Life

Roe v Wade, the law giving US women abortion rights, is facing its biggest threat yet

Posted by
Jessica Rapana
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More than 200 – mostly male – members of Congress have signed a brief urging the Supreme Court to “reconsider” Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling protecting women’s abortion rights.

It’s a new decade, but women’s reproductive rights seem to be right out of the dark ages.

Roe v Wade, which legalised abortion in America, is at risk of being overturned or scaled back after more than 200 – mostly male – members of Congress signed an amicus brief urging the US Supreme Court to “reconsider” the 1973 landmark decision.

An amicus brief is an attempt by an uninvolved-but-interested party to influence a court decision. In this brief regarding Roe v Wade, 39 senators and 168 representatives have outlined their support for an aggressively restrictive Louisiana law that would require admitting privileges at nearby hospitals for doctors who perform abortions. If allowed, the appeal would close almost every abortion clinic in the state. 

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The case in question will come before the court in March and will be the first time that justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both appointed by Donald Trump, hear an abortion case as members of the high court.

Jane Roe was the pseudonym given to plaintiff Norma McCorvey, who challenged the Texas laws on abortion. The court decision, which classified the criminalisation of abortion as a violation of the constitutional right to privacy, is seen as a legal safeguard for a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

In the brief, the lawmakers described that decision as “radically unsettled precedent,” adding that its “jurisprudence has been haphazard from the beginning,” because “Roe did not actually hold that abortion was a ‘fundamental’ constitutional right but only implied it.”

Further, they argue that the Louisiana case “illustrates the unworkability of the ‘right to abortion’ found in Roe v Wade… and the need for the court to again take up the issue of whether Roe and Casey should be reconsidered and, if appropriate, overruled.”

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With recent law changes already restricting access to abortions in some states to a level not seen in decades, the enormity of this fresh threat to women’s reproductive rights – in 2020 – is almost unfathomable. Alabama passed a near-total ban last year, including for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest, unless the woman’s life is in danger. The overturning or scaling back of Roe v Wade could see an end to safe, legal abortion anywhere in America.

“Anti-abortion politicians are using every trick in the book to ban abortion,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, wrote on Twitter reacting to the news.

“Asking the Supreme Court to reconsider overturning Roe is an assault on our basic rights, plain and simple. Abortion is safe and legal, and we’re doing everything we can to keep it way.”

Further, according to a 2019 study, 61% of US adults believe that abortion should be legal in the US in all or most cases, compared to 38% who say it should be illegal all or most of the time.

Several Democratic presidential candidates, including Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have expressed their support for a federal law enshrining the right of all women to make decisions about reproduction, including a right to abortion and contraception.

During her campaign, former Democratic candidate Kamala Harris even advocated for an abortion rights version of the Voting Rights Act, which would require states with a history of misogynist anti-abortion laws to get federal approval before they are permitted to enact new abortion restrictions.

The message is clear: with a president who has made it evident he doesn’t value women’s rights and the last significant legal safeguard under serious threat, it’s more crucial than ever to secure access to abortion for women in America. Otherwise, 2020 might be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Images: Getty

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Jessica Rapana

Jessica Rapana is a journalist based in London, and enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content. She is especially fond of news, health, entertainment and travel content, and drinks coffee like a Gilmore Girl.

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