The right to abortion in the United States has never been so threatened for nearly fifty years. Friday, May 24, the Supreme Court returned to the so-called Roe vs. Wade judgment which, since 1973, had granted American women the right to abort throughout the country.
This decision means that it is again up to each of the fifty states to decide whether or not they protect the right to voluntary termination of pregnancy (abortion). However, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, about half of the states could ban abortion altogether. According to the Guttmacher Institute, up to 58% of American women of childbearing age – or about 40 million women – live in a state that could deprive them of this right or drastically limit it.
Concretely, what can happen now? The World takes stock.
The end of the Roe vs. Wade case law is above all synonymous with danger to women’s health. Prior to 1973, abortion was legal in only four states, and thirteen others allowed it only if the mother’s life was at stake. knitting needles, coat hangers, or anything long enough to reach the uterus. In the early 1960s, one of the largest hospitals in Chicago treated more than 4,000 women each year who were victims of botched clandestine abortions, the consequences of which put their lives at risk, recalls the New York Times. “In a way, post-Roe America would mirror pre-Roe America,” the New York daily warned in December 2021.
Currently, it is possible to order abortion pills on the Internet – safe and effective up to ten weeks of pregnancy – or to buy them in Mexico, where they are sold over the counter. Officially, it is illegal to sell drugs prescribed in another country to American patients without a prescription from a licensed physician in the United States. In practice, the application of this law is very difficult. Thus, the demand for abortion pills sent from abroad has more than tripled in Texas since September 2021, when the state drastically limited access to abortion.
Pro-choice associations fear, however, that women who do not have access to this pill or are unaware of its existence will turn to much more radical methods of abortion. Desperate, some risk falling down the stairs, violently hitting their stomachs or even ingesting dangerous products.
Another solution for women subject to laws prohibiting abortion: go to the nearest state where abortion is legal. Fifteen states, including California, have strengthened the right to abortion on their soil and are committed to protecting it. They could, now that Roe vs. Wade is canceled, see an influx of patients from other states.
For American women, this would mean an explosion in the distances to be traveled to access legal and secure care. In Louisiana, for example, women who have an average of 60 kilometers to go to a clinic would have to travel more than a thousand. Even in Arizona, a state bordering California, the average would increase from 17 to more than 400 kilometers.
Texas, which prohibits abortion after six weeks of pregnancy – at a time when many women are unaware they are pregnant – provides some insight into the consequences of such a ban. Planned Parenthood, one of the leading family planning groups in the United States, showed that between September 1 and December 31, 2021, the number of Texan women seeking abortions at health centers in surrounding states increased almost 800% over the previous year. “These data show what we have always known: prohibiting abortion does not eliminate abortion; it only makes access to abortion more difficult for people with fewer resources,” write several federation officials on its site.
In states that have tightened their legislation, some organizations are already supporting women on low incomes by helping them finance plane tickets, gas, hotels or even childcare. The Texas Choice Fund is one of them. According to the New York Times, this association receives up to three hundred calls per month since the adoption of the law prohibiting abortion after six weeks, against about thirty previously. “If Roe versus Wade is canceled, it will be absolutely unmanageable”, warned the director of the organization, Anna Rupani, in December 2021. Not to mention that the clinics in the bordering states will not necessarily have the capacity to welcome everyone. within reasonable time.
Not all women are equal when it comes to contraception and abortion. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 862,320 abortions were performed in medical settings in the United States in 2017. Three-quarters involved poor or low-income American women. However, the most precarious women are also those who are members of ethnic minorities.
In the state of Mississippi, for example, people of color (Blacks, Hispanics, indigenous peoples, etc.) represent 44% of the population, but 80% of women who have abortions are from ethnic minorities, details ABC News. . In Texas, the figures are 59% and 74%, respectively, and in Louisiana, 42% and 72%. Why such disparities? Quite simply because these women often have limited access to health care and effective contraception. In addition, schools often provide ineffective or inadequate sex education. For these people, traveling hundreds of miles to find a clinic offering abortions will not be an option.
Moreover, many of the states likely to ban abortion are also those that offer the least social benefits to mothers and children, and that have high levels of child poverty. Studies have shown that being denied an abortion has long-term economic effects: following an unwanted pregnancy, women are more likely to run out of money to cover basic necessities ( food, clothing, rent, etc.).
Also according to the Guttmacher Institute, one in ten people who had an abortion in 2014 was a teenager. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, becoming a mother so young has a staggering economic and social cost: only half of teenage mothers graduate from high school, compared to 90% of women who do not give birth for adolescence. Children of teenage mothers are also more likely to have health problems, be incarcerated, have babies as teenagers, and face unemployment as young adults.
In the United States, the Supreme Court has a monopoly on the interpretation of the Constitution and the judgments it renders are a key source of law within this federal state. Removing the Roe vs. Wade case therefore amounts to breaking a constitutional lock. As a result, this opens the door to a potential challenge to a whole range of other rights. This is the fear expressed on Tuesday, May 3, by US President Joe Biden who considered that the arguments in the Supreme Court’s draft decision went “far beyond” abortion. The Democrat cited the right to contraception or same-sex marriage as potentially challenged by a “fundamental change” in doctrine from America’s highest court.
This article was first published on May 4, 2022, and updated on June 24, 2022 following the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade