The results are in and with a heavy sigh, the predictability of an overturning of Roe in the Supreme Court has been decided, giving all states the autonomy to ban abortions if they are inclined to do so.
The current situation
Even before Roe V Wade was overturned last week many states such as Oklahoma or Texas already had highly restrictive measures on the accessibility of abortions, which could be described to some degree as quite underhand. Constant loopholes and contingencies surrounding the legality of the procedure, essentially outlawing it even before the courts had spoken. Many states have been described as ‘trigger’ states, where as soon as the ruling came in, proceedings to illegalise and penalise abortion were implemented, leaving many current pregnant women about to undergo the procedure stranded.
Thus, even before the overturning of Roe V Wade, states were already engaging in acts that restricted abortion to the point of it essentially being banned, regardless of the laws that were in place. So, with a sadness when the news came to light that Roe had been overruled, I was neither surprised nor did it alter the situation heavily for many women who have been facing restrictive measures on their access to abortion with a Supreme Court ruling still in tact, having it essentially outlawed a long time ago anyway.
Only time will tell what the true impact of this ruling will have. But what seems clear is that it is a denial of basic health care rights, in a country as big and as powerful as the United States, that is certainly a rather frightening concept. Placing maximum penalties of up to 10 years in prison for any health care provider that executes abortion against the will of the law and removal of medical licenses, places a huge deterrent on health care professionals to engage in the procedure. It feels somewhat dictatorial and a new reign of tyranny in the US. It is hard not to feel furious contemplating the notion that if these powerful men making the decisions were the ones with wombs, would the conversation be entirely different? Sadly it feels that this would be the case.
What will this mean for women in the United States and beyond?
So, with a crackdown from law enforcement over the accessibility of safe and legal abortions, now given the power to outlaw them in every state should they wish to do so, do we think there is likely to be a reduction in the amount of women seeking the service? Well, sadly the answer is no. I say sadly because countless research studies have shown that restricting safe, medically supervised abortions will ultimately result in a spike in unsafe and potentially life-threatening procedures. This conjures up gruesome images of coat hanger abortions from decades past of desperate women, trying to claim some autonomy over their bodies that the state seeks to deny them.
Already, there have been news stories of women facing life threatening situations with ruptured ectopic pregnancies going untreated. Doctors are spending laborious hours on the phone with lawyers, fearing losing their license or even incarceration. All the while the mother’s life is seriously endangered. It is still mindboggling to contemplate this conversation still needs to be had, more so that it is still being governed by men, who this law simply does not apply to. Now that Roe V Wade has been overturned, will we begin to see ripple effects elsewhere outside the US? It is hard to comment at this time, but it is certainly a scary thought for the freedoms and capabilities of many women around the world.
There is a somewhat heavy irony of the US identity in the so called ‘land of the free’ that advocates the stripping of rights and freedoms of women over their own bodies and yet continue to peddle the age old stereotype of the ‘American dream’ proclaiming you can be who or whatever you want to be and succeed. Clearly, these individuals never had a uterus that was under constant observation and threat. Perhaps the American dream was never built to include women or the role of reproductive rights within its agenda?
Is there hope for the future?
Predictably there has been a heavy backlash and we have seen at least 380 large protests country-wide. Protestors are disputing the restrictive measures states are putting in place on abortion rights and access, particularly in the trigger states. However, due to the landmark 1973 ruling being overturned, hope for abortion access in predominantly southern states seems like a luxury of the past.
Looking at the two pictures I have included in this article, the wording and demands of these women have remained consistent in somewhat 50 years, asking for their bodies to be respected and to have choice over what they can do with them. I see hope in the masses of people who have banded together to claim ownership over this right. Yet, on the contrary, it is hard to ignore the fact that even though all these decades have passed, the same fight is still going on, I’m sure leaving many women (myself included) feeling very fatigued. Their requests once again have fallen on deaf ears if we are back to a point where women, men and children must take to the streets in order to fight for this health and human right. The courts have spoken and it is clear that these women have not been heard, it seems the dystopian future Margaret Atwood predicted in her 1985 novel the ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ may not be a work of fiction for much longer.
Nina Charlotte Graver is an MSc Development Studies student at SOAS, studying a gender pathway within this discipline. She became interested in this subject matter, particularly as her dissertation is also centered around reproductive health in India.