Women’s lives will be collateral damage if Roe v Wade is overturned

Poorer women who cannot afford to travel to other states for health support will fall victim to an ideological agenda that has long denied them control over their own bodies

<p> It would be the ‘greatest restriction of rights in the past fifty years’ </p>

It would be the ‘greatest restriction of rights in the past fifty years’

The United States Supreme Court looks set to strike down a previous ruling giving women the right to an abortion, according to a leaked report – sparking a fierce battle over women’s health rights that will likely transform the coming Midterm elections and the Presidential election in 2024.

The expected ruling, which was leaked to Politico.com, has already drawn fierce criticism from Democrats in the US. It would be the “greatest restriction of rights in the past fifty years," said the leaders of both the houses of Congress in a joint statement last night.

The Supreme Court arrived here largely because of Donald Trump. The former US president appointed three justices to the Supreme Court – Neil Gorsuch, Brett Cavanaugh and Amy Coney Barratt – changing the political makeup of the court from one that was finely-balanced, to one that leaned heavily conservative.

The impact of this decision cannot be overstated. It means American women will no longer have the automatic constitutional right to have an abortion if they want to – though, of course, this will not stop many trying. As some commentators have pointed out, this ruling would deny access to safe abortions; not unsafe ones.

Many states have already sought to ban abortion entirely – and will now be able to legally proceed with those bans. The Supreme Court decision will uphold a new law in the state of Mississipi, which bans all abortions entirely, without any exceptions – even incest or rape.

“If tonight’s news is true, Michigan’s 1931 state law banning abortion would snap back into effect, making any abortion illegal in our state — even if the mom will die, or if she was raped by a family member,” tweeted representative Elissa Slotkin, from Michigan.

The ruling is expected to come in June. When and if it does, two things will happen:

Firstly, the battle over protecting a woman’s right to an abortion will move to Congress for the first time in over 60 years. Roe Vs Wade – the decision that codified abortion rights – was taken in 1973. And the battle will be fierce; Republicans are largely opposed to expanding abortion rights, while Democrats largely support protecting and expanding that right.

Public opinion is clear: nearly 60 per cent of Americans say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, compared to nearly 40 per cent who believe it should be illegal. White evangelical protestants are most likely to want a complete ban on abortion. But there is largely far more support for expanding or maintaining abortion rights, than restricting them.

Secondly, the legitimacy of the United States Supreme Court is now under serious threat, which will have implications for the entire American justice system. Democrats will likely lose their faith in the court, which has been balanced for most of the last century. As one columnist at Slate pointed out in 2021: “The court has no military to enforce its judgments. So it depends upon popular support, not for rulings that the public generally supports, but for its unpopular rulings in particular.”

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Democrats have a lot of good reasons to distrust the Supreme Court. It’s not just that it is heavily tilted in one direction, thanks to the underhanded tactics employed by Republicans during the Obama and Trump years. It is also that the newly-appointed justices gave no indication they would seek to overturn established rulings on abortion. They were specifically asked about the ruling at length. Another recent poll found that favourable opinions of the Supreme Court had declined sharply in the last few years.

After the upheavals of the Trump years and the partisan breakdown of Congress, the US Supreme Court was seen as the sole institution at the top of American politics that commanded respect from all sides. That era is over. The partisan divide and paralysis that has infected every other part of American politics has also claimed the judicial system as its latest victim.

The bigger tragedy is that women will be the collateral damage in this ruling. While liberal states will seek to expand abortion rights, conservative states will restrict them even further. Poorer women who cannot afford to travel to other states for health support will fall victim to an ideological agenda that has long denied them control over their own bodies.

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