As we said when the draft United States Supreme Court ruling was leaked last month, the clock has been turned back in America. The striking down of Roe v Wade, the 1973 judgment guaranteeing a woman’s right to choose on abortion throughout the US, is a tragedy. It will lead to great suffering, especially among poorer women who will find it harder to travel to liberal states where their rights will be protected.
It is a retreat from progress towards the protection of fundamental human rights in America, and to the extent that such rights are universal, it diminishes us all. Not that we British should pretend to automatic moral superiority. The same clash between devolution and fundamental rights is being played out today in Northern Ireland, where a decision by the sovereign House of Commons of the United Kingdom that abortion services must be provided there has been blocked by Northern Ireland ministers.
In the US, the institutions are different, but the issues of principle are the same. The arguments that have raged over Roe v Wade for half a century now have been over states’ rights as much as over the rights of women over their bodies. The decision by the Supreme Court on Friday was notionally not about women’s rights at all, but about the right of states to decide such questions. Contrary to the ruling in Roe v Wade, the justices decided that, under the constitution, each state must decide its own law on abortion.
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