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Law professor: ‘There’s not one law that you can think of that controls a man’s body’

Black women legal scholars sound off on what overturning the constitutionally protected right to abortion means

Abortion rights activists yell during a protest in the wake of the decision overturning Roe v. Wade outside the U.S. Supreme Court on June 25, 2022 in Washington, D.C. The court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health overturned the landmark 50-year-old Roe v. Wade case and erased a federal right to an abortion.Anna Moneymaker/Getty

And just like that, the right to the federally protected right to abortion was overturned Friday by the U.S. Supreme Court, whose opinion could make it possible to cancel other constitutionally protected rights, such as same-sex marriage. Now up to states to decide, abortion bans immediately went into effect in eight states — Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah — with more to come.

In the 6-3 ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, where the State of Mississippi sought to ban most abortions after 15 weeks, Justice Samuel Alito argued: “The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision … . ”

This a curious statement given the constitution doesn’t mention women — at all.

Protests erupted across the nation — from Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., Nashville, New Orleans, and New York and beyond — in response to overturning nearly 50 years of access to abortion care that will affect the most vulnerable women, such as those who are low-income and Black women who suffer from higher maternal mortality rates.

The Emancipator spoke with Black women law professors attending Boston University School of Law’s 14th annual Lutie A. Lytle Black Women Law Faculty Workshop & Writing Retreat, named for the first Black woman admitted to the bar in the South and Kansas. Lytle also was the first woman law professor in the United States. Here’s what they say about the decision:

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Kimberly Mutcherson, co-dean at Rutgers Law School.Melissa Clavijo

“The most important thing to know is that this does not mean that abortion is immediately illegal all around the country. What it means is that individual states get to make decisions about whether abortion will be legal there or not. What we know is that there are about 13 states already that have trigger laws. And we know that anybody who’s in a sort of marginalized position tends to be impacted by rules that make it harder to get access to abortion. Many states have been rolling back abortion protections for years. Women who live in rural communities, and women who are undocumented, younger women who tend to find out about their pregnancies later than other women, Black women, low-income women. These are folks who already have precarious access to abortion. And this just sort of pushes them over the edge into being in a space where access may be completely gone.” — Kimberly Mutcherson, co-dean at Rutgers Law School


Najarian Peters, associate professor at the University of Kansas School of Law.Melissa Clavijo

“What’s concerning to me about this decision has to do with the disparities that minoritized, racialized women, Black women in particular [are] suffering in ways that we know about, and we are not doing enough about reproductive care and justice in our health system. We can fix this, but we haven’t fixed it. There is no reason why in a country like the United States of America, Black women are three times as likely to die in childbirth as a woman who is White and only has a high-school education.” — Najarian Peters, University of Kansas School of Law associate professor


Alicia Jackson, assistant professor of Law at Stetson University.Melissa Clavijo

“The biggest concern is the confusion because now different states have different rules. And so families don’t quite know how to respond to Roe versus Wade. The fact that the right to an abortion was really based on liberty and autonomy, women now have to ask whether or not that right still exists.” — Alicia Jackson, Stetson University assistant professor of law


Shelly Taylor, assistant professor of law at Southern Illinois University.Melissa Clavijo

“We knew that this ruling was coming because of the leaked draft memo that had come out. It is a sad day in the history of this country. It lets us know the seriousness of voting. I also think that this is going to roll over into gay rights, the right to have contraceptives available to women, women’s rights in general, control over our bodies. This is a harbinger of bad things to come. This is an intrusion of democracy. There’s not one law that you can think of that controls a man’s body. There are a number of laws that control women’s bodies.” — Shelly Taylor, Southern Illinois University, assistant professor of law


Lia Epperson, a constitutional law professor at American University.Melissa Clavijo

“What we have in the United States is increasingly two Americas. We will have one set of states, nearly half that may very well prohibit the right to abortion and another set of states, the second half that will allow it. So for those women who are resourced, they will likely travel to a state that allows access to abortion. But there are countless women in the United States, too, who do not have that privilege.” — Lia Epperson, American University constitutional law professor


Angela Onwuachi-Willig, dean and professor at Boston University School of Law, host of the Lutie A. Lytle Black Women Law Faculty Workshop & Writing Retreat.Melissa Clavijo

“The Dobbs decision, like so many things in our society, will have a hugely disproportionate impact on women of color. Women of color are far more likely to die in childbirth than to be at risk of dying in childbirth. Women of color are are far more likely to be seeking services for abortion, and women of color are far more likely to have a need for the lower-cost health services that are offered by places like Planned Parenthood.” — Angela Onwuachi-Willig, dean and professor at Boston University School of Law


Njeri Mathis Rutledge, professor at South Texas College of Law Houston. Melissa Clavijo

“In addition to being a law professor, I’m a mother of a young girl. And I know when I was born in the ’70s, this country and the Supreme Court promised me that I had the right to make choices about my own body. I’m going to have to have a very difficult discussion with my own daughter that today the Supreme Court has decided that she does not have that same right. This is a time to not just pout. We can sit in our feelings for, like, an hour or two, and then we need to get angry. We need to vote. We need to organize. We need to make sure our voices are heard. We need to speak for ourselves and stand up because the court ... has made it very clear that if we don’t do this, no one will.” — Njeri Mathis Rutledge, professor, South Texas College of Law Houston


Nicky Boothe, dean of the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Law.Melissa Clavijo

“The impacts are going to be widespread. It’s not just the initial and immediate impact of the potential inability to have control over a woman’s bodily functions. But it’s the impact that it’s going to have on families, the impact that it’ll have on our society. If you are financially able and you’re financially secure, you’re in an economic capacity that you are able to travel out of that state, travel out of the country, go somewhere else where it is legal, then you’ll be able to do that. But women who don’t have the means won’t have that opportunity.” — Nicky Boothe, dean of the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Law