Gateway to attacks on civil rights

Caitlin Barr on the fight for reproductive justice everywhere in the wake of the US Supreme Court decision

We are now four months on from the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade, taking the right to safe, legal abortions away from women and trans and non-binary people all over the nation. Here in the UK, the issue has more or less departed front pages – but it would be foolish to imagine that the landmark ruling won’t have any effect on our own rights. It stands as testament to the fact that we now live in a time when decisions like this can be made by the few (in this case, eight unelected Supreme Court justices) on behalf of the many.

Any country which claims to promote the rights of women and marginalised genders should be demonstrating their dedication to protecting our rights. Yet here in the UK, Dominic Raab has claimed that there is no need to enshrine abortion rights in UK law, stating, “I don’t think there’s a strong case for change.” In fact, there has never been a better time for change: we are in a cost-of-living crisis, emerging from the wreckage of a pandemic. Many people and families are struggling to care for themselves; and, with a forced birth, here, as it is in the US following the Supreme Court’s ruling, deep-rooted inequalities would rear their heads all the more insistently. Our sisters in Northern Ireland have been left unable to access legal abortions in their home nation, despite abortion bans being historically repealed in 2018, because Stormont is at an impasse. Abortion is a necessary right in every country, and we must never assume that just because we are able to access abortions here in the UK, this is guaranteed in perpetuity.

In August, the Indiana senate voted to restrict abortion access except in instances when the pregnancy puts the carrier’s life or physical health at risk, or if the pregnancy is as a result of rape or incest. However, even with these exceptions, the abortion must be performed no later than ten weeks into the pregnancy – usually around the time people find out they are expecting – making the ban essentially total. Indiana is the first state to sign a change like this into law since the ruling, but it seems many other states are set to follow. These bans have intersectional impacts. Black women in the US are two to three times more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts. Black women have also typically had more abortions than white women, so bans on safe abortions carry even more impact for them. The ban is also showing up how technology can work against us, in a context of many people being told it is better to delete period-tracking apps in case the data is used to prove a pregnancy which has been terminated. In Nebraska, a teenager is facing criminal charges after her Facebook activity revealed that she had had a self-guided abortion after 20 weeks (illegal in her state), constituting one of the first times Facebook data has been used as evidence in a trial of this nature.

The repeal of Roe v Wade in the USA is undoubtedly a gateway for other civil rights being taken away. Justice Clarence Thomas has stated that the court should reassess other cases, like those which uphold the right to same-sex marriage and intercourse, and the right to contraception.

However, there have been signs of hope, too: 60% of Kansas voters ensured that the right to abortion would remain in the state’s constitution in the first electoral test of abortion support in the nation since the Supreme Court ruling. Turnout in the primary, which included a referendum on abortion access, was higher than the state has seen for general elections in previous years, demonstrating the strength of feeling behind the issue. In the UK, buffer zones around abortion clinics, ensuring that anti-abortion protesters cannot intimidate those entering facilities for procedures, are being floated in many towns and cities including Bournemouth. Protesters worldwide are loudly insisting that a person’s right to choose is fundamental. When people make clear their dedication to protecting human rights in the face of oppression from judicial bodies and extremists, we can win. We can, and should, ensure we keep fighting for bodily autonomy, both here and for our sisters in other nations.

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