News & Politics

US Supreme Court may rule a half-century step back for women’s rights

“Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” are some of the words etched into history through the United States of America (USA) Declaration of Independence. With them came a promise to the people, a promise of freedom and of autonomy. Today it is suggested that this promise can be broken once again.

Leaked documents from Politico indicate that the USA Supreme Court will repeal Roe v Wade in July. This is a piece of legislation that has protected the right of people to access safe and legal abortions since the 1970s. Roe v Wade was a monumental case in 1973 that saw the USA Supreme Court ruling that the Constitution enshrine a pregnant woman’s (or anybody pregnant) right to access legal termination with minimal government interference or restriction.

Politico leaked documents from the USA Supreme Court

This immeasurable gain in the fight for women’s rights has been under attack over 2021 and 2022 as conservative states have used the wording of Roe v Wade to curtail access to abortions and minimise the window of time and circumstances that somebody can access termination of pregnancy.

This new ruling will directly impact the lives of millions of women and limit their access to control their own bodies. A repeal of Roe v Wade is a direct limitation on the freedom of women to decide how they want to live their lives and their abilities to make several choices, not just the choice to keep or end a pregnancy.

This leak comes at a time just following the appointment of the first black woman to the Supreme Court, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, showing the great gains and losses of the American system for minorities in recent years. 

States have chipped away at this right

In the past few weeks and months, various states have started to chip away at this right. Texas recently made abortion impossible to access after 6 weeks of pregnancy. At this point in gestation, many women are not even aware of the fact they are pregnant. 

This law does not currently deny abortions to women who experience pregnancies that threaten their life. However various testimonies indicate that the law has meant the circumstances under which a medical verdict in favour of abortion will be allowed are severely limited. Some fear that the zealous promise to completely ban abortion in Texas if the Supreme Court overrules Roe v Wade will lead to a ban on abortions of ectopic pregnancies. 

If this were to be the route Texas and other states take it would be a medical fact that in part of the wealthiest nation on earth an ectopic pregnancy would once again be a death sentence despite being entirely preventable.  

Activists supporting legal access to abortion protested outside the USA Supreme Court last 4 March 2020. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images/TNS

What does this decision mean? 

It is important to stress that the Supreme Court’s decision to repeal Roe Vs Wade means that laws similar to Texas’ law will soon appear across much of the conservative heart of the USA. Already neighbouring states to Texas have experienced a ripple effect as thousands of women across state lines seek abortions elsewhere, most of these states also are likely to ban abortion should the leaked documents reflect the true intentions of the Supreme Court. 

States such as Oklahoma, Florida, and Idaho have all made moves to ban abortion already or severely limit it in 2021. It is estimated at least 26 states will enact bans or severe limitations, meaning over half of all American states will no longer allow women to control whether or not they will see a pregnancy through.  

How will women access abortions in conservative states? 

For some women with the ability, these laws will create a situation akin to Ireland’s situation before the country legalised abortion in 2018. Before then Irish women seeking abortions travelled overseas to access legal terminations, mostly to the UK where abortion has been legal since 1967. 

For women in Ireland, it was their only option to seek reproductive rights overseas for decades, and for those who could not afford to travel or easily access abortions abroad, their options were essentially non-existent.

The USA is a much larger country than Ireland and for most Americans impacted by this potential decision, there is not a country they can fly to in under an hour to quickly terminate a pregnancy. Some American women who have the means will now have to travel to other states or even neighbouring countries like Canada to access basic healthcare rights. Other women will not be so lucky.  

The reality is that abortions will still happen across the USA in spite of a ban. This is a worrying reality because these will not be legal, safe medical procedures but will be backdoor procedures that capitalise on the desperation of women trapped by state-sanctioned misogyny.

In countries where abortion is not legal women die every day seeking terminations from whatever source they can access. This was the case in the USA before the landmark ruling of Roe v Wade that granted legal access to abortion for all in need of it within America’s borders. 

Backdoor abortions are a dangerous reality, and should the leaked documents speak to the true nature of the Supreme Court’s thinking they will begin immediately. Women will be forced to scramble to find the safest options available to them in a wild west of deadly procedures. 

When access to safe and medically controlled abortions becomes scarce, women die. In Argentina where a bill was rejected by their Senate to allow abortion up to 14 weeks, around 40 women a year die from unsafe abortions

Many more suffer, permanently damaging their reproductive organs and their ability to see a wanted pregnancy to term down the line. The harsh reality is that in the USA many women will die as a direct result of a ban on abortion, many more will put themselves at serious risk to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

Who is going to be the worst impacted? 

Despite America’s wealth, there are still millions of Americans who live in relative poverty, something that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. For women living in states surrounded by other anti-abortion states and for women without the financial means to travel far afield to terminate their pregnancy, the repeal means a complete denial of the right to abort. 

This will turn abortion into a right of those who are privileged and a right of those who live in America’s more liberal states on the coasts, leaving much of the interior and the south far more restricted. 

A ban on abortion means a vote in favour of inequality between Americans on lines of wealth and geography. Repeal will mean for many women that they will as a result miss out on education, limiting job opportunities, and minimising their chances to escape the cycle of poverty.  

A decision to repeal Roe v Wade will disproportionately impact women of poorer socio-economic backgrounds and women of colour, who already face serious systematic barriers in America. 

In states like Texas, the history of systemic racism compounds upon the abortion ban and serves to keep women of colour, particularly black and Hispanic women who access abortion more than any other women, at the bottom of the social ladder. 

Activists protested outside the Texas capitol in September 2021. Photo: Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis/Getty Images

Such bans are also indiscriminate in nature, not only will many ban abortions in the case of medical emergency but many will also ban abortions in the case of rape and incest. Women will be forced to carry the burden of their rape with them, and while many women make a choice to see pregnancies to fruition that have been a product of rape, it is inherently wrong to take that choice away and prolong a woman’s trauma. 

Access to abortion, along with other robust sexual health services, is directly linked to expanding the access women have to various opportunities. It is also linked to economic growth. When women can make informed decisions about sexual health it leads to better family planning, meaning women only have children they want and are in a position to responsibly care for.

Many have credited informed family planning for lifting millions of families in the developing world out of poverty and the development of a middle class. The key to this is educating girls and safeguarding reproduction rights. When women are able to have control and make their own reproductive decisions they are able to seek better opportunities and move forward. Banning abortion will hold women back, this is an inarguable fact. 

Will it happen? 

The leak does not mean the decision is legally binding yet, but it indicates that there is a sway of opinion in favour of repealing Roe v Wade. Looking at the makeup of the Supreme Court with 6 Republican Appointed Justices to 3 Democrat Appointed Justices this suggests the worst may become reality. Some people across the USA are fearful that this will be the first in a long list of civil rights reversals, many particularly concerned that same-sex marriage will be next on the list. This comes on the back of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the USA.

Though the leaked documents from Politico do not guarantee validity, it is important to note this is the first such case of a leak from the USA Supreme Court. If it is truthful, a real fight for the right to choose will be afoot. Women once again will have to campaign and protest for the basic right to decide what they can and cannot do with their own bodies. 

In a country, and a world, where men still dominate the political discourse it is a tired reality that women’s bodies are treated as a political playground. The battleground of reproduction rights is still one fraught with setbacks and men who seek to suppress women and limit their ability to take up space. 

Do not be fooled, if the USA Supreme Court truly is planning to overrule Roe Vs Wade this will be a statement of misogyny. Cisgender men do not have to face the challenge of unwanted pregnancies, yet they continue to make decisions for millions of women on what to do about them. 

The ability to choose what you do with your own body is a basic inalienable human right, something the “Land of the Free” is failing to protect. 


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