At the beginning of May, the American news portal Politico reported on the US Supreme Court’s plans to reverse a landmark judgment on abortion. On Friday morning, women’s rights activists’ worst fears actually came true: Roe v Wade is a thing of the past.
The 1973 ruling that gave women the right to an abortion in the largely Protestant-conservative United States was overturned by a conservative majority of the Supreme Court by a six-to-three vote. It is a historic turning point in the modern history of the United States, which is brutal for those affected and has serious consequences for millions of women.
In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled that abortion was a right to privacy and gave states strict limitations on the enactment of laws affecting that right. Since then, the conservative southern states in particular have repeatedly tried to restrict it – but the court in Washington DC usually put a stop to overly restrictive approaches.
But that’s over now. “The Constitution makes no mention of abortion, and no related right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision,” the ruling said. Republican presidents have repeatedly promised to only appoint Supreme Court judges who would overturn abortion rights. Donald Trump managed to appoint three conservative judges during his four-year tenure, causing the court to swing to the right. Six of the nine judges are considered conservative. All three Trump-appointed justices – Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett – voted to overturn Roe v. Calf. The consequences are likely to be quick and drastic.
13 states have already passed so-called trigger laws that automatically provide for far-reaching restrictions on the right to abortion if Roe v Wade falls. These laws can now come into force within a very short time. In some states directly, in others only the respective state justice minister has to agree beforehand.
In Texas, for example, with a population of almost 29 million, the abortion ban goes into effect 30 days after Roe v Wade was abolished. Abortions will then only be permitted if the life or health of the pregnant woman is in danger.
Many other states have similar restrictions that make legal abortions largely impossible. Another 13 states are planning abortion bans. Overall, abortion could be banned in more than half of the 50 states. Violators face draconian penalties. In Oklahoma, for example, doctors who perform abortions can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Nationwide protests are to be expected in the short term. On Friday morning, women’s rights activists gathered in front of the Supreme Court building in Washington DC’s government district. However, it is unlikely that the expected mass mobilization will change the minds of courts and political leaders in the anti-abortion regions of the United States.
Should a large part of the states actually ban abortions to a large extent, those affected will have to travel to distant places in the country in order to have abortions. In particular, destitute women will not be able to afford these trips. Abortion could become a privilege of the wealthy.
However, there are already funds financed from donations to support needy women, which should also make such trips possible in the future. In the liberal states on the east and west coasts, abortion health providers will have to expand their capacities.
The Attorney General of the State of New York, Letitia James, already tweeted: “New York will always be a safe haven for everyone who seeks an abortion.” However, an increase in illegal and therefore life-threatening procedures for women without adequate medical care is also to be expected.
In addition, the tense political situation in the country is likely to worsen further as a result of the controversial verdict and the issue of abortion will dominate the debate before the upcoming midterm elections in November. There is a high probability that the Democrats will lose at least one of the two houses of parliament and will then no longer be able to pass laws to protect the right to abortion during Joe Biden’s term in office.