Reproductive rights in the spotlight following Supreme Court ruling

ASU professor weighs in on social impact of Roe v. Wade being overturned


July 1, 2022

On June 24, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling of Roe v. Wade was officially overturned, ending the federal protection on abortion, which leaves the legality of abortions in the hands of each individual state.

The new ruling has opened arguments about the interpretation of the law and whether suggested limitations are constitutional. Mako Fitts Ward - Assistant Professor and Director of the Social Transformation Lab Mako Fitts Ward, director of ASU's Social Transformation Lab Download Full Image

Mako Fitts Ward, director of the Social Transformation Lab and assistant professor in African and African American studies and women and gender studies in Arizona State University’s School of Social Transformation, weighs in on the impact the ruling could have on various communities.

Note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: In what ways could the Roe v. Wade ruling impact ASU students, the community or the United States?

Answer: While the legal issues of the case are and will continue to be debated, the underlying ethical issue is bodily autonomy and the role of the government in controlling the right of a woman or birthing person to … make informed health decisions in consultation with health care provider. Unwanted pregnancies are higher among working class women and women of color, so abortion restrictions disproportionately impact these (individuals).

For college students, while middle to upper-class students have access to the resources and social capital to travel to states without abortion bans, unwanted childbirths will severely impact our working class and women of color students and (could) disrupt their college completion. Black women are three times more likely than white women to die during childbirth or shortly thereafter. Pregnancy-related deaths are estimated to increase by 21% nationwide, and 33% among Black women. Research shows that unwanted pregnancies is a leading reason why women leave the university, and they often do not return or return much later in life.

There are also Title IX implications around protecting the rights of pregnant students. It’s the university’s responsibility to protect their right to return to campus post-pregnancy, that professors understand their role in creating the conditions for them to return and to prevent undue harm and harassment. Given prevailing negative cultural stereotypes about young mothers, especially young women of color, universities must be prepared to protect (their) students from harassment and bias.

Q: Why is this issue important?

A: According to the U.N. Human Rights Council, “Denying access to health services that only women require, including abortion, is linked to discrimination and can constitute gender-based violence, torture and/or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” This is based on the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s (CEDAW) recommendation that “it is discriminatory for a State party to refuse to legally provide for the performance of certain reproductive health services for women.”

Given … that the U.S. is the only democracy in the world that has not ratified CEDAW, we should anticipate more restrictions coming at the state level.

… In the concurring opinion of Justice Clarence Thomas, (he) laid the foundation to overturn the protection of rights of women and LGBTQIA+ individuals writ large, including the right to contraception, the right to engage in same-sex sexual activity, and the right of same-gender loving couples to marry. 

There are other consequences to the ruling, most notably that women and birthing persons will experience the motherhood penalty even more severely.

Q: There are many sides to the debate as to the constitutionality of the ruling – do you see any possibility that reproductive rights will return to being federally protected in the future? If not, what are some of the future implications of this ruling?

A: While there are stop-gap measures like executive orders and stricter HIPAA enforcement to prevent medical workers from reporting people they suspect of having abortions to law enforcement, the only pathway for full legal protections is for Congress to pass comprehensive abortion-rights legislation, which protects access to abortion, contraception and overall reproductive health services like breast cancer screenings and HIV tests.    

Communication and Marketing Coordinator, School of Social Transformation

ASU professor tapped by Department of Defense to help prevent military suicides

Rebecca Blais named to Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee


July 1, 2022

More than four times as many military service personnel and veterans have died by suicide than as a result of military operations since 2001. 

The rates of death by suicide among military personnel have also been increasing, and in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress mandated the creation of an independent assessment of the issue. On March 22, Lloyd J. Austin III, the secretary of defense, announced the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee Portrait of ASU Associate Professor Rebecca Blais. Associate Professor of psychology Rebecca Blais has been named to the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee. Photo by Robert Ewing/ASU Download Full Image

The committee of 10 includes clinical psychologists, epidemiologists, social workers, doctors, retired military and a chaplain. The group has expertise in suicide ideation and mortality, mental health disorders, substance use, sexual assault and weapon safety.

One of the clinical psychologists is Rebecca Blais, associate professor of psychology at Arizona State University. Her research studies the link between military sexual trauma and suicide and how to best support military service personnel who have experienced sexual violence. 

“Exposure to sexual trauma in the military is one of the biggest risks for death by suicide. A service person who has been exposed to sexual trauma in the military is four times more likely to experience suicidal ideation — thoughts of suicide — than someone who has been exposed to combat trauma,” Blais said.

“Dr. Blais was specifically requested to contribute to this mission based on her critical expertise in working with the military,” said Tim Hoyt, deputy director for force resiliency in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. “She has a nuanced understanding of the multitude of risk factors faced by the men and women in uniform, and we look forward to her recommendations as a member of the committee.”

Over the next several months, Blais will be traveling a lot with the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee. The committee meets at least once a month at the Pentagon. The group will also complete nine site visits at locations including Camp Humphreys in the Republic of Korea, the Naval Air Station North Island in California, Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and three locations in Alaska that have experienced increases in active duty personnel dying by suicide. 

“These nine locations include each of the military services and a wide variety of geographic locations where service members are stationed,” Hoyt said.  

During the site visits, the committee will conduct focus groups with service members and military leadership as well as individual interviews, and will confidentially survey service personnel.

“We plan to stay on base as much as possible so we can get a 360-degree perspective. We also will be available outside of formal interviews and meetings — like hanging out in the gym or at a coffee kiosk for the day — to give people the opportunity to come talk about topics they might not be comfortable saying in front of others,” said Blais, who understands the importance of connecting with service members in unique environments to facilitate open communication. She has conducted therapy for veterans while downhill skiing and working on motorcycles.  

In addition to the site visits, the committee will conduct an exhaustive review of suicide prevention and response programs, and will work to identify factors that can help prevent death by suicide. 

“Military sexual trauma is just one concern,” Blais said. “We will also be looking at financial concerns, housing and neighborhood safety, and food security. Current issues with inflation are exacerbating an already challenging living arrangement for many. We will also consider how remote or isolated a base is, and broadly how military culture views and discusses suicide.”

By Dec. 20, the committee will deliver a report to the secretary of defense that makes recommendations for policy changes for the military community at large and also for the specific sites that were visited. The findings and recommendations of the commmittee will be presented to Congress in February 2023 and will be implemented by the Office of Force Resiliency

"Suicide within the military is such an important issue, one that affects so many lives," said Steven Neuberg, Foundation Professor and chair of the ASU Department of Psychology. "Professor Blais has considerable evidence-based expertise and insights into this problem, and we're happy that our department can contribute to solutions through her service on this important independent review committee.”

Military personnel, veterans or their loved ones who are experiencing thoughts of suicide may contact the Military/Veterans Crisis Line, a confidential support available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 1-800-273-8255 (press 1), via text at 838255, or chat at www.veteranscrisisline.net.

Science writer, Psychology Department

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