Reproductive health issues came to political center stage in 2022 with the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling, which ended federal protections on abortion and left the procedure for states to regulate. Almost immediately, getting an abortion became almost impossible in certain parts of the U.S., despite the scientific evidence that this medical treatment is extremely safe and effective. Scientific American explored not only abortion but the interrelated gamut of reproductive health issues. Here, we highlight some of our best writing and reporting on this critical field of contention from 2022.
Abortion Access Allowed Us to Have a Happy, Healthy Family
This personal essay from one of Scientific American’s own was a brutal reminder that behind many abortions in the U.S. are complex and sometimes tragic circumstances, and that few people opt for this procedure lightly. Gary Stix takes us into his family’s heartbreak and eventual joy, and how having straightforward access to abortion made that joy possible. A must-read.
Yes, Phones Can Reveal if Someone Gets an Abortion
In this chilling article, Sophie Bushwick explores how smartphones might be used against people who seek abortions in a state that has outlawed it. The data stored on phones, including search terms, purchases and text messages, could be used to prosecute people if the phone is gathered as part of a warrant. But more concerning is how data brokers, who sell the information collected by phone apps, could be part of the problem if zealous law enforcement decides to see who might be thinking about the procedure. This piece was accompanied by a video and was followed by a podcast soon after.
Genetic Counselors Scramble Post-Roe to Provide Routine Pregnancy Services without Being Accused of a Crime
While much of the conversation surrounding abortion has focused on the people seeking the procedure or the doctors who perform it, there are other professionals who provide services to pregnant people who were also affected by the Dobbs v. Jackson decision. Laura Hercher describes the challenges that genetic counselors face in helping people who learn their fetus has anomalies make decisions to abort. These challenges include helping people leave their restrictive state to get an abortion, or scheduling tests earlier than is optimal for detecting genetic issues, to make sure people will have enough time to decide if the tests show a problem. Removing abortion access, she says, doesn’t alleviate the ethical issues surrounding abortion decisions.
Pregnancy Is Far More Dangerous Than Abortion
In this stirring essay, Adebayo Adesomo, a Utah-based specialist in high-risk pregnancy, reminds us that the U.S. maternal mortality rate is shockingly high, and that restricting safe abortion access will make that rate higher. He points out that pregnancy can be riddled with complications, some of which can be deadly, while the medication that could end a pregnancy and potentially save the life of the pregnant person has few complications that would even send someone to the hospital.
Overturning Roe v. Wade Could Have Devastating Health and Financial Impacts, Landmark Study Showed
Two years ago, researchers published results from a massive study on the long-term effects of restricting abortion access. The Turnaway Study has since become one of the most cited pieces of scientific evidence showing that access to abortion affects health outcomes and financial stability. Scientific American editor Tanya Lewis spoke with the head researcher of the study, Diana Greene Foster, about what the leaked draft of the Supreme Court opinion would mean if it was, indeed, similar to the final ruling. In this Q&A, Foster talks about the lasting negative effects that denied abortions can have on pregnant people and their children.
Birth Control Pills Are Safe and Simple: Why Do They Require a Prescription?
While restricting abortion dominated headlines, a step in improving reproductive health care access fell a bit under the radar: the Food and Drug Administration received its first application for an over-the-counter birth control pill. In the upcoming year, at least one more company will likely follow suit. Mariana Lenharo’s piece on accessing birth control lays out how availability of doctor appointments can create delays, how other OTC drugs are more dangerous than birth control, and that people who can access OTC birth control are more likely to take the drug than people who need a prescription. With abortion rights curtailed, her sources say, having easier access to birth control is more important than ever.
How Medication Abortion with RU-486/Mifepristone Works
Many abortions in the U.S. are performed via medication, a combination of mifepristone and misoprostol. These drugs are currently prescription-only, and they come with a host of other restrictions that may limit access. Scientific American took a visual look at how these drugs work and when they work best, as well as their safety profile.
To Better Understand Women’s Health, We Need to Destigmatize Menstrual Blood
Many of the diseases and disorders of the female reproductive system are still a mystery, because so little attention is paid to basic research on those organs. Christine N. Metz describes how menstrual blood is one of the most important sources of molecular and biochemical information on the goings-on of the female reproductive system, offering insights into diseases such as endometriosis; that condition, which causes chronic pain in one of every 10 women, would be cured by now if it got as much attention—and funding—as other debilitating illnesses that affect fewer people. She calls for readers to get over their squeamishness about periods and see that blood for the gold mine that it is.
What Quantum Mechanics Can Teach Us about Abortion
Quantum mechanics demonstrates that two opposites can hold true at the same time (e.g., light can be both a wave and a particle). This year Cara Heuser took us through a fascinating philosophical journey, showing how such unified opposites apply to the abortion discussion. In that way, she says that abortion providers, like herself, can uphold both childbirth and the right of people to have those children when it is best for them. She shares her personal story about how a partial liver donation, and the respect for life therein, can peacefully coexist with her decision to perform abortions, procedures that respect the life carrying that fetus. It’s an engaging op-ed on the heels of this powerful one from 2021 about how valuing life and valuing reproductive rights must stop being described as an either/or dichotomy, and start being recognized for the nuance and care abortion decisions demand.
Abortion Rights Are Good Health Care and Good Science
For years, access to abortion has become more limited, while simultaneously, the evidence showing it to be safe and effective has grown. Science and policy don’t always track, and the rights surrounding this procedure are one of the most blatant examples of how evidence is ignored in pursuit of a political and religious agenda. The editors of Scientific American believe that access to abortion is matter of good health care, dignity and bodily autonomy, and no law should put a small group of cells over the fully formed person carrying it.