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Overturning abortion rights is a Pyrrhic victory. It will cost the US dearly in the long run

July 5, 2022 at 7:39 pm

Abortion rights protesters chant during a Pro Choice rally at the Tucson Federal Courthouse in Tucson, Arizona on Monday, July 4, 2022 [SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP via Getty Images]

Merely 20 years ago, Afghan women’s pretended ‘liberation’ was among the justifications put forward by the Bush Administration to invade Afghanistan. The military aggression took place amidst white feminist fervour. Many critics viewed that moment as “a white man’s crusade to save brown women”.

In the past decade, though, the American political system has been failing women’s rights. The latest Roe v Wade verdict is seen as one of these regressions.

A landmark decision 

In 1973, in Roe v Wade, the court ruled that pregnant women were entitled to an abortion during the first three months of their pregnancy. Although there were legal obstacles, restrictions and bans, the judgement was viewed as a landmark decision in favour of the pro-choice camp. With the Supreme Court’s overturning the original decision, individual states can ban abortions earlier than 12 weeks.

This ruling does not mean that abortions will be completely illegal in the US. It merely allows individual states to decide how or if they will allow abortions. Currently, 13 states have taken measures prohibiting abortion within 30 days of the ruling. Nearly eight states banned abortion procedures the day the ruling was released. Other states are sitting on the fence about what to do next. Currently, abortion is legal in 20 states and will possibly remain legal. In every state, there is an exemption to abortion prohibition if the mother’s life is in jeopardy. However, the contours of this exemption are not well delineated and, thus, doctors require attorney support in making this decision, which may sometimes be too late for the mother in question.

Underlying issues

The ruling’s imperfections reveal other predicaments: policymakers do not have sufficient knowledge about reproduction and its effect on other illnesses, or they do not care. More importantly, the justice system in the US has become politically motivated. The overturning of Roe v Wade was just the final move after decades-long legal stratagems devised by the Republican party. While some Democrats may view the subsequent political backlash as favourable since it may stir up pro-choice women to vote for them, the democratic leadership seems dazed and unable to counter-check the Republican strategy. They failed to get Congress to introduce legislation to allow a federal right to abortion, which would have stopped individual states from banning the process.

According to Guttmacher Institute, a research organisation supporting abortion rights, approximately 40 million women of child-bearing age will be residing in countries that limit or ban abortions. Meanwhile, disenfranchised women will face severe obstacles due to this rule. Consequently, abortion adversaries have put systemic restrictions on reproductive health care.

Global effects

There are several reasons why this U-turn can have major consequences for the US and the world. Firstly, while abortion will remain in one form or another, the process has become more complicated, expensive and dangerous. In a statement by the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA), “Data show that restricting access to abortion does not prevent people from seeking an abortion; it simply makes it more deadly.” They further explain that already 45% of the world’s abortions are unsafe, and it is also the primary cause of maternal death.

This issue is already a cause for concern globally. The UNFPA fears “that more unsafe abortions will occur across the world if access to abortion becomes more restricted. Decisions reversing progress gained have a wider impact on the rights and choices of women and adolescents everywhere.”

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Furthermore, conservative and right-wing parties worldwide may follow the US precedent. In an interview for the BBC, Dr Veena JS, activist and forensic medicine professor, states that America is “a model” for the world. Since Washington has a considerable influence in many parts of the globe, including Central America, Mariana Moisa, a pro-abortion rights activist from El Salvador, is pessimistic. For her, “this will embolden the most conservative groups in our countries who consistently deny women rights … the denial of the human rights of women and girls being forced to bear children who are the product of abuse already disproportionately affects the poorest in society”.

National chaos

The ruling has also caused chaos across the US. Many stockpiled morning-after pills such as Plan-B, others followed herbal abortion methods on TikTok, while some briefly halted emergency contraception. Such reactions reveal the physical and psychological downsides of the ruling. Thus, restricting safe abortion care, including medical abortion pills, will force women into unregulated and unsafe methods, resulting in severe harm or even death.

There is also a racist aspect to the ruling. The US history on birth control rights has not been kind to women of colour, particularly those from low-income backgrounds. A similar picture is drawn in the abortion ban as well. According to Global Fund for Women, a group that funds gender justice movements worldwide: “Abortion bans are designed to constrict people’s control over their bodies, lives and futures. They disproportionately harm historically marginalised people, including Black, Indigenous, and low-income communities.”

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The U-turn on Roe v Wade may save lives. However, the question in the long term is whether the states will protect that child’s right to safety, security and nourishment? Will they help the child thrive in case the caregivers are not socially and economically sufficient? Will the child be able to receive adequate health care? Will states offer subsidies to allow the caregiver to care for the child?

Unfortunately, the situation in the US does not bode well for progressive outcomes. The US has one of the lowest-paid leave for mothers; it is also one of the few countries that does not guarantee paid leave to new parents. Raising children is expensive there. Research has shown that the gender pay gap widens even more for mothers.

All things considered, while the Republicans may consider this court decision a political victory, this decision will have a snowball effect on the population’s health, education, well-being as well as on America’s image overseas.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.