Roe v Wade overturned: what you need to know

The Supreme Court of the United States of America overturned the rule that had allowed women to access safe abortions in the country for almost half a century. The decision was released last Friday, 24 June.

It sustains the documents leaked in early May 2022 by the news outlet Politico. The leaking had raised waves of protest nationwide and internationally.

Again, this weekend, crowds gathered in states’ capitals like Washington, New York, Atlanta, and Los Angeles, even facing police coercion in cities like Phoenix and Greenville.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, around forty million women of child-bearing age will live in states where abortion will become more difficult to access.

Twenty-six states due to following the Court

This decision has ruled in favour of Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks. From now, twenty-six conservative American states are either certain or will consider introducing new abortion restrictions or bans. Thirteen of them have already passed so-called trigger laws to automatically outlaw abortion. The country has fifty states.

In states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, where opinions on abortion are split, the legality of the procedure could be determined by elections. Other states may set off rounds of legal battles.

Democratic governors of several states including California, New Mexico, and Michigan have already announced plans to enshrine abortion rights within their constitutions.

Roe v Wade

In 1973, the court justices ruled that governments lacked the power to prohibit abortions since a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy was protected by the US constitution. The decision heard a 25-year-old single woman claiming the right to have an abortion in Texas. She was Norma McCorvey under the pseudonym Jane Roe. Defending the anti-abortion law was the district attorney for Dallas County, Henry Wade.

Thus, Roe v Wade created the trimester system, which is now overturned. It allowed the absolute right to an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy. It also allowed some governments’ regulations of the second trimester and states to restrict or ban abortions in the last trimester, as the foetus nears the point where it could live outside the womb.

Who needs abortion the most?

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 630,000 abortions were performed in the USA in 2019 alone. The Guttmacher Institute’s research indicates it may be closer to 860,000.

CDC’s data also show that 92.8% of abortions are performed during the first trimester, and most women who get abortions are unmarried, although they may be living with a partner at the time.

About 10% of women who get an abortion are teenagers, 60% of people who get abortions have also given birth before, and nearly 60% had never had an abortion before.

Senior research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute, Liza Fuentes told to journal Nature some results of a study about Texas. After Texas passed legislation restricting abortion services in 2013, the state’s abortion rate dropped by 13%. She scales up this index and estimates that more than 100,000 people will be denied an abortion post-Roe. “And that’s a pretty conservative estimate”, she says.

Physical and mental risks and poverty

According to Nature, public-health researchers and economists submitted evidence to the US Supreme Court ahead of the case. They showed massive evidence that restricting abortion access increases risks of physical and mental health issues for pregnant people and for infants’ health, besides its social and economic consequences.

Led by the reproductive-health researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, Diana Greene Foster, the Turnaway Study shows that women denied an abortion were more likely to live in poverty than those who received one. It also showed that those denied an abortion more often reported not having enough money to cover living expenses after giving birth, compared with those who did not give birth. Women who were unable to receive the procedure also found problems in areas such as education and physical and mental health.

This study identified that once people who are denied an abortion go through the experience of giving birth, they rarely choose to place the child for adoption. “It means that poor families will have kids before they’re ready,” Foster says to Nature.

The biomedical ethicist at the University of Virginia School of Medicine Charlottesville, Mary Faith Marshall, explains that the upcoming abortion restrictions will have a deeper impact on people of colour and poorer communities. “Being forced to have a child when it is not the right time puts people who are already in poverty, further into poverty”, Marshall tells.

Travels and self-manage abortion

Another immediate consequence of Roe’s overturn for people seeking an abortion mentioned by Nature is that many will now need to travel significantly longer distances to receive abortion care. Travel distance will increase from about 36 miles on average to about 274 miles on average.

The most dangerous potential consequence of restricting access to abortion tough is that people might try to end their pregnancies without clinical supervision. Some will do this with abortion medications, which are safe and effective, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The problem, the reproductive-health researcher at Ibis Reproductive Health, Heidi Moseson, warns is when people try to self-manage an abortion. “They reported things like physical trauma, inserting objects into the vagina and ingesting substances that are harmful”, says Moseson.

Marshall also highlights that people with pregnancy complications or adverse pregnancy outcomes might become vulnerable to legal surveillance and criminal prosecution.

The USA is the most powerful country in the international arena of our time and its ideologies influence the actions of institutions and governments across the world. In addition to all the consequences of this decision for American women, women all over the world will feel the impact of overturning Roe v Wade.

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