Abortion has always been a hot topic in the United States and generally across most countries. In the U.S. people have long had opposite views of whether to allow a fetus to grow to completion or to terminate a pregnancy based on the factors affecting the health and general well being of a mother.
A big part of discussions about abortion legislation revolves around determining when a fetus is viable outside the womb, and therefore a measure of a “life” on its own. The majority´s opinion in Roe v. Wade defined viability of a fetus that can live outside the womb even with artificial aid, at around 28 weeks (7 months).
For much of the 19th and early 20th centuries, state abortion laws targeted those who performed abortions rather than pregnant women who sought out the procedure. These laws were meant to protect women and their babies from the harm that comes from abortion, and not to prosecute them for their actions.
However, the abortion rights movement gained some traction in the United States during the mid to late 20th century. Most notably, a Connecticut resident, Gerri Santoro, died while trying to obtain an illegal abortion. This event is credited with spurring women’s rights activist groups to learn and develop the skills to safely provide abortions to women who had nowhere else to get the procedure done.
A landmark ruling was realized in 1967 when Colorado was the first state to decriminalize abortion in certain instances such as incest, rape, and when the pregnancy poses a mortal threat to the mother.
Shortly after, similar laws were passed in North Carolina, California, and Oregon. Hawaii became the first state to legalize abortion requested by the pregnant woman in 1980, while New York repealed laws that were more than a century old, allowing the termination of pregnancies up to the 24th week.
Since the 20th century, the Democratic Party has favored the ‘pro-choice’ side of the abortion debate. This holds the view that a woman is entitled to choose whether to keep a pregnancy.
On the other hand, the Republican Party has held the ‘pro-life’ view, believing that a fetus has the right to live. Many Americans are found to agree with some positions held by each side, with support for abortion increasing gradually after the Roe v. Wade ruling in January 1973.
Most notably before abortion was decriminalized in the U.S. with the decisions of Doe v. Bolton and Roe v. Wade, abortion was legal in several states without a federally mandated framework for state legislation on the subject.
Just before Roe v. Wade, thirty states in the U.S. explicitly outlawed abortion with no exceptions, while sixteen other states prohibited abortion except for special circumstances like rape, incest, and health threat to the mother. Three other states allowed residents to get abortions until Roe v. Wade invalidated all these precedents and set the guidelines for the availability of abortion henceforth.
Roe v. Wade Ruling
On January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the legal case Roe v. Wade that the Constitution of the United States generally protected the liberty of pregnant women to choose to have an abortion.
Responses to Recent Reversal of Supreme Court Precedent
The Supreme Court recently overturned the aforementioned precedent in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, ruling to end federal abortion rights and leaving it up to individual states to regulate abortion laws separately.
One of the most publicized responses to this ruling has been that of President Biden, who advised women in states where abortion is banned to travel to other states where it isn’t banned. This view effectively denounced the Supreme Court ruling and echoes similar concerns from those who wish to see abortion permitted by law.
Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi joined President Biden in denouncing the decision to end the constitutional right to abortion in the United States. She stated that the ‘Republican-controlled’ Supreme Court achieved the party’s “dark and extreme” aim of ensuring American women of today have less freedom than their mothers. The Speaker further termed the ruling as cruel, heart-wrenching, and outrageous.
This reversal has raised some fears that other rights decided on by the Supreme Court in the past could be revisited and overturned, with Justice Clarence Thomas referencing landmark decisions on the legislation of same-sex marriage, the repeal of anti-sodomy laws, and the right to contraception. The Justice stated that we should consider all of the Supreme Court’s substantive due processes as precedents.
Other renowned figures welcomed the ruling wholeheartedly, such as Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves who commented that it is a step toward overcoming one of the greatest injustices in the history of the United States. Former Vice President Mike Pence echoed this statement as a long-standing critic of Roe v. Wade, further urging anti-abortion supporters not to stop until the sanctity of life is protected in every state.
Within hours of the Roe v. Wade ruling being overturned, many states in the US had already made abortion illegal, as cities concurrently erupted in protest of the recent ruling. After more than 50 years individual states have been left to decide on anti-abortion laws on their own. Experts are predicting that nearly half of the states are expected to reintroduce new bans and restrictions on abortion.
According to the BBC, thirteen states have passed “trigger laws” that automatically outlaw abortion in unison with the Supreme Court’s ruling, with many others expected to pass similar restrictions shortly.
The recent reversal of the Supreme Court precedent set during Roe v. Wade has been met with widespread anticipation, controversy, and discussion not just within the United States, and beyond its borders to the rest of the world. The reversal is likely to spark much more discussion about abortion across the globe, and there could be more landmark legislation in the offing. At this point nothing is certain and the future of legal abortion in America remains to be decided.