-37% likely to vote for it. We’ll see. Because are you actually polling the voters or are you just polling people?” she asked. “And not all of them will be voters.”
Samantha Zelley is a 20-year-old student senator at UAS. “With the current U.S government, it’s a myth that your vote doesn’t count. Feel empowered in your vote,” she said.
“If you really want to make a difference, something my sociology professor said that really stuck with me was that meaningful change is often really slow and boring. Even though going to protests is really important for the communal solidarity of these issues, it is equally important to go to the elections and actually put your opinion on paper. Because electing certain people into office is really what actually influences these decisions.”
Hannan said the right to privacy that is expressed in the Alaska Constitution is a right given to all Alaskans. Constitutional rights needed to be defended or they don’t exist for anyone, she said.
By Teigan Akagi, Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong