Pro-Choice Activist Lauren Rankin on the Supreme Court Case That Could Be 'the Death Knell for Roe v. Wade'

The writer talks to PEOPLE Every Day host Janine Rubenstein about a Mississippi law currently being argued before the Supreme Court that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy

The fate of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion nationwide, is up for discussion again in the Supreme Court, who heard oral arguments on the case Wednesday. It has long been a hotly-debated topic that reached new levels of conflict when a Texas law that bans abortion (both surgical and chemical) after about six weeks was passed in September. The controversial decision also states that anyone caught helping a woman obtain an abortion in the state after cardiac activity is detected can be sued in a civil lawsuit.

Now other states are making similar moves, with Republican lawmakers in Ohio introducing legislation that would ban all abortions; the Supreme Court heard another case regarding a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks. PEOPLE Every Day host Janine Rubenstein spoke with writer, speaker and activist Lauren Rankin, who specializes in domestic and global reproductive health and rights, to get her insight on the issue.

As Rankin explains, there has been a "swell of abortion restrictions" at the state level, but that things really shifted in favor of conservatives when Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett were appointed to the Supreme Court. "They see this as their best moment to do the thing they've wanted to do for years, which is finally overturn Roe v. Wade," she says. "That's really why you're seeing that flurry right now, but unfortunately, it's not new; it's been happening for a while."

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Rankin finds the Texas law "horrendous" and describes the new Mississippi law as "directly threatening" to Roe v. Wade, which says the state cannot restrict abortion before the point of fetal viability, typically considered 24 to 28 weeks. (Texas gets around that by allowing citizens to file civil suits against providers rather than the state prosecuting them.)

The new law would move that to up to 15 weeks, shortly after the beginning of the first trimester. "The law was created specifically to be blocked and appealed all the way up, [and] could really very well be the death knell for Roe v. Wade," she points out. "I think what's really important for us to understand here is that even if they technically leave Roe v. Wade in existence, they're going to find a way to undercut it so that it's practically useless for millions of people."

According to Rankin, recent polling suggest that three-quarters of Americans think the decision to have an abortion should be between a pregnant person and their doctor and don't actually want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. She hopes the Supreme Court takes this into consideration when making their decision, adding that a "private, personal issue" is being turned "into something that is about to deliver the biggest political victory to a side that is completely out of step with modern Americans."

"No matter what they do... the reality remains that abortion, which is already inaccessible for so many marginalized folks, is going to become a lot harder to access," Rankin continues. "That's the reality that we're facing now. Hoping for Roe v. Wade to remain is obviously important, but preparing for its fall is essential."

She previously spent six years as a client escort at abortions clinic, an experience she will dive into with her upcoming book, Bodies On The Line: At The Front Lines Of The Fight To Protect Abortion In America. The volunteer activity assists people arriving at abortion clinics, walking them past protestors trying to derail their decision.

"It's simply an act of saying, 'You're a human being. You deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and you deserve to have someone on your side,'" she says of client escorting, an attempt to protect vulnerable people from shouting protestors outside clinics.

"It's amazing that this volunteer role emerged out of a huge backlash to abortion and it's been picking up where the law has left off," she says. "It should not be legal to film someone outside of a clinic and put their picture on the internet, but apparently that continues to happen."

Ranken refers to her time as a client escort as "the most powerful, energizing, enraging work" she's ever done, and still lives with the trauma of some of the people she assisted during that time.

One specific example stands out: as she took a young woman out of a cab, a mass of 20 or so people descended on them, so intensely that Rankin had to call security for support in getting the teen client into the clinic safely.

"I just wrap my arm around them; I'm saying in a very calm voice, 'It's okay, it's okay. You're not alone,'" she recalls. "We get inside the clinic, I look at her, and she is just a girl. She may be 15. Her mother came in behind her, she was sobbing. I just held her and said, 'I'm so sorry. It's okay, you're going to be okay.'"

She learned the young woman had been raped by her stepfather, and had already been through enough trauma prior to that day.

"Her mother said to me later that me being there was one of the few reasons that they were able to go through this," Rankin continues, saying the story still haunts her to this day. "I hope wherever she is now, she's a woman and she's able to live the life that she wants because that's what she deserves."

For Rankin, the issue of abortion is ultimately about people being able to make decisions about their own bodies and their own lives; abortion won't stop, regardless of the legal limitations.

"The reason that we need safe and legal abortion is because no one should have to die or suffer simply to terminate a pregnancy," she says. "I believe this goes to our fundamental human and American values. I believe that everyone has the right to decide what happens to their body and to their life. Without access to safe, legal, affordable abortion care, that's a pipe dream."

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