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Abortion and Family Separation

October 19, 2022

On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court released its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning Roe v. Wade and eliminating the constitutional right to abortion. The Dobbs decision has facilitated devastating harm, and it will continue to do so.

Thalia Charles, in an interview with social worker Jasmine Wali, turns our attention to an infrequently discussed harm: banning and restricting abortion will enable and expand the punitive reach of the child welfare system, otherwise known as the family policing system.

Wali directs advocacy at JMac For Families, an organization focused on families impacted by family policing and focuses on abolishing the system altogether. There’s a commonly-held view, by anti- and pro-choice activists alike, that without abortion access, parents might mistreat, abuse, or neglect children of unwanted pregnancies. This view, Wali notes, is a dangerous misconception. The more likely, more pressing consequence of abortion bans is that they put many families at greater risk of interacting with the family policing system, despite the fact that many parents of children of unwanted pregnancies do not mistreat, abuse, or neglect those childen.

Wali argues that post-Roe more families will be forced into the family policing system in part because “decades of research that the same risks factors for being unable to access an abortion are the same risk factors for being investigated and reported to child protection authorities.” For example, people who are disproportionately impacted by abortion bans and by family policing often do not have health insurance, earn low wages, and are experiencing poverty. And abortion access restrictions have a causal link with the poverty that so often motivates the family policing system to separate families.

We at the Woodhull Freedom Foundation join Wali in urging the public conversation around abortion bans to devote attention to the fact that inability to access to abortion might well contribute to poverty and thus place a parent and their child in a position extremely vulnerable to the family policing system.

Women Youth

Abortion Rights Protest Photo

Image of a person's arm in a crowd holding a pink sign that says "Keep Abortion Legal and Safe" (Larissa Puro/USC Institute for Global Health)

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