Almost all streets in southern New York are closed on Friday evening: more than 10,000 people are demonstrating there against America’s Supreme Court, which has just overturned the country’s liberal abortion law. “It’s one of the darkest days in US history,” says one woman who claims to have once terminated a pregnancy of her own. Behind her, the crowd chants: “No justice, no peace!” No justice, no peace. It’s a slogan that was also heard in New York two years ago after a police officer killed black truck driver George Floyd. Back then, peaceful protests were soon followed by looting.
At the same time on Friday, the corks are popping in Washington, literally: supporters of the verdict douse themselves with champagne in front of the court, much like Formula 1 drivers do after a Grand Prix victory. In the conservative states of Missouri and Kentucky, thousands of people also celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision, often in church parking lots. Your posters show sayings like “Goodbye Roe” and “Roe is dead”, Roe is dead.
Roe versus Wade, these are the names of the two opponents in the trial, with which the judges of the Supreme Court in 1973 granted women a fundamental right to an abortion until the fetus was viable (approximately up to the 24th week of pregnancy). Today’s chief justices have now overturned the verdict by a majority of six votes to three. From now on, the states can determine whether they allow, restrict or ban abortions. And the United States is facing a crucial test.
About 2,000 kilometers southwest of New York and Washington, in Texas, a clinic canceled 22 women who had an appointment for an abortion on Friday. Several companies – including Amazon, Disney and JP Morgan – have announced that they will cover travel expenses if employees have to travel to another state for an abortion in the future.
All of this is happening in the US on Friday, hours after the verdict was announced. Many people seemed to sense that something historic had happened. The question of whether abortions should be allowed has long been the subject of emotional debate in the United States. And so, after the verdict, America appeared like a split-screen country: joy on one side, despair on the other. Roe v. Wade divides society. From the point of view of many Democrats, the Supreme Court is catapulting the United States back into the moral Stone Age. For Republicans, on the other hand, it’s the moment they’ve been dreaming of for 50 years. They see the verdict as a symbol of a turning point, as the beginning of a more conservative and pious America.
In several Republican-governed states, the legal situation changed immediately on Friday. Texas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Oklahoma and South Dakota have so-called “trigger laws” in force: prepared laws that apply as soon as previous case law is overturned. There, the pregnancy may no longer be terminated from the moment of fertilization, unless the life of the mother is in danger. Eight other states are likely to pass similar rules in the coming weeks.
“God decided that,” Donald Trump said on Friday. The verdict is in line with the constitution, said the ex-president, and should have been issued “a long time ago”. For Trump, the end of Roe v. Wade a triumph. During the 2016 election campaign, he announced that he would nominate conservative judges who would do just that. This is how Trump secured the votes of conservative Christians. His calculation worked. The Republican reshuffled the Supreme Court – and may have fundamentally changed America in the process.
His successor, Joe Biden, called the verdict a “tragic mistake”. It is an expression of an “extreme ideology”. The President spoke of a “cruel decision” and warned: “The health and lives of women in this country are now in danger.” Biden called on Congress to enshrine the right to abortion in federal law.
This met with approval in New York. The protests there lasted late into the night on Friday and were expected to continue on Saturday and Sunday. An overwhelming majority of the city’s eight million residents support liberal abortion laws. One demonstrator’s poster even read the call for “abortion on demand”, i.e. for abortions that are available at any time.