On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the nationwide right to abortion. They did so by overturning the Roe v. Wade ruling; this ruling established the right to abortion in 1973. Removing this right means that states decide whether an American woman can or cannot have an abortion. We expect that half of the 50 states will move to prohibit legal abortion. U.S. President Joe Biden does not support the removal of this right. He calls the decision “cruel” and speaks of a “tragic mistake. “It takes America back 150 years,” Biden said.
History of Roe v. Wade
Norma McCorvey was at the forefront of the famous Roe v. Wade ruling, which established the right to abortion by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973. Jane Roe, (an alias for Norma McCorvey) was a single woman from Dallas. McCorvey wanted to end her pregnancy and turned to attorneys Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee. Both attorneys filed suit against Henry Wade, the Dallas County prosecutor. Roe v. Wade was Weddington’s first case after law school. Three years later, the case ended up in the Supreme Court. There, it concluded that Texas’ abortion law was unconstitutional. According to the Supreme Court, the law violated the right to privacy. For McCorvey, of course, the ruling in the case came too late to force an abortion. She gave birth in 1970 to a daughter, whom she gave up for adoption.
What is the state of affairs?
The situation is not good for individuals in the U.S. who may become pregnant. Without Roe, an estimated 36 million women and others will lose access to abortion care in their state. In Republican states, governors are announcing the closure of abortion clinics; in California and other Democratic states, on the contrary, they promise to continue protecting the right and access to abortion.
Justice Minister Merrick Garland views the court’s decision as an attack on people of colour (who are already economically disadvantaged) as well as an attack on all economically disadvantaged people. He promises to do everything possible to protect reproductive rights. This could be done by offering unwanted pregnant people free transportation to states where abortion is available. However, this would jeopardise women’s health because they must travel long distances to access legal and safe abortion care.
Abortion pills are commonplace in the US. Half of all abortions are done with an abortion pill. Doctors can prescribe and send an abortion pill after an (online) consultation. For unwanted pregnant people in poverty or in conservative regions, abortion pills have always been the only solution. In any case, the next battle has been won by Garland. While Republicans are now looking to ban the purchase of abortion pills, Garland already had the pills approved by the federal health department. He also ordered that they be available in all states.
Research shows that denying an abortion to a woman who wants one can negatively affect the child’s socioeconomic circumstances. These children are more likely to live below the poverty line than children of women who were able to obtain abortions for unwanted pregnancies earlier in life. Further, experts warn that limiting access to abortion inevitably leads to higher maternal mortality rates (with a greater likelihood of affecting people of colour). In addition, the mental health effects of carrying an unwanted, unplanned or unhealthy pregnancy to term due to sexual violence, such as rape and incest, should not be underestimated.
Men also benefit from reproductive freedom
The impact of abortion on male partners is limited. However, this does not mean that the problem is irrelevant to men. According to the National Survey of Family Growth, one in five men has been involved in an abortion. Previous research shows a link between delayed parenthood and better educational performance. Better performance leads to higher future socioeconomic status for both men and women.
EU feels the political turmoil
Not far from home, the ability to choose abortion is not a given in Europe. Some women’s rights advocates feel that what is happening in the US is mirrored in some parts of Europe. Other experts expect conservative and religious groups to feel empowered. In Western Europe, the right to make decisions about one’s own body is firmly established, and there are no signs of legislation being rolled back. Incidentally, the EU has no authority over abortion rights within a member state; therefore, abortion legislation is up to the relevant member states. However, in 2010, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that an abortion ban violates the European Human Rights Convention. Unfortunately, this only applies if there is a threat to the woman’s health or life or if the pregnancy results from a rape.
Abortion not allowed throughout Europe
Catholic countries generally have stricter abortion laws. For example, in 2013, Ireland was the second-to-last country within the EU to legalise abortion. Furthermore, Malta is still the only country with an abortion ban. The island bans abortion under all circumstances, including when the fetus has no chance of survival. When we travel further towards Eastern Europe, to Poland, we see that the government is increasingly tightening the abortion law. Since the beginning of 2021, abortion in Poland is only allowed if the woman is in danger of death or is pregnant as a result of incest or rape. Looking at the European Union, a similar “battle” is taking place, writes European Parliamentarian Sophie in ’t Veld. “In the European Parliament, conservative politicians, often Polish or Italian, have advocated a European version of the controversial American Gag-rule for years.” This is the rule first introduced in the US in the 1980s and reinstated under Trump, where non-profit organisations that provide information on topics such as contraception and abortion will no longer receive funding.
Roe v Wade overturned: While the US rolls back abortion rights, where is Europe headed? https://www.euronews.com/next/2022/06/27/abortion-rights-with-the-us-on-brink-of-rolling-back-roe-v-wade-where-is-europe-headed
World Leaders React on Roe v. Wade: https://www.wsj.com/livecoverage/supreme-court-decision-roe-v-wade-6-24-2022/card/europeans-react-on-roe-v-wade-YQY9SVjtWc4K7DIfB0R8
Droit à l’avortement : qu’est-ce que l’arrêt Roe vs Wade, qui a fixé le cadre légal de l’accès à l’IVG aux Etats-Unis en 1973 ? https://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2022/05/03/droit-a-l-avortement-qu-est-ce-que-l-arret-roe-vs-wade-qui-a-fixe-le-cadre-legal-de-l-acces-a-l-ivg-aux-etats-unis-en-1973_6124632_3225.html
EU criticizes Poland’s abortion ban as it reminds member states to ‘respect fundamental rights’: https://www.euronews.com/my-europe/2021/02/24/eu-criticises-poland-s-abortion-ban-as-it-reminds-member-states-to-respect-fundamental-rig
Activist on trial in Poland for providing abortion pills in ‘European first’: https://www.euronews.com/2022/04/08/activist-on-trial-in-poland-for-providing-abortion-pills-in-european-first
The end of Roe v. Wade has huge economic implications for male partners, too: https://www.npr.org/2022/06/27/1107715589/abortion-access-impact-on-men
Roe v Wade: men benefit from abortion rights too – and should speak about them more: https://theconversation.com/roe-v-wade-men-benefit-from-abortion-rights-too-and-should-speak-about-them-more-185523
Roe v. Wade: The Mental and Physical Health Effects of Anti-Abortion Laws: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/roe-v-wade-the-mental-and-physical-health-effects-of-anti-abortion-laws#The-case-that-ended-Roe
De val van Roe v Wade: https://rosavzw.be/nl/nieuwsbrieven/pers-pectief/30-06-de-val-van-roe-v-wade
Abortus in Europa: https://fiom.nl/kenniscollectie/abortus/publicaties-fiom/abortus-europa