Reversing the right to choose

25th June 2022

Protests against the Supreme Court ruling will not end in the US

Few works of fiction truly deserve the epithet ‘prophetic’ but yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling in the United States is in danger of tipping Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale into that category.  The decision to overturn the Roe vs Wade ruling in 1973, which guaranteed a woman’s constitutional right to abortion, means that abortion rights will be determined by individual states in the US.  Thirteen of the 50 US states already have so called ‘trigger laws’ in place in anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling, making abortion instantly illegal.  A further thirteen are expected to follow soon.

The medievalist Bible belt in the United States, opposing a woman’s right to choose at all costs, have vowed to continue the fight until abortion is outlawed in all states in the US.  The ruling provides no mitigation in cases of rape or incest.  The fight is already on to ensure that women in need of treatment can travel to states where abortion is not banned.  It is estimated that at least 36 million women will find themselves in states where they have no right to abortion.

As those defending the right to choose have pointed out, the ruling will not prevent abortion happening, it will simply increase the likelihood of illegal abortions and women dying as a result of having to resort to back street medical interventions. 

The new abortion bans will make the US one of just four nations to roll back abortion rights since 1994, by far the wealthiest and most influential nation to do so, with Poland, El Salvador and Nicaragua being the others.

The ruling flies in the face of public opinion in the US where it is estimated that 85% of Americans believe abortion should be legal.  State abortion bans can be overturned at a national level if there is majority support of the House of Representatives, a 60-vote majority in the Senate, and endorsement from US President, Joe Biden.

However, Republicans will block abortion rights laws in the Senate, which is evenly split with Democrats. One Democratic senator, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, has crossed party lines to vote against abortion rights. That would leave just 49 Democrats, far short of the support needed to pass such a measure.

Joe Biden has stated categorically that he is not in favour of the Supreme Court decision and urged the US public to make their votes count in the up and coming mid term elections in November.  However, this would require Democrats to win landslide victories, including taking conservative states, an outcome which is not regarded as being very likely.

The reactionary forces in the United States, which coalesced around the election of Donald Trump in 2016, will scent a further victory with this Supreme Court ruling.  Joe Biden’s selection for the Democratic candidacy was only ever going to be a stopgap and was successful insofar as it stopped a second Trump term. 

Biden has attempted to shore up his position with more conservative voters by showing himself to be as reactionary as most of his predecessors in foreign policy, failing to address the crime of Guantanamo Bay or the 60 year long illegal blockade of Cuba; failing to address the issue of Palestinian rights for fear of antagonising the Israeli lobby in the US; and pouring fuel on the fire of the conflict in Ukraine, by promising increasing supplies of US weapons, rather than working towards a negotiated settlement.

Ultimately though, this is the default position expected of any US President, and is unlikely to cut any ice with the base who supported Trump, or those on the conservative margins.  Biden’s position on social issues and his strong position on Roe vs Wade will certainly galvanise some Democrat support but it will equally harden the position of many Republicans.  A second Democrat term, whoever the candidate may be, is by no means guaranteed.

It is ironic that so many so called pro-life Republican Senators are the very people who are opposed to gun control, blocking measures to stop the highest source of child deaths in the US.  The right to bear arms, as enshrined in the Second Amendment, is regarded as an inalienable right, whereas a woman’s right to choose is denied.

The illusion of democracy in the US has for decades been that of choice with the same outcomes.  The differences have been of nuance between Democrat and Republican presidential candidates.  The difference being that a Democrat president would at least be expected to be a little more progressive on social issues.  The Supreme Court ruling has however made those fault lines sharper and put the already uneasy consensus around some social issues in the US, in danger of fracturing entirely.  Ongoing protests overnight across the US, against the Supreme Court decision, are the latest manifestation of that division.

Trump’s election in 2016 exposed the polarisation of much of the United States.  The presidential election in 2024, whatever happens in the mid terms, is likely to see that polarisation exacerbated even further.  In the meantime the poor, the hungry, the dispossessed and those women who cannot afford to travel for abortion treatment will be the ones who suffer.

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