Here's Exactly What's at Risk in Your Relationship as Roe v. Wade Is Overturned
For half a century, Roe v. Wade granted women the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability (usually around 23-24 weeks), meaning states couldn't pass laws banning abortion before that stage in the pregnancy. In 2022, however, that very right is at stake with broader implications for couples. In fact, the financial, relationship and mental well-being of partners will likely be called into question as the ruling was overturned in June 2022. Prior to the opinion, we connected with family law experts to weigh in while exploring the correlation between abortion denials and the unequivocal impact on women.
"The success or failure of any relationship oftentimes depends on the balance of power and the extent to which the dominant partner chooses to exercise his or her power. Historically, power has derived from wealth, race, gender, social status, education and intellect, and the extent to which either partner has been led to believe that he or she is superior to others, or worthy of respect, because of any or all of the [aforementioned factors]," said Caroline Krauss, founding partner of Krauss Shaknes Tallentire & Messeri LLP. "If we're coming from a perspective that an equal or equitable balance of power creates and fosters a healthy relationship, then denying women meaningful access to safe and affordable abortions and reproductive care will necessarily and adversely impact relationship wellness."
"While many couples may not think overturning Roe v. Wade could impact them, it likely will. There are [plenty] of tough discussions couples should have prior to marriage and even after marriage, and those conversations–now more than ever–should include family planning at every stage of procreation," says Natalia Wilson, managing partner of Ain & Bank. "Finances and healthcare may become a larger issue for couples as pro-choice states could [potentially balloon] in size with people seeking more reproductive healthcare rights. This could either provide financial resources for healthcare providers or possibly overwhelm the system—we will have to see how this plays out."
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What Is Happening?
During the 2020 Election Season, family lawyer Holly Davis had the prescience to tell The Knot that the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court would potentially pose risks around Roe v. Wade. "If you're following a nontraditional route as a couple or if you don't have a law or rule that already exists as a couple, you're going to have a lot of discomfort with the next few years," Davis, co-partner of Kirker Davis said at the time. "We simply don't know how this court is going to rule—especially with reproductive rights."
A leaked Supreme Court draft ruling revealed in May 2022 that Roe v. Wade might be overturned, prompting sweeping concern over a woman's right to choose and her autonomy over her own body. In June, the ruling was overturned, meaning there will no longer be a constitutional right to abortion prior to fetal viability and restrictions could vary by state. What has been a general right for women since the 1973 ruling is voided in certain regions, prompting questions about the ripple effects of what's to come. Broadly, many couples and families share cause for concern.
How Overturning Roe v. Wade Impacts Couples
Family planning and reproductive rights were among the most highly contentious and questioned issues at stake back in the 2020 election, a reality of concern that has crystallized in 2022. Issues today include a woman's right to choose, access to organizations like Planned Parenthood, which receives federal funding via Medicaid, steps to surrogacy, along with a focus on biological vs. adoptive parenting. Overturning Roe v. Wade could lead to federal and/or state restrictions on other reproductive health decisions, thereby affecting you and your relationship.
Medical Decision Consent May Be Required From Partners
Currently, Roe v. Wade allows for a woman to make the decision over her own body of whether to terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability. The role of your partner varies by state law, but some states could require partner consent to terminate a pregnancy even in the first few weeks if Roe is overturned. In situations of trauma and abuse, this could be especially repugnant for the party that lacks the power to make decisions for themselves.
Further Imbalances of Equality in the Household Are Likely
A point that social scientists are researching is the equality of chores and tasks shared between partners in each household. "A couple's relationship wellness also impacts their children and other relationships. It trickles down in ways too numerous to count," says Krauss. "While our younger generation of fathers seems to have stepped up in the parenting of young children, a recent article highlighted a survey among couples that demonstrated that women are still carrying a much heavier load of responsibility for household chores than men. Adding more and unwelcome children only adds to that load, which oftentimes leads to resentment and break-ups."
The Turnaway Study (commissioned by ANSIRH - Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health) found women denied abortions were more inclined to raise children by themselves compared to recipients of an abortion. The women who were denied abortions and gave birth were also more likely to face physical violence from the man who was involved in the pregnancy.
The Well-Being of Women and Families Will Be Influenced
In the same study, women denied an abortion were more likely to lack the general resources to cover basic living expenses (housing, food and transportation). Directly correlated for these women was a decline in their credit scores, in addition to surmounting debt. (The study found debt increased for women by 78% post-delivery.) In turn, abortion denials were likely to create a vulnerability gap where the desolate consequences of evictions and bankruptcies were a step closer.
"There are studies that suggest women denied an abortion suffer worse mental health and financial outcomes than those who are able to receive one," adds Wilson. "With this anticipated Supreme Court opinion, in addition to the potentially drastic tax on women, there will likely be a disproportionate impact on women and families of color."
"As women became more financially secure and less dependent on a partner, they are able to more easily free themselves from dominant partners, including abusive partners," says Krauss. "The right for a woman to be able to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy or terminate it is fundamental to the balance of power in a relationship and in our society."
Career Growth and Earning Power for Couples Can Decline
Another factor couples should consider is their future goals within the workplace. "Opportunity has been far easier to grasp if you are a non-Hispanic white man–without the burden of a family–than it is if you are a Black woman with two children at home to raise," elaborates Krauss. "The former has the ability to work harder toward attaining higher education and to burn the midnight oil at the office or at a destination conference where other educated, hard-working titans of business have convened."
Coupled often with career growth are financial goals. A post-Roe society should prompt even more discussions around the allocation of financial resources (investing, saving for retirement, paying down debt).
Maternal Health Protections Could Diminish
In some cases, medical termination of pregnancy could help couples to avoid medical risks, impacting possibly both physical and mental health. If Roe is overturned, some states could restrict the ability to terminate a pregnancy even when necessary to protect maternal health. This would put couples in the terrible position of having a pregnancy pose a substantial risk to their beloved partners.
The Turnaway Study found that women denied an abortion and gave birth were likely to face an increased number of life-threatening complications, including eclampsia and postpartum hemorrhage.
Family Planning Discussions Will Transform
For couples who rely on birth control and other contraceptives to work through a timeline in their relationship, much is at stake, including—at its core—couples' access to contraception and the potential volume of intimacy within that relationship. If Roe is overturned, it could signal a trend to restricting other forms of reproductive health measures in some states.
"The entire landscape on how parties evaluate family planning will change," says Wilson. "The options you once had when weighing what to do in the event of an unwanted pregnancy or unexpected pregnancy will change. Couples may no longer have the options they have today, especially if your state makes a change to forbid abortion within its territory. The conversations couples will have will undoubtedly be different going forward and there may be geographical restructurings, such as a mass relocation by certain groups, and intriguing custodial considerations."
Residential Decisions Could Be Impacted
If abortions are outlawed in a state, couples may have to travel to another state to obtain a lawful abortion. There are fears other states could impose residency restrictions on getting an abortion, which would further restrict access for couples located in a state where abortion is illegal. "Ask: would [your partner] be willing to move to another state now to ensure they could exercise future rights if they needed to make a decision to abort a pregnancy?" advises Wilson.
What Else Is at Risk for Couples
As it stands, the current makeup of the Supreme Court may impact couples in other areas. Read what else could be at stake in a post-Roe world.
One of the highest-profile legal cases related to marriage in the 21st century was Obergefell v. Hodges, a landmark ruling made in 2015 by the Supreme Court of the United States. "That is a landmark case that provides relief to same-sex couples and gives them the fundamental right to marry," Davis explained in 2020. "In terms of marriage, unless there's a giant change in the legal landscape, which is very unlikely, LGBTQ+ couples have that fundamental right that they've been fighting for decades."
Prior to 2015, lawyers drafted rights to protect their LGBTQ+ clients, something that could be the case under a more conservative court. "When gay marriage was prohibited, lawyers drafted around it and created domestic partnership agreements, cohabitation agreements, which provided for certain rights and obligations for people who were trying to build a family and life together," marriage lawyer Valentina Shaknes of Krauss Shaknes Tallentire & Messeri LLP said in 2020. "Even if they didn't reach a legal status, a marriage is, at the end of the day, a bundle of rights, which you opt into and are created by law… Sadly, it's possible that we might find ourselves back in that time, where we are once again having to draft around narrow-minded and restrictive laws that deprive individuals of their rights--solely based on their sexual orientation. That's just one example of what the future can bring."
Unlike the areas of reproductive rights and LGBTQ+ marriage, immigration cases have made its way up to the Supreme Court. Ultimately, it's most common to expect a more conservative court to make more conservative rulings.
A trend toward more government restrictions on marriage could also impact couples in the area of immigation status. The immigration process has never been an easy one for those who want to live in the US. "There are certain laws in place right now that allow people to be a legal immigrant and legal citizen of the US. Every president has influenced those laws in their own way depending on their politics. Under President [Barack] Obama, the enforcement of the immigration laws wasn't as strong. Meaning he wasn't kicking people out, and he was forgiving and more favorable to those who wanted to be citizens," said Davis. "President Trump has taken the opposite approach and has taken a conservative approach in areas of the law about immigration. He is making it very difficult for people to come into this country. No matter what your politics are, the process of immigration is already a fairly intense process and it takes a relatively long time—several years—and lots of different holes to go through to become a citizen. It's already difficult."
Simply put: if you're having an issue or concern about getting married to a person, whom you love, who is not a US citizen, then you must pay attention. "You should be concerned about the legislature and the laws that are getting created around immigration at the national level. It's not about the president or the Supreme Court as much as it is about the individual legislature," explained Davis. "Voting and putting your energy behind a lawmaker who aligns with your set of beliefs about immigration is really what you should be doing right now."
Finally, if you or your partner is impacted by any of these issues or the possibility of Roe v. Wade being overturned, it's encouraged you start having important life discussions now. "In light of this anticipated opinion, I would double down and advise clients to explore their views about contraception," advises Wilson. "Specifically, the costs associated with assisted reproductive health, healthcare coverage and costs, and whether or not they're open to relocating in the unfortunate event of a family or genetic concern being revealed."
About the Experts: Attorney Natalia Wilson is the managing partner of Ain & Bank based in Washington, DC. Caroline Krauss is the founding partner at matrimonial law boutique Krauss Shaknes Tallentire & Messeri LLP, based in New York.
Please Note: This article is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide legal or medical advice. Please consult with your legal counsel or licensed healthcare provider regarding your personal circumstances. The information discussed herein continues to evolve and The Knot undertales no obligation to update this information. Please refer to your state or local government's resources for the most up-to-date information on reproductive health regulations in your location.