Science in the post-Roe world
On June 24, 2022, the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, which had protected a woman’s right to have an abortion, and allowed individual states to impose their own laws. Currently, abortion is heavily restricted or even banned in nine states of the US, and this number is projected to rise to more than 26. The overturning of Roe v. Wade has serious implications for women’s health, maternal mortality, infant mortality, poverty, and socioeconomic equality in the US.
The response of the scientific community
Scientists and scientific bodies across the US and other countries were quick in condemning the dismantling of Roe v. Wade. The journal Nature, for instance, called the verdict a “tragedy” in an editorial. The American Medical Association stated that they were “deeply disturbed,” terming the decision “an egregious allowance of government intrusion into the medical examination room, a direct attack on the practice of medicine and the patient-physician relationship, and a brazen violation of patients’ rights to evidence-based reproductive health services.”
Additionally, the board of directors of the American Urogynecologic Society issued a statement that they oppose “any ruling that restricts a person’s access to health care and criminalizes the practice of medicine.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists called the SCOTUS decision “a direct blow to bodily autonomy, reproductive health, patient safety, and health equity.”
These sentiments were echoed by international bodies like WHO, which termed the decision a “set-back,” adding that “All women should have the right to choose when it comes to their bodies and health.” Joining WHO’s voice, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics said that this decision would “cost lives for years to come.”
Impact on research and the role of researchers
This reversal of Roe v. Wade can have a huge impact on the research landscape of the US. Women, who are already underrepresented in science, may feel forced to reconsider their career choices. A Forbes article suggested that the verdict could influence women students’ choice of university in that they will be less interested in schools based in states where abortion is illegal. In other words, abortion policies have the potential to transform the demographic makeup of campuses and even the scientific workforce of the future, by impeding participation from women, particularly BIPOC, minority, and lower-income women.
To combat this, senior researchers or those in leadership positions can significantly influence their own organization’s policies and practices related to reproductive health (e.g., maternity leave, health care benefits, and on-campus daycare centers for student mothers). They can also take steps to create a non-judgmental and supportive atmosphere for pregnant people in their campuses, labs, etc.
Furthermore, the overturning of Roe v. Wade has added to the discussion around the ways in which research findings can be taken out of context or misinterpreted. The research findings by Dr Giandomenico Iannetti, a neuroscientist in the UK, on pain and the human brain used were used in anti-abortion arguments to “prove” that a fetus can suffer pain before 24 weeks. Iannetti expressed his displeasure in an interview with The Guardian, where he stated that the interpretation of his work is “an unjustified leap.” Eminent researchers like Dr. Selina Sandoval (University of California, San Diego) and Dr. Jonas Swartz (Duke University School of Medicine) agree that anti-abortion claims around fetal pain are exaggerated.
Iannetti’s case highlights the importance of science communication. Researchers may find their study results being exaggerated and distorted, with implications far outside their field of work. Therefore, universities, research societies, and researchers themselves should take steps to improve the ways in which science is communicated to academics and non-academics alike to avoid laws and public policies that are based on misinterpreted and poorly understood scientific evidence.
The overturning of Roe v. Wade does not affect only women of childbearing age. The SCOTUS verdict has far-reaching implications for the scientific workforce as well as how scientific research is conducted, shared, and applied, and its effects will be felt for years to come.
 Resneck Jr, J. Dobbs ruling is an assault on reproductive health, safe medical practice. https://www.ama-assn.org/about/leadership/dobbs-ruling-assault-reproductive-health-safe-medical-practice
 American Urogynecologic Society. American Urogynecologic Society releases statement on Roe v Wade overruling. https://www.contemporaryobgyn.net/view/american-urogynecologic-society-releases-statement-on-roe-v-wade-overruling
 Hoskins, I. A. ACOG statement on the decision in Dobbs V. Jackson. https://www.acog.org/news/news-releases/2022/06/acog-statement-on-the-decision-in-dobbs-v-jackson
 WHO. WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing – 29 June 2022. https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing---29-june-2022
 International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics. As the US Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade, global health care organisations call on all governments to defend access to safe and quality abortion care. https://www.figo.org/us-supreme-court-overturns-roe-v-wade-global-organisations-defend-abortion
 Esaki-Smith, A. Will the end of Roe V. Wade influence in what states women decide to go to university? Forbes https://www.forbes.com/sites/annaesakismith/2022/06/27/will-the-end-of-roe-v-wade-influence-in-what-states-women-decide-to-go-to-university/?sh=4c93c6b67a5a
 Fazackerley, A. British scientist says US anti-abortion lawyers misused his work to attack Roe v Wade. The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/may/08/british-scientist-says-us-anti-abortion-lawyers-misused-his-work-to-attack-roe-v-wade
 Sanders, L. 5 misunderstandings of pregnancy biology that cloud the abortion debate. ScienceNews https://www.sciencenews.org/article/abortion-roe-v-wade-pregnancy-biology-supreme-court-ruling
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