Concerns mount in the US over narrowing women’s rights on abortion

Concerns mount in the US over the future of women’s rights to access abortion


Concerns are mounting in the US over the future of women’s rights to access abortion.

Last Wednesday, the US supreme court’s new conservative-dominated bench heard oral arguments in the case of Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy —  the most important case concerning abortion rights since Roe v Wade.

Commentators, including New York Times’ court reporter, Linda Greenhouse, said that the 6-3 conservative supermajority on the court will most likely uphold the law and even overturn Roe v Wade, the law which protects a woman’s right to choose, suggesting that a series of anti-abortion legislation throughout the country in 2022 may be inevitable. 

A final decision is expected to be made in June next year.

On Wednesday, during the arguments, the court’s most recent appointee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, asked the US solicitor general – who argued for the US on behalf of the Mississippi clinic that is challenging the state’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, about “safe haven” laws that allow women to hand over their unwanted newborn babies at police stations or fire houses; the mothers’ parental rights are then extinguished without further legal consequences.

Justice Barrett surmised that if the issue with “forced motherhood” was that it will “hinder women’s access to the workplace and to equal opportunities…why don’t safe haven laws take care of that problem?”

“It seems to me that it focuses the burden much more narrowly,” she said. “There is, without question, an infringement on bodily autonomy, you know, which we have in other contexts, like vaccines.”

“However, it doesn’t seem to me to follow that pregnancy and then parenthood are all part of the same burden.”

Over the weekend, Mississippi’s governor, Tate Reeves, called the recent Supreme Court oral arguments a “watershed moment in American history,” and that he was optimistic the court will overturn two major rulings that protected women’s abortion rights in America. 

“This has been a watershed moment in American history over the last week as this case that many of us in the pro-life movement have hoped would come before the court for many years, and we actually had oral arguments on Wednesday,” Reeves, a Republican, told CNN. 

He suggested the six justices “could consider potentially overturning Casey, which was the Planned Parenthood v. Casey case dating back to 1992, or they could overturn Roe v. Wade in 1973, and the commentary around the oral arguments on Wednesday certainly give people like me, who hope that they do both of those things, some reason for optimism.” 

“But again, I’ve watched enough court cases to know that just because a particular judge or a particular justice is asking certain questions doesn’t mean that’s necessarily how they’re going to rule,” he said.

Reeves, who has served as governor since January 2020, added that if the ruling was overturned completely, Mississippi would impose a ban on almost all abortions in the state under the so-called “trigger law”.

If the ruling is overturned, Reeves said his state will ban all abortions except in cases of rape or if the life of the mother is in danger. 

“If you believe as I believe very strongly that that innocent, unborn child in the mother’s womb is in fact a child, the most important word when we talk about unborn children is not unborn, but it’s children,” he said.

“And so yes, I will do everything I can to protect the lives of those children.”

“I just want to make sure everyone is clear that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, that doesn’t mean no one in America is going to have access,” he added. 

“Although that might make people like me happy — but what it does mean is that all 50 states, the laboratories of democracy, are going to have the ability to enact their own laws with respect to abortion,” he said. “And I think that’s the way it should be in America.” 

Reeves’ position however does not represent the majority of US citizens. 

According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted last month, sixty percent of Americans say Roe v Wade should be upheld. 

An August 2019 study revealed that 70 percent of Americans are opposed to overturning Roe v Wade while 59 percent believe abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances.

Despite this, 26 US states have already expressed they will attempt some form of ban on abortion should Roe v Wade be overturned using current laws — according to the Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based based global research and policy organisation advocating for sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Republican senator for Indiana, Mike Braun, supported several arguments Reeves made on Wednesday. 

He told NBC he wanted “abortions to be eliminated from the landscape.” 

“When it comes to things like abortion, I think it’s clear it’s time to turn it back to the states,” Braun said.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, Indiana has created 55 abortion restrictions and bans in the past ten years, but it does not have a “trigger law” anything equivalent in their legislation.

The state is listed by the Institute as one of five states without these laws that are still likely to move towards almost total bans if Roe v Wade is overturned.

Since former president Donald Trump sworn in three conservative justices to the Supreme Court during his administration, both sides of the abortion rights debate have been preparing for a legal contest.

According to the Associated Press, campaign finance data reveals that pro-abortion-access groups donated US$8m in 2018 and more than US$10m in 2020.

Those numbers surpass the public contributions of anti-abortion groups, which donated US$2.6m in 2018 and US$6.3m in 2020. 

A new report conduced by a UK-based charity, Population Matters, warns that women’s rights around the world are under attack “because of a pervasive, political push for women to have more children, no matter the cost”. 

According to UN data cited by the report, the percentage of countries with pro-natalist policies increased from 10 percent in 1976 to 28 percent in 2015. 

The report, titled, Welcome to Gilead, notes that the problem is the fact that “a growing number of politicians are embracing a new, de facto coercive strategy to boost birth rates: making it difficult for people to access sexual and reproductive healthcare.” 

Around the globe, abortion rights are being dissolved at startling rates. 

Last October, Poland enacted a near-total abortion ban, a decision that led to the death of a pregnant woman earlier this year. Other countries with a total ban on abortion include The Phillipines, Honduras, Nicaragua, Iraq and Egypt. 

Robin Maynard, the director of Population Matters, said last week that coercive pro-natalism is “… not simply a manifestation of patriarchy or misogyny but can be a product of political and economic forces entirely indifferent to women, for whom they exist simply as productive or non-productive wombs.”

In September, former US vice-president Mike Pence told a summit on demographics and ‘family values’ in Budapest that “plummeting birth rates” indicate “a crisis that strikes at the very heart of civilisation”. 

“It is our hope and our prayer that in the coming days, a new conservative majority on the supreme court of the United States will take action to restore the sanctity of life at the centre of American law,” Pence said

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