America is divided these days over an issue that has been, and will be, controversial: abortion. The Supreme Court would decide the fate of this procedure again in June, according to a document leaked to public opinion by the Politico news site.
The problem of abortion covers a complexity of levels: health, political, moral, religious. On one side are those who believe that abortion should be legal, to ensure that a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy is made in a safe medical environment. On the other, there are those who believe that abortion is a criminal act.
This also implies different perspectives on when life begins or when a person “exists” in legal terms.
History has shown that they are difficult parts, if not impossible, to reconcile. To understand the role that the legal system has played in this debate, perhaps the only part that can fluctuate between legality and illegality, you have to go back several decades.
What is Roe vs Wade
In 1969, Norma McCorvey was 21 years old and pregnant with her third child, the product of a casual relationship. Her first daughter did not live with her and she had given her second son up for adoption.
Living a complex life — her father abandoned the family and her mother a violent alcoholic — McCorvey, who suffered from depression, tried to have an abortion in Dallas, Texas, but the few clinics that performed the procedure had been closed by authorities.
Still pregnant, she was referred to two attorneys who were looking for cases like hers—women attempting abortions—and, under the fictitious name of Jane Roe, the lawsuit against Henry Wade, then the Dallas County District Attorney, went all the way. judicial instances until reaching the historic decision of the Supreme Court on January 22, 1973.
McCorvey never attended a court session and in the midst of the legal battle she gave birth to her baby, who was also given up for adoption. Over the years, she declared that she had been used by ambitious lawyers, and became the face of anti-abortion groups. She died in February 2017 of heart failure at the age of 69.
The Roe vs. Wade ruling made the practice of abortion legal throughout the country, although the states always maintained the power to decide on which instances to practice it, and at what point in the pregnancy.
Until then, abortion was prohibited nationwide, so women who needed the procedure ended up, if they had money, on a doctor’s table who performed it outside the law, or in the hands of unscrupulous people with no skills. doctors, who performed abortions in unhygienic settings.
The legal route since 1973
The Supreme Court’s decision did not stop states that have been historically against abortion from imposing restrictions. In fact, traditionally conservatives like Mississippi and Alabama continued to challenge the law in court, suing entities like Planned Parenthood or the Women’s Health Organization.
Dozens of cases have circulated through different judicial circuits in the country since that historic law. Meanwhile, the fate of women in need of an abortion has depended on where they live.
In May 2022, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the parties to one of these lawsuits, Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, to review the constitutionality of the Mississippi law that prohibits abortion after 15 weeks’ gestation.
Another powerful state that has consistently sought to abolish the pro-abortion law is Texas. Advocates of women’s right to decide on their own bodies have already encountered many barriers when in 2021 the state enacted a law banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.
Laws in both states openly defy to Roe vs. Wade.
The current scenario
If the Supreme Court decides to overturn Roe v. Wade in June, it is possible that 19 states would ban the practice of abortion altogether.
So far, 15 states and the District of Columbia have laws protecting abortion. Fourteen have restrictive laws; 16 states have no legislation, neither for nor against; and 5 prohibit it, following laws prior to Roe vs. Wade.
It is the first time in the history of the Supreme Court, that the draft of a document is leaked to the press, before a final ruling. Their deliberative sessions are usually highly secret.
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of upholding the 1973 ruling, legal battles will surely continue, but there will be a “legal umbrella” that will continue to protect abortion rights.
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of overturning the ruling, the abortion map will radically change. It could be a gesture that would give more power to the states. MThousands of women who need the procedure would be forced to make decisions that could even affect their lives.
The United States would also go against the global trend of giving the practice a legal framework: it would become one of only four countries that have restricted the right to abortion in the last three decades. The short list includes Poland, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
Sources: news reports, History, KHN, Planned Parenthood, NYT.