Decoding Dobbs: A Recap

Lynn Paltrow is a pioneer in finding effective ways to use women’s stories about their lives, their pregnancies, and their abortions both in the court and with the public. She founded National Advocates for Pregnant Women in 1999, which became Pregnancy Justice in 2021. On March 7, Lynn addressed more than 100 women gathered for our annual Lunch and Learn which in the past has been a celebration of Roe, but has turned into something much different and much more urgent following the Dobbs decision. 

The conversation began with a sobering recitation of how Dobbs unleashed a war on women and the curtailment of women’s rights. The Supreme Court’s majority opinion called abortion unique because it takes another human life, but abortion is not unique – up to 20 percent of all pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth. 

“You cannot regulate abortion without considering the people who have abortions,” Lynn stated plainly. The consequences of Dobbs are broad, she continued, including a deliberate subordination of half the humans in the country and affording more rights to a fertilized egg or a frozen embryo than to someone who can get pregnant.

What’s the remedy?  Lynn, who calls herself an “apocalyptic optimist,” outlined a few opportunities to move the narrative – and the results – forward.  

Emphasize connections between pregnancy and abortion: “We need to listen to why people have abortions.  Maybe it is because they want to wait to marry someone they love or finish their education or to pursue a common occupation of life,” Lynn urged.  “All of these are rights given to men, but not to women or people who can get pregnant.” 

“People who have abortions are the people who have babies, just at different times,” she said.  Creating linkages between birthing centers and abortion clinics, along with combining the power of people who focus on abortion rights and people who advocate for maternal health will lead to better outcomes for everyone.

Demand what we want – full personhood for women and people who can get pregnant: “That which is primary continues to be that which is male.” Misogyny – both overt and subtle – is embedded in our daily lives. Everything including the way medicine, the courts and other institutions treat women reminds us of the education and work that remains.

Remain vigilant and active:  Thanks to years of work by NCJW/Essex and its coalition partners, New Jersey enjoys some of the most expansive abortion protections in the United States, where state legislatures are overwhelmingly white and male. Yet, despite the laws on the books, five counties across the state do not have abortions clinics or services.

The Dobbs decision emboldened people pushing for a national ban on abortion.  Project 2025, the conservative roadmap for like in America, outlines what Phoebe Pollinger, NCJW/Essex Reproductive Rights Chair, called a “hellscape for reproductive rights.”  Convincing people who believe lies to stop believing those lies is one of the biggest challenges in our society, according to Lynn (and many others).  And, the discourse on “late term abortions”, which are decidedly not a thing, denigrates the medical profession and leads us to ask, “at what point in pregnancy does a woman lose their civil rights?” 

“It has been a privilege to represent the clients I have,” Lynn said with pride, “and to share their stories.” 

One of her most memorable cases was defending the first woman charged and convicted with delivery of cocaine to a minor through her umbilical cord. While the verdict was rightly overturned by the Florida Supreme Court, the lessons of the case proved more illuminating. 

Pregnant, drug-using women are often targeted for prosecution and science shows that none of the criminalized drugs cause pregnancy loss. 

“If any of these drugs were good for pregnancy loss, I’d ship them straight to Texas!” Lynn said with a smile.

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