2022 Notebook: A seismic reversal in U.S. abortion rights

THE BACKGROUND: After decades of abortion rights, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and suddenly abortion was illegal in parts of the country.

The months leading up to the momentous decision were marked by states passing “trigger bans,” which would go into effect if the high court ruled. Adding to the political intrigue, the decision was leaked several weeks before it was officially released, leading to an investigation into the source of the leak.

When the decision came down in June, women across the U.S. suddenly found themselves living in states where abortion wasn’t legal. Abortion opponents heralded a monumental victory in their fight to , while abortion rights supporters mobilized to help women travel to places where they could get an abortion if they needed it.

Reporters for the Associated Press covered the story across the country.

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LINDSEY TANNER, medical writer based in Chicago, who interviewed doctors and protestors:

In more than a decade of covering abortion, what stands out is the difficulty in finding doctors and patients willing to go on the record and be interviewed. I think the overturning of Roe created a sense of desperation and urgency among key players that kind of upended that. My source work led me to an Ohio clinic where the director gave AP — myself and VJ Patrick Orsagos — unbelievable access, including to any patients who might be willing to share their stories. Our reporting MO was to just ask (even if we thought the answer might be no) and we found a young mother of three who answered yes to everything — we could use her name, observe her getting an ultrasound to date the pregnancy at a clinic in Ohio, be in the tiny room where she had the actual abortion at a clinic in Indiana. This woman was astonishingly open and matter-of-fact, and showed zero emotion during the extremely intimate procedure and aftermath — not what one might have expected. We responded in the same way, and over two days were able to gain her trust. It was important to not tell her story in a judgmental, unsympathetic way. Her candidness gave us a window into her life and helped us do that.

I found doctors who provide abortions who were equally accessible and candid, including the OB-GYN who treated the Ohio woman. She unabashedly views abortion as routine health care and had no qualms about being observed doing that work.

Another OB-GYN stands out — one in Texas who described in detail treating women with doomed pregnancies and feeling forced by the law to allow them to get sicker before he could intervene. “Do no harm” is the oath all MDs must take and it was clear this physician felt he was being forced to violate that on a routine basis. It makes me wonder if many OB-GYNs will start switching to other specialties, and if medical students will choose not to practice obstetrics. Their choices already are being limited by restrictions on teaching abortion care in medical schools and residencies.

Another young woman who I interviewed at the Indiana clinic stands out. Her eyes will always haunt me: They were filled with pure terror. She stared hard at me as she told her story: a factor worker and mother of one in an abusive relationship who simply could not afford another child. She was terrified of repeating the mistakes her own mother made. And terrified that her super religious father would find out about her abortion. She said she truly believed she’d be going to Hell.

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NOREEN NASIR, video journalist based in New York, who reported from Jackson, Mississippi, telling the story of a woman who had multiple abortions instead of having a child she couldn’t afford to raise, and tried at one point to have another abortion but was told it was too late:

So much of the coverage can focus on this story as a debate, highlighting the loudest voices on both sides, like politicians or protesters, people who are out on the streets, holding signs, people who have no problem yelling their opinions. And of course, there’s a place for sharing those voices. But when it comes down to the people that this affects the most, it’s rare that we hear directly from them — to hear from somebody who has gone through that lived experience, to fully understand their life circumstances and what led them to make one decision or another, and to really hear from them about the emotions behind their decision, like the pain, the judgment that they may have faced. I think that part of it can get lost when we focus on just the loudest voices in the room.

The women most at risk now are poor women who don’t have access to expensive flights if they live in a state where they can’t now have an abortion at a certain time, and those are the voices that we tend not to hear from, often due to privacy and security concerns. But those are also the voices that we tend not to really value. So it’s all the more important to tell compelling stories that challenge people to continue to pay attention even when they might not see themselves reflected in the people that are most affected.

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MATT SEDENSKY, national writer based in New York, who reported from Tupelo, Mississippi, and Columbia, South Carolina, on the anti-abortion movement:

Once the Supreme Court agreed to hear Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, much of the focus was understandably on those in the abortion rights community, who saw the case as a historic threat to women’s rights given the ideological breakdown of justices. What seemed equally apparent, though, was that no matter the case’s outcome, it would be a gripping moment for those opposed to abortion, too. A win would be the thrilling result of a half-century of groundwork, of tireless protests and of countless prayers. A loss would amount to a monumental disappointment that everything that had been invested over so many decades could not translate to victory even with a handful of new court appointments seemingly tilting odds in their favor.

I wanted to find a way to capture what the moment meant to people for whom anti-abortion advocacy has been their life’s work. I zeroed in on a group from Columbia, South Carolina, called A Moment of Hope, that fans volunteers out around a Planned Parenthood office in hopes of talking women out of ending their pregnancies. By the time I traveled to shadow them, the draft of the Dobbs decision had already been leaked. I thought it would be at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Instead, I was surprised to hear people tell me how little it factored into their anti-abortion work. They were committed, they said, to returning to the clinic each day, no matter if Roe was upended or not.

Another facet of the anti-abortion movement that stood out to me was that, despite how entwined the issue has become with politics, it remains an issue that people have deep emotional and spiritual feelings about. Many I spoke with made prayer for an end to abortion a centerpiece of their religious life. I ultimately decided to tell this story through the eyes of one woman who spent decades praying for the very moment that would arrive in June: For the court to overturn Roe v. Wade.

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AMY FORLITI, reporter based in Minneapolis, who tracked how each state regulated abortion, and the legal implications:

As the year ends, it will have been about six months since the Dobbs ruling. One thing Geoff Mulvihill and I are looking at tracking is prosecutions. You know, many of these states with restrictions have said they would criminalize people — doctors specifically — who performed abortions or provided abortion medication. So far, we haven’t seen any prosecutions that we know of. So it will be interesting to see how the prosecutions bear out going forward. It will also be interesting to see what various states do in upcoming legislative sessions. We just wrote a story last week out of Minnesota — for the first time in several years, Democrats are in control of both chambers of the Legislature and the governor’s office, and one of the first things they plan to do is codify abortion in the state. So it will be interesting to see what states do, both on the more restrictive side and on the side of abortion rights. It will be interesting to see, once numbers start coming in, what abortion rates look like in various states, particularly looking at the number of people who may be traveling from more restrictive states to less restrictive states to get abortions. I think that all of those things are going to be important as we continue to follow the story.

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2022 Notebooks: https://apnews.com/hub/reporters-notebook

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