This week the Supreme Court delivered an epic win for women’s reproductive rights, ruling that a Texas law requiring abortion clinics to meet highly specific and arbitrary medical requirements put an “undue burden” on women seeking abortions—directly violating the terms spelled out in Roe v. Wade.
In the opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer, speaking for the majority, broke down that when a law has no real medical safety benefits and does nothing but increase patient wait times—as the Texas law did—yup, the “burden is undue.” Within minutes of the ruling, the term became an instant catchphrase for the victory, as pro-choice advocates tweeted in celebration.
The good news is that Monday’s ruling has already triggered a domino effect—other conservative states have begun dropping their legal battles to put similarly draconian abortion laws on the books. But the reality is that women in this country still face ginormous obstacles when it comes to their sexual health.
And so, while we celebrate the Supreme Court win, we also wanted to highlight some of the restrictions untouched by Monday's ruling—“undue burdens” that shamelessly infringe on women’s rights to take care of their bodies.
When state lawmakers strip Planned Parenthood of its funding and force clinics to close, many women have to travel long distances to obtain birth control—which can be especially difficult if one works or has a family. Indeed, you might say the burden placed on women to obtain the contraception they need is "undue." Even more unjust? Lower income women and women of color tend to be hit the hardest.
Not only is it impossible to receive a medication abortion on any college campus right now—and not because of legal or medical reasons, simply because of cultural stigma—but this incredibly safe and effective way of terminating an early term pregnancy continues to face legislative regulations and challenges that defy logic.
Case in point: Even after the FDA updated its guidelines for medication abortion in March, allowing doctors to administer a lower dosage of the drug and to prescribe it for three weeks longer than previously suggested, Arizona Governor Doug Dacey signed into law a bill that required providers to adhere to the outdated FDA policy.
So yeah, until all women can access this safe and legal form of abortion easily no matter where she lives—undue burden, undue burden, undue burden.
This year has already seen great wins for the elimination of taxing tampons and other menstrual products as “luxury goods” (lol)—both New York and Illinois have stepped up to the plate to rule that period supplies are a need, not a want.
However, a whopping 38 other states still levy taxes on your pads and tampons under the highly illogical thought process that these items are not necessities. Clearly, the (male) legislators who crafted these policies never bled through a pair of pants in middle school.
Meanwhile, a recent episode of the Netflix drama Orange Is the New Black helped raise awareness for the fact that female prisoners are often denied pads and tampons, creating a black market for the supplies—just to help women avoid sitting in their own blood.
America is currently facing an epidemic of sexual assault against women on college campuses—yet universities have done little to address and rectify the way handle these crimes. Take the recent high-profile case at Stanford. After former student Brock Turner was convicted of assault and given an outrageously lenient sentence, the university has only worked to distance itself from the crime—forcing professors and students to demand more.
Until schools and communities come together to start teaching consent and respect to students from a young age, women will continue to face this undue burden.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, while more than 80% of American teens receive some formal instruction about STDs (which is great), only 55% of young men and 60% of young women receive formal instruction about methods of birth control. Not to mention, a national survey conducted by Planned Parenthood recently found that less than a third of all people in the U.S. have received any kind of education regarding what constitutes consent and sexual assault. Thanks to this lack of community support and education, assault victims face an uphill battle when seeking justice against their attackers.
With such shoddy sex education, American teens face an undue burden in gaining access to the information they need to be healthy sexual beings throughout their lives. We can do better.
Jen Gerson Uffalussy is a regular contributor to Fusion. She also writes about reproductive and sexual health/policy for Glamour, and television for The Guardian. She lives in Atlanta.