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Roe v Wade: US Supreme Court Ruling Could Imperil Women’s Abortion Rights Around the World

The US Supreme Court Voted to Overturn Landmark Roe v Wade Decision

A leaked decision by Politico shows how the US Supreme Court has voted to overturn the landmark ruling in Roe v Wade. In the decision, the majority of justices voted to end federal protections for abortions. This is one of the most controversial court cases in the US in the last five decades. The draft opinion contains a repudiation of the 1973 decision in Roe which guaranteed federal constitutional protection of abortion rights. Roe established the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy until a fetus can survive outside the womb. This is 24 weeks gestation, under the legal principle of “viability”. Subsequently, in 1992, in Planned Parenthood v Casey the decision in Roe was reaffirmed.

This disclosure is a rare breach of Supreme Court secrecy and tradition. The Supreme Court verified that the published decision by Politico is genuine. However, Chief Justice John Roberts has ordered an investigation into the leak. Roberts stressed that this “does not represent a decision by the Court or the final in the case.”

This public disclosure is expected to intensify the already highly contentious debate surrounding abortion rights in the US. Overruling Roe v Wade will end a half-century guarantee of federal constitutional protection of abortion rights. This ruling would also allow states to have the right to restrict or ban abortion as they wish.

26 US States Stand Poised to Ban or Restrict Abortion

This decision could result in 26 states in the US immediately banning or restricting abortion. This would dramatically alter the US political and legal landscape.

The Guttmacher Institute estimated that 58% of US women (40 million) live in states that are “hostile” to abortion.

Roe vs Wade
Caption: Image obtained from the Guardian.

What are the Maternal Health Impacts of Overturning Roe v Wade?

Amnesty International’s Secretary-General has stated that we are demonstrating a complete disregard for the life-threatening impacts of criminalizing abortion. Consequently, this would increase the number of women dying from unsafe abortions. Thus, overturning Roe would violate the right to life and the prohibition of torture.

Women must travel hundreds of miles to access healthcare which is unrealistic for those who cannot afford travel expenses or childcare costs. The second option is to obtain the two-pill abortion medication, which can safely terminate a pregnancy up to 10 weeks after conception. However, people must obtain this medication illegally through the post, posing several risks. Consequently, people will face longer waiting times for appointments due to many out-of-state patients arriving.

Moreover, the US has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries. Recent research has shown U.S. maternal deaths increased significantly from 754 in 2019 to 861 deaths in 2020. Banning abortion would increase pressure on the US healthcare system, jeopardising millions of women’s access to healthcare. Roe v Wade will compromise hospitals that are providing basic obstetric procedures such as miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies.

People of Colour and People Living Below the Poverty Line Are Disproportionately Affected

Any decision to ban abortion would disproportionally affect minorities such as poor people and people of colour. Research has indicated that if you are Black or Hispanic in a conservative state that already limits access to abortions, you are far more likely than a white woman to have an abortion.

Also Read: Abortion Rights: Why Are Women Denied The Right Over Their Bodies?

The maternal death rate for Black women is almost three times higher than for white women. One-third of pregnant women and new mothers who died in 2020 were Black, though Black Americans make up just over 13% of the population. People of colour living in states with conservative abortion laws often have limited access to health care, limited choices for effective birth control and receive insufficient sex education. Outlawing abortion places minority groups in fragile circumstances where they cannot travel long distances to access health care services in states where such services are legal.

Overturning Roe v Wade would not only be the outcome of decades of hateful campaign against women’s rights; it would also be deeply racist and classist.

Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General

In addition, Black or Hispanic people are far less likely to have health insurance. It was estimated in 2019 that in Texas, Mississippi, and Georgia, at least 16% of Black women and 36% of Latinas were uninsured.

Women protesting for abortion rights
Caption: Image obtained from the Los Angelos Times.

The Supreme Court Decision could Endanger Women’s Rights worldwide

The draft decision has sent shockwaves across the US, initiating massive protests. Any regression in protecting the right to abortion can set a dangerous precedent for other governments and anti-right groups.

Human rights advocates say that such a decision could weaken reproductive rights worldwide. Many countries with high Catholic populations, such as Ireland, Argentina, and Mexico, have eased their restrictive abortion laws. Ireland legalised abortion in 2019Argentina legalised it in 2020, and Mexico decriminalised abortion in 2021. In February 2022Colombia’s highest court legalised abortion until 24 weeks of pregnancy. However, if the US upends the nearly half-century-long constitutional protection for abortions, human rights groups have warned that oppressive governments worldwide could use this decision to justify establishing anti-abortion laws.

Laura Shorten
Laura Shorten is an Irish human rights consultant and researcher based in the Netherlands. Laura qualified with an International Bachelor of Social Sciences degree from University College Dublin. She majored in politics, international relations and social policy. Laura graduated from Technological University Dublin with a Postgraduate Diploma in Law. In 2021, she graduated with an Advanced LL.M in International Children’s Rights at Leiden University. Laura specializes in international law, children’s human rights, political science, international relations, middle eastern studies, refugee/migration law, gender studies, strategic litigation and global diplomacy. Laura has published various articles pertaining to international law and human rights violations occuring worldwide. Laura defended her Advanced Master’s Thesis entitled “An Analysis of the Convention on the Rights of the Child’s Legal Framework in Protecting Children’s Right to Health and Right to Life in the Face of Climate Change”. This thesis is published on the Leiden University website under the Advanced Master of Law Theses for children's rights. Laura has previously worked for UNICEF Ireland, campaigning for children worldwide who are facing discrimination and living in war zones.

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