The move to overturn the landmark 1973 decision will deny human rights to millions of women and girls and threaten the rights of minority groups across the United States.
The fact that it was inevitable did not lessen the magnitude of the shock.
When the United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade – the 1973 case that allowed nationwide access to safe and legal abortion in America – was leaked in May, pro and anti-abortion actors knew it was only a matter of weeks before the right to abortion ends for millions of women, girls and pregnant women.
But despite this, when the ruling was upheld, cries of despair from pro-abortion activists mingled with cheers from anti-abortion groups rallying outside the Supreme Court.
“It’s a moment of trauma”, host of the resistance mom podcast Andrea Hildebran Smith said Signing time.
Within hours, the first states enacted “trigger laws” – legislation banning abortion that had been put in place ready for the day Roe vs. Wade was overthrown. Missouri went first, banning abortion in almost all cases, making it a Class B felony. Such a category carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years.
Signing the new law, Attorney General Eric Shmitt called the decision “a monumental day for the sanctity of life.” Missouri still has the death penalty; recorded 89 deaths from domestic violence in 2018; and in 2020, 1,426 gun deaths. Its maternal mortality rate is 16.4 per 100,000 live births.
Arkansas and Kentucky have now banned abortion except in cases where the life of the mother is threatened. Women and girls who do not want to be pregnant, or who are pregnant in cases of rape and incest, will no longer be able to terminate a pregnancy. Louisiana, Oklahoma and South Dakota have also introduced bans.
In the space of three days, 11.5 million women and girls lost their right to bodily autonomy in a predominantly pro-choice country. All of these states, which boast of being “pro-life”, have the death penalty as the legal penalty for crimes.
More bans will follow in the days and months to come in Alabama; Arizona; Georgia; Idaho; Iowa; Michigan; Mississippi; North Dakota; Ohio; Caroline from the south; Tennessee; Texas; Utah; West Virginia; Wisconsin; and Wyoming.
Florida, Indiana, Montana and Nebraska are also likely to implement bans. As previously reported by Signing timethe new laws will impact 64 million women and girls (not all of them of reproductive age).
The lives of women and girls
Many states that have already banned or are about to ban abortion have waged a long-term attack on abortion services in their communities, closing reproductive healthcare clinics or imposing “TRAP” laws (targeted regulation of abortion providers) that have made it nearly impossible for clinics to survive. Before the decision was released, Kentucky had only one abortion clinic left.
But, as lawmakers in every state signed their trigger bills into law, those who had dedicated their lives to providing abortion services to women and girls were forced to cancel appointments, close their doors and offer new strategies to support those in need of reproductive health care.
“The Supreme Court’s decision to explicitly overturn Roe vs. Wade is already having devastating consequences for access to abortion across the country,” said Dr. Herminia Palacio, President and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization committed to advancing the health and sexual and reproductive rights. “Our thoughts are with patients and providers looking for a way forward.”
For women and girls living in states that have banned abortion, choices are limited.
Those who can afford to travel can go to states where abortion should remain legal, such as New York or California. But that option is simply not available to the poorest and most vulnerable in society – to the adolescent girl who cannot be expected to miss school, run away from home, paying for flight and accommodation and paying for abortion care; for the single mother who can’t miss work or babysit.
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Others may seek to order pills online. Far too many people will resort to unsafe abortion methods.
Of course, many women and girls will be forced to pursue an unwanted pregnancy, with all the mental and physical health impacts that entails. We also know from the death of Savita Halappanaver in Ireland and the deaths of Izabela and Agnieszka in Poland that women with wanted pregnancies who experience miscarriages or complications will lose their lives, as doctors left with little options by bans avoid providing life-saving abortion care. Some lawmakers have said they will deny abortion care even if there is an ectopic pregnancy – sentencing women to death.
“Decades of research consistently show that abortion bans and restrictions do not reduce unwanted pregnancies or the demand for abortion, and they certainly do not help people improve their health,” says Dr Palacio. . “On the contrary, they impose significant barriers to obtaining care, causing stress for people in need of abortion and leading some to experience forced pregnancy and all its troubling consequences.”
A 50-year struggle – and worse to come?
The Supreme Court ruling represents the victory of a 50-year fight by religious and far-right America to overthrow Roe vs. Wade and ending the right to a safe and legal abortion.
This fight saw the marriage of Republican lawmakers – some of whom, like Ronald Reagan, had already signed bills to decriminalize abortion in their own states – with the “moral majority” represented by activists such as Jerry Falwell and Phyllis Schlafly.
Abortion became a corner issue replacing religious freedom, with organizations claiming to protect religious freedom. The Alliance Defending Freedom, for example, won legal victories to ban buffer zones protecting clinics. The so-called “partial abortion” has contributed to reduced access to reproductive health care.
But it was the victory of Donald Trump and his Vice President Mike Pence that finally allowed the anti-abortion minority to push their agenda forward.
Although he once told reporters he was pro-choice, Trump knew that to win the evangelical vote needed to propel him to power, he needed to take an anti-abortion stance. After all, he was running against one of the world’s most famous pro-choice women, Hillary Clinton. According to Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, when Trump mentioned “partial abortion” during the presidential debate in Las Vegas, that’s when “he won the pro-life vote.”
Throughout his presidency, Trump has appointed predominantly male anti-abortion judges to courts across the country, enabling the creation of trigger laws. He was supported in this by the Federalist Anti-Abortion Society, which trains conservative lawyers.
The long backlashAgainst Abortion in America
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Trump has also used his presidency to appoint anti-abortion justices approved by the Federalist Society to the Supreme Court to create a conservative majority on the benches: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh – who was charged with historic sexual assault during the nomination process – and Amy Coney-Barrette. Kavanaugh and Coney-Barrett have both said they won’t cancel Roe vs. Wade if he is appointed to the court. Both broke their word.
Meanwhile, the Alliance Defending Freedom funded law firms drafting anti-abortion bills and defended the Mississippi law that triggered the Supreme Court ruling. Religious right groups such as the Thomas More Society, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the American Center for Law and Justice have submitted amicus briefs to the Supreme Court arguing against Roe vs. Wade.
As this newspaper has documented, black money groups funded efforts to overthrow Roe vs. Wade for decades.
A publication-Roe vs. Wade means that women and girls in the United States have lost one of the most fundamental human rights: bodily integrity. Black and minority ethnic women and women living in poverty will be the most affected. But the Christian and the extreme right will not stop there. There are clear warning signs that they will now seek to reverse progress on LGBTIQ and civil rights.
The end of Roe vs. Wadeaccording to disinformation scholar Dave Troy, “means the rollback of rights in the future, moving us away from progressive pluralist democracy and back to something much darker and vengeful”.
Author Margaret Atwood also shared her fears for the future. “They want white male homeowners to control the vote,” the author wrote. The Handmaid’s Tale observed. “Women are not mentioned in the original Constitution, have no political power, are therefore not full citizens and did not obtain the right to vote in the United States until 1920, via a amendment to the Constitution. Obviously, the amendments can be undone. And after?”
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