Roe v. Wade and Why it Matters to Survivors of Domestic Violence

By Kim Holland, Director of Project DVORA, with editing support by Amie Newman and Isobel Press

In May of this year, a draft of a Supreme Court opinion was leaked that would overturn Roe v. Wade. The 1973 Supreme Court decision ensured federal protection for abortion, enshrining the right to safe and legal abortion access throughout the United States.  

At first glance, this may not seem relevant to the work we do at Jewish Family Service of Seattle. However, social service agencies like ours—and specifically organizations that support survivors of domestic violence as our Project DVORA team does—are speaking out in public opposition to overturning Roe, which would immediately or likely criminalize abortion in 26 states. State and local organizations, as well as international organizations and Jewish organizations, proclaimed their recent support for safe and legal abortion. These groups include Jewish Women International, King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, National Council of Jewish Women, New Beginnings, Legal Voice, Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and the YWCA. JFS joins our peers in opposing the overturning of Roe v. Wade.  

Access to safe and legal abortion is a reproductive rights issue that disproportionally affects survivors of intimate partner violence.  

A November 2021 study, the first of its kind in the U.S., found that pregnant women die by homicide more frequently than from pregnancy-related health conditions. In fact, homicide is the number one cause of death for pregnant women in this country. The number increases for pregnant Black women and pregnant young women. Sadly, most of these women are killed by their partners. In other words, pregnancy increases a person’s chance of being killed by a partner.

Project DVORA supports survivors of intimate partner violence who are currently involved in abusive relationships, actively exiting abusive relationships, or still experiencing abuse from previous relationships, to provide what they need to feel safe and stable. We also help survivors navigate the challenges of being in violent relationships or leaving abusive relationships. And we offer legal advocacy and outreach in the Jewish and broader community. Our work with and for survivors, spanning more than two decades, has confirmed time and time again that pregnancy can endanger the lives of people in abusive relationships—and that access to safe abortion care is a necessary health service that can help save their lives.  

Survivors of domestic violence don’t always have the chance to control whether or if they become pregnant. Reproductive abuse is when someone tries to control their partner’s reproductive choices. This can look like someone forcing their partner to have sex without contraception or destroying their partner’s birth control pills. Without the freedom to choose when or if they have sex, how or if they will prevent pregnancy, or to access safe and legal abortion, should they choose, survivors have even less autonomy to keep themselves safe. Therefore, people in abusive relationships are more likely to need abortion care. 

If a pregnant person in an abusive relationship does survive pregnancy, there are still devastating consequences for the babies. Women who experience violence during pregnancy are more likely to have pre-term births and babies born with low birth weight, and there is a higher risk of fetal and neo-natal death as well.  

Reproductive justice is a movement created by Black women and includes the belief that individuals should have the basic human right to make decisions about their bodies (e.g., deciding whether to be pregnant or carry a pregnancy to term) and the belief that individuals should all have equitable access to their reproductive rights (e.g., everyone has what they need to obtain a safe and legal abortion). It also advocates for every person’s ability to parent children in safe spaces and communities. If someone must travel extensively to access safe abortion care in another state, or navigate barriers like waiting periods, then we do not have equal access to abortion in our country. In some states, people seeking a legal abortion must sit through fake information about health consequences from abortion that are not evidence-based before being allowed to access abortion care. These barriers can and do disproportionately impact Black people, Indigenous people, young people, trans people, lower-income, and immigrant communities.  

Restricting access to or criminalizing safe abortion care in this country, by overturning Roe v. Wade, puts survivors of intimate partner violence in even greater danger.   

This is a pivotal moment in U.S. history with the potential to overturn previous advancements made for reproductive rights.  Abortion is protected under Washington state law, so even if Roe v. Wade is overturned, access to safe and legal abortion would remain in our state. However, “legal” doesn’t mean “accessible”. Especially for people who live in more rural parts of our state, abortion can be inaccessible. As well, many Catholic hospitals in our area refuse to provide abortion care.   

We work hard to support survivors of intimate partner violence, both Jewish and non-Jewish, in our community. This is why we must work together to ensure safe and legal access to abortion care in our country.  

Learn more about abortion care in WA here. 

To stay up to date on these issues, you can sign up for updates from the Washington state legal advocacy organization Legal Voice here. The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence also has a policy action alert you can sign up for here. Jewish Women International’s blog post also includes ways to get involved on this issue. 

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