The end of Roe vs Wade – why it matters

Overnight, Politico published a draft of a US Supreme court decision which, if confirmed, will end the right of American women and pregnant people to access abortion. This has been an inevitable trajectory since Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court in June 2018, giving Donald Trump the chance to ensure a conservative majority.  During his term, Trump appointed three conservative justices, a move destined to roll back not just abortion rights, but potentially the right to same sex marriage as well.

Ending the legal right to seek an abortion is a disaster for women. Before it was enacted, women in many states died when pregnancy threatened their lives because they could not get an abortion. This is a basic civil rights issue for women.

Not only that, but we have to remember that the US is a country without either universal health care or paid maternity leave. Crooked Media’s Hysteria podcast host Erin Ryan gave birth to her daughter Juniper last November and in this post highlights the thousands of dollars she had to pay out just to get through her pregnancy and birth and how she had to ask the specialist administering her epidural if he took her insurance:

I was in the hospital, exhausted from being awake for 24 hours and in the worst pain of my life because I had tried to Be A Hero and have an unmedicated birth, when the anesthesiologist arrived in my room to administer the epidural for which I was yelling.

“Do you take BlueCross?” I asked, between animalistic screams of pain.

He kind of laughed. “I have no idea,” he said. “Somebody else handles that.”

Would his answer have made a difference either way? No. I also had no other choice. He was the anesthesiologist. It was him or unbearable pain that was causing me so much obvious distress that my husband still talks about how horrible it was to witness.

It’s also worth mentioning that conservative Republicans who oppose abortion rights also oppose any move to make access to healthcare, or childcare more affordable. Joe Biden’s original Build Back Better package included entitlement to family leave and childcare that would have made life so much easier for families. Predictably the Republicans opposed those provisions. Worse, so did Democrat senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema which meant that the measures never got anywhere.

Overturning Roe vs Wade will make life impossible for many women in the US.  Affluent women will be able to travel to seek the medical care they need. This is less likely to be an option for poor women, who are more likely to be women of colour or marginalised pregnant people. There will be an inevitable return to unsafe, illegal, unregulated abortion. It is not an exaggeration to say that women will die, unnecessarily, because of this unprecedented removal of their rights.

This comes at a time when women are being jailed for manslaughter if they miscarry, also a move that this article on NBC News argues discriminates particularly against low income women and women of colour.

A 2013 report by NAPW and Fordham University looked at 413 arrests and forced interventions of pregnant women from 1973 to 2005. The analysis showed that 71 percent were considered low income and 59 percent were women of color, with 52 percent identifying as Black.

Black women were also significantly more likely to be charged with felonies than white women, with 85 percent of Black women receiving felony charges compared to 71 percent of white women.

Liberal Democrats have been commenting on draft ruling. Christine Jardine said:

Scottish Lib Dem Leader Alex Cole-Hamilton warned that this shows how easily our human rights can be dismantled. He called on the Scottish Government to introduce measures to enable buffer zones around abortion clinics in Scotland.

“The reports from America are truly scary. If this goes through, women will die if pregnancy threatens their life. Abortion is not a decision that is taken lightly. My thoughts go out to all of those scared about the future, because of the decision that they fear is coming down the tracks. The Court’s draft ruling shows how easily our basic human rights can be dismantled.

“We must make sure that we protect the rights of women to access safe and legal abortion in the UK without harassment. For years campaigners including myself have been calling for buffer zones around abortion clinics to ensure that people in a time of need are not faced with intimidation and shame at a time when they deserve support and empathy.

“No one thinks that Nicola Sturgeon and Maree Todd have anything in common with the US Republican party and its legal assault on personal freedoms, but the fact is that they have stalled and dissembled over these buffer zones for far too long.

“It is the responsibility of a modern and liberal society to uphold their citizen’s rights to medical access and medical privacy.”

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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5 Comments

  • Great explanation of a terrifying situation.

  • This is tragic for the women Caron refers to – the poor, many of whom are Black. Clearly, the American Constitution gives too much power to the unelected Supreme Court, and allows a random pattern of deaths among the judges to deliver what cab a completely unrepresentative panel of judges. It is perfectly possible for an imbalance to last for decades if the appointees are young enough.
    The wider point Caron raises is the fragility of what we think are democratic norms. In the UK it is not so long ago that Parliament was shut down by an autocratic ruler in 10 Downing Street (Dominic Cummings, in those days), and judges were pilloried in the tabloids as “enemies of the people” to only luke-warm objections from government law officers.
    Our own democracy can’t be taken for granted.

  • Brad Barrows 4th May '22 - 8:01am

    @Andy Daer
    “…unelected Supreme Court…”
    I hope you are not suggesting that the top judges in a country should be elected. We want judges to be experts in the law how faithfully interpret the law based on the text and original intent rather than on what public opinion happens to be on any particular issue. In the case of abortion, the US Supreme Court appears likely to rule that the issue is not addressed in the Constitution and it therefore a matter to be decided by the legislative branches at State and Federal level. If there is 70% support for abortion, then the right will be entrenched by legislation rather than by judicial diktat.

  • Laurence Cox 4th May '22 - 10:57am

    Hadley Freeman, once a regular Guardian writer living in the USA, is now having to publish in the right-wing Unherd: https://unherd.com/2022/05/american-feminism-has-turned-its-back-on-abortion/ . She is not alone; Joan Smith, another ex-Guardian writer, has had to go the same way. With the concentration of left-leaning media and politicians on identity issues, the rights of women have been neglected and governments both in the USA and in the UK have not done enough to protect them, as Alex Cole-Hamilton’s intervention shows.

  • @Brad Barrows, perish the thought – I certainly don’t want our judges to be elected. My feeling is that in the US, the Supreme Court has too much power, can be packed with sympathetic judges by people like Trump, and stay in office for too long. But I bow to your greater knowledge of the US system.

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