The institution of rights supporting access to abortion laid out by the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 changed the lives of millions of women in the United States. Now, the future of the landmark decision looks grim, its fate hanging (loosely, might I add) in the balance.
Saturday, October 2, witnessed the 5th Women’s March, with protestors from around the country taking to the streets to fight for women’s rights. This year’s march focused on abortion justice, more than a month after Texas implemented the Texas Heartbeat Act – one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the United States – on September 1.
The draconian law bans abortions after 6 weeks’ gestation, generally considered the milestone at which fetal heartbeat can be detected. This is even before most women are aware of their pregnancy, which is why this act is a de-facto ban on the practice of abortion itself. Furthermore, the act does not provide exceptions for conceptions as a result of rape or incest. Sure, this isn’t the first time a state has attempted to pass such a restrictive anti-abortion law, but it is the first time one has successfully managed to do so.
So, what makes this law different? The law is framed in such a way that abortion constitutes a civil violation, as opposed to a criminal ban; what this essentially means is that it isn’t the state government but individual citizens that act as enforcers. This unique provision of the Act makes it harder for abortion-rights groups to challenge the enforcement.
The coming of Friday, however, cast what Justice Sonya Sotomayor rightly termed “a cold comfort,” as the United States Supreme Court decided to let the Texas Abortion Act remain in effect. At the same time, the majority-conservative bench agreed to review the Act based not on its constitutionality, but its relationship with state-level judiciary.
By focusing on whether state-level courts could assume precedence over the exercise of a constitutional right by delegating the authority to enforce the Act to the general population and whether the United States can bring a federal suit against state-level operations into the foray, the Court waits to determine what essentially is a challenge to the long-celebrated spirit of Roe v. Wade itself. If the Court rules in favor of the measures stipulated in the Act, the constitutional right to abortion could be, at least de facto, abolished.
Recently, there has been a dangerous trend, most prominently seen in Republican-majority or -affiliated states, of challenging abortion rights. Just weeks ago, pro-choice advocates found a silver lining in the form of US Judge Robert Pitman, who issued a temporary injunction suspending the enforcement of the act. However, hopes were soon dashed when the administrative stay was issued on the injunction. The Supreme Court is a crucial actor; on December 1, the Bench is set to hear a Mississippi case that challenges pre-viability bans on abortion across state-boundaries. While the Supreme Court opted not to block the Texas Heartbeat Bill before it went into effect, it remains to be seen whether it will opt to overturn Roe v. Wade itself.
There are many obvious reasons this act is problematic; its implications ripple out far beyond restrictions on abortion in the state of Texas alone. This Act threatens decades of hard-earned progress that the historic Roe v. Wade verdict guaranteed. As a woman, it hurts me to see that, even now, when we are making progress in leaps and bounds in so many areas, laws like this exist. It has taken a ton of collective effort, mutual kindness and endless strength to come this far; it would be so much more than a shame if we were to reverse all this progress.
Access to abortion should not have to be privilege; it is a right. Moreover, it is important that such access be safe and affordable. The matter is about more than choice; it is essentially about recognizing women as sovereign entities and treating them with dignity and respect. The current political landscape and the heavily-polarizing pro-life narrative are to the detriment of the women in the country’s population. We owe it to them to do our very best to ensure that women are able to do with their bodies as they please.
(To keep track of the landscape surrounding abortion laws in the country, you can check out this resource.)
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Pavas is an international student double-majoring in English and economics, with a minor in philosophy. She enjoys writing about political, social, economic and lifestyle trends.