Dobbs Decision Presents Wide Ranging Ramifications for Women’s Rights

By David Alexander

October 21, 2022

Dobbs Decision Presents Wide Ranging Ramifications for Women’s Rights


By David Alexander

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization may be a precursor of other decisions that limit individual rights, according to speakers at the Thursday webinar “Women on the Move – Aftershocks: Implications of the Dobbs Decision.”

The webinar was presented by the Women in Law Section of the New York State Bar Association and included three panels that focused on the long-lasting ramifications of retracting rather than expanding individual rights.

“The words equal justice for all are literally carved in stone under the Supreme Court, but Dobbs rendered those words asunder,” said Bear Atwood, vice president of the National Organization for Women, during her keynote address.

Atwood and other speakers fear that the Dobbs ruling will be a catalyst to limit privacy rights, guaranteed protections under the 5th and 14th amendments and freedom in general.

Sherry Levin Wallach, president of the New York State Bar Association, said it is  incumbent upon women to act.

“Throughout our history, our nation has always moved to expand individual rights, not to constrain them,” she said.  “The promise of stare decisis is that our rights, once given, cannot be taken away. Case law has affirmed that time and again. But Dobbs could change that. As lawyers, we understand that attempts to dilute or roll back our rights undermine the promise of America. As lawyers, we cannot let this go.”

The consequences of the ruling are overarching. Abortion bans increase the wealth gap, impact the ability of pregnant individuals to access lifesaving medications, and negate the understanding that women with forced pregnancies often cannot, or chose not to, obtain medical care, which may impact their health and the child’s health.

“Community health centers provide essential services to communities that experience the highest effects of abortion bans because of poverty and underservice. Researchers at George Washington University examined whether these centers are prepared to respond to rising maternal and infant care needs. They found that the Dobbs ruling raises the staffing challenges health centers are already facing with maternity and infant care. These challenges are most severe in the 26 states that either have trigger bans in effect or are likely to adopt them,” said Atwood.

One of the issues according to two of the panelists in the opening session, Dissecting Dobbs – Constitutional Implications, is that the current thinking on the U.S. Supreme Court harkens back to a 19th century mindset.

“Think of where we were as a country in 1868. Who had rights? It was white, heterosexual, property owning men. The majority in Dobbs makes it clear that they want us to revert to that,” said Ria Tabacco Mar, director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.

Professor Lucinda M. Finley, University at Buffalo School of Law, added to that thought.

“We see the culmination of originalism, a conscious effort that the Constitution is not a living document, but something that should be frozen in time and that something is only a fundamental right if it was protected in 1868.” she said.

To that end, Levin Wallach spoke of the importance of continuing the discussion and the need to act.

“It is more important than ever that we seize every opportunity to work together. In light of the Dobbs decision, I believe that we have an obligation to act. As a leader for women and for equal rights for all, this section has a vital role to play. We must see this as the opportunity it is, we are in the right place at the right time. Because it’s not just reproductive rights, but all our rights that are in jeopardy.”

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