On Monday, the Supreme Court embarked on one of its most controversial terms to date. Over the next three months, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for cases that could change long-standing legal precedent regarding abortion care, concealed-carry gun rights, and health care access for HIV-positive individuals, among others. With each of these decisions, the conservative-leaning bench—with three out of nine justices having been appointed by former President Donald Trump—has the power to undercut basic protections for communities of color and marginalized people.
Most concerning is what experts and advocates are calling an attack on the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case, which found that states could not unduly interfere with a patient’s ability to receive an abortion prior to “viability,” or a fetus’ ability to surivive on its own outside the womb. The case justices will hear on Dec. 1, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, challenges a Mississippi abortion ban that prevents abortion care after 15 weeks of gestation. Given that the bench refused to block a Texas ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, abortion access groups aren’t hopeful that the justices will side with case precedent on this one, paving the way for other states to prevent access to health care and force patients to have children even if they don’t want to.
“The fight for abortion access is a fight against white supremacy,” said Monica Raye Simpson, the executive director of SisterSong, a grassroots organization rooted in reproductive justice, in a tweet last week. “Let’s call these abortion bans what they are: attempts to control Black people, Black women, and our bodies.”
As with all attacks on access to abortion care, the impact of a potential decision in support of the state’s ban on critical healthcare services will disproportionatley impact poor, queer, undocumented, Black, brown, young, and disabled people. More than half of those who receive abortions are already parents, and 75% live at or below the federal poverty line, according to Guttmacher, a reproductive health policy think tank. For those who aren’t able to vote, travel without speculation, or earn money through conventional means, like young and undocumented people, a 15-week abortion ban poses an almost insurmountable barrier.
In November, the court will also hear a case challenging New York’s concealed carry law. Under the law, self-defense is not a valid reason for obtaining a license to carry a deadly weapon outside of a person’s home. If the justices side with the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, which filed the case on behalf of the plaintiffs, then someone who claims “self-defense” on their application for concealed carry cannot be denied a permit. Considering the legacies and the histories of criminalizing Black gun ownership, the racist response to the election of President Barack Obama that increased gun ownership among white men, and the fact that self-defense claims can be made by those who first stalk their victims, the outcome of this case could bring both an expansion of Second Amendment rights as well as white peoples’ rights to claim self-defense after enacting their own violence.
In December, the court will also hear a case regarding equitable access to medical care under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which could undercut some non-discrimination provisions that protect access to care for disabled enrollees. The decision will determine whether “disparate-impact” federal protections apply to the ACA. In other words, if a disabled patient has to go out of their way to acquire medication but a non-disabled patient does not, does that count as discrimination?
The plaintiffs in this case are four unnamed HIV-positive people who have to travel to multiple pharmacies to fill their prescriptions or pay higher out-of-pocket costs for “specialty” drugs due to the makeup of their pharmacy benefit manager, which is owned and operated by CVS. This pharmacy system has been linked to delayed care and thousands of dollars of expenses on behalf of the patient—all so that companies can maximize profits, advocates say. “Routine delivery delays, stolen medications, and missed dosages endemic to the program result in increased viral loads for HIV patients, threatening serious health consequences,” a brief in opposition reads.
A record 31 million Americans receive healthcare through the ACA. People of color experience higher uninsured rates than white people across the board, and have disproportionately suffered from the COVID-19 pandemic in infection and death rates, as well as job losses and potential employer-provided health insurance. The Kaiser Family Foundation writes that cost-sharing perpetuates disparities in healthcare uptake for low-income people.
“If adverse outcomes from costs for COVID-related care seem abhorrent, why do we accept them for patients with lung disease, heart disease, diabetes, etc?” said Adam Gaffney, a physician and assistant professor at Harvard Medical school, in a recent tweet.
The list of cases impacting Black, brown, poor, and under-resourced folks doesn’t end there: Over the next few months, the justices will be reviewing cases pertaining to the exclusion of Puerto Rico from certain social benefits, the religious rights of those facing execution, and potentially ending affirmative action at universities. We’ll have to wait until June to hear what the justices decide.