Center For Policing Equity Issues Statement on Public Safety Implications of Potential Overturn of Roe V. Wade

May 05 2022

The Center for Policing Equity (CPE) views with alarm the apparent intention of the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case establishing a pregnant person's Constitutionally-protected right to terminate their pregnancy. The draft opinion leaked on Monday isn't final, meaning that abortion remains legal in the United States for now, but CPE is gravely concerned that the Court's eventual ruling will upend established law and allow states across the country to criminalize abortion.

CPE is dedicated to reimagining and redesigning public safety systems so that every individual and all communities may live in safety; bodily autonomy is a key social determinant of public safety, a foundational necessity for both individuals and the communities in which they live to feel and in fact be safe. The criminalization of what should be a private medical decision threatens to expand state surveillance and violence against tens of millions of Americans, in particular those who are already especially vulnerable: poor, Black, Brown, and LGBTQ+ communities.

Moreover, at a time when the nation is grappling with questions of how best to fund and structure public safety, criminalizing abortion promises to deploy police resources more broadly, in enforcement activities that undermine rather than support public safety. Should Roe be overturned, we risk a dramatic increase in the kinds of police activities that are among the most violent–such as search warrants, the serving of arrest warrants, and sting operations on suspected activities–with potentially tragic consequences on an enormous scale. 

Historically, those who have been arrested, prosecuted, or coerced into unwanted medical interventions due to pregnancy have been disproportionately low-income and non-White women, with Black women, in particular southern Black women, most overrepresented. If Roe is dismantled, this trend will only worsen, substantially increasing the racial disparities in policing that CPE is dedicated to ending.

The April arrest of Texas resident Lizelle Herrera for a suspected self-induced abortion is both a reflection of these existing racial disparities, and a potential harbinger of things to come. The case was eventually dismissed as having no legal basis under Texas law, but we must see Herrera's arrest for what it is: a precursor to an expected wave of punitive actions against people who choose abortion or have negative pregnancy outcomes. A long list of states are primed to ban abortion the moment Roe falls; for residents of these states as well as those in which Roe has already, effectively, been gutted, the specter of state violence hangs over not only those who choose to terminate a pregnancy but also the 10-20 percent of people whose pregnancies end in miscarriage. These individuals, their families, and their communities won't be made safer by state violence or the fear of arrest. 

Finally, CPE is deeply troubled by the implications that overturning Roe would have for privacy and by the language employed in the leaked draft decision, which refers to abortion rights as "not deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions." This logic, if employed in the final decision eventually released by the Supreme Court, would open the door to a vast array of subsequent decisions that would undermine other privacy protections that many Americans depend on, particularly LGBTQ+ and non-White populations, and encourage the increase of harmful state surveillance. 

Abortion access is only one element of the broader question of reproductive justice, best understood as the right to maintain bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities. It's CPE's position that reproductive justice, in its fullest sense, is a crucial component of public safety. 

CPE urges all those concerned with questions of public safety to take action against the dismantling of Roe v. Wade and to advocate for the expansion of systems and frameworks that support reproductive justice. We encourage you to organize and participate in protest actions, and to reach out to your national representatives and state and local elected officials to voice your support for proactive protections beyond the courts.

Our best efforts as a nation to design effective public safety systems must be based on a commitment to systems and resources that support, not criminalize, the bodily autonomy to which all Americans should, by right, be entitled.


About Center for Policing Equity: As a research and action organization, Center for Policing Equity (CPE) produces analyses identifying and reducing the causes of racial disparities in law enforcement. Using evidence-based approaches to social justice, we use data to create levers for social, cultural and policy change. Center for Policing Equity also holds a 501(c)3 status.