Following the judgment of the US Supreme Court overturning the Roe vs Wade judgment, the clock on women’s rights in one of the world’s oldest democracies has been turned 50 years behind. Protestors are raising the “My body, My choice” slogan across the country and social media is trending with ‘#Bansoffmybody’.
"The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled, and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives," the conservative-dominated court noted. Further, in the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito, who had signed a previously leaked draft on overruling abortion rights, said, "abortion presents a profound moral issue on which Americans hold sharply conflicting views.”
The shredded Roe vs Wade case had previously protected a woman’s right to abortion under the Constitutional right to privacy.
The right to abortion has been one of the most divisive and bitterly fought issues in global politics, that largely affects a woman’s basic right and her autonomy over her body. While conservatives have waited decades to go back in time, activists say that banning abortion can have a life-threatening and devastating impact on women financially, mentally and physiologically as they would be forced to bear a life against their will. It also violates a woman’s right to privacy as it is feared that anti-abortion governments and private entities will soon resort to cutting-edge digital technologies to surveil women’s search history and track data on their reproductive health.
While religious belief, that a foetus has life and therefore it has a right to live, has come out victorious, let us shed light on how criminalising abortion snatches away a woman’s right to a healthy and dignified life.
Women’s health at risk
The abortion ban does not mean lesser abortions, but more unsafe abortions, posing serious health risks to women. President Joe Biden has upheld that the ban on abortion will put women’s reproductive health severely at risk. The UN sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) noted that a staggering 45 per cent of all abortions around the world are unsafe, making the procedure a leading cause of maternal death.
UNFPA said that it feared that more unsafe abortions will occur around the world if access becomes more restricted. “Decisions reversing progress gained to have a wider impact on the rights and choices of women and adolescents everywhere”, the agency emphasized. It also echoed that abolition of abortion rights is a violation of human rights.
Safe abortion care is essential to protect the health of women & girls everywhere.— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) June 24, 2022
Removing access to #abortion care will put more women & girls at risk of illegal abortions and the consequent safety issues that would bring https://t.co/tbsMFGQAn4pic.twitter.com/CIFOY09g6d
Dr. Alvaro Bermejo, director-general of the International Planned Parenthood Federation has reiterated, “...Those who cannot access safe abortion care legally, including medical abortion pills, will be forced into unregulated and unsafe methods, potentially resulting in serious harm or even death and costing lives for decades to come."
The 2022 State of World Population report states that nearly half of all pregnancies worldwide are unintended, and over 60 per cent of these may end in abortion.
Violation of women’s privacy through data tracking
In one of its recent reports, New York-based privacy group Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P.) noted that anti-abortion activists are already surveilling pregnant people to intimidate them from exercising their legal reproductive rights. With the overruling of the judgment, a spike in the digital surveillance of pregnant women is expected.
‘#Bansoffourbodies’: The shallow impact on marginalised and Black women
In Kenya, Phonsina Archane, an activist for abortion rights said, "If this is happening in America, what about me here in Africa? It's a very, very sad day." She worried the ruling will embolden abortion opponents across Africa who have been charged into reproductive health clinics or threatened attacks.
Just months ago, many saw hope when the World Health Organization released guidelines on quality abortion care. Speaking to AP, Archane said, "We had a step ahead, and now we have to go five steps back again.”
The decision has enraged Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC), shaking the decade-old struggle that has gone behind establishing women’s rights over their bodies.
Activists fear that the abolition of the right in the US will now make it easier for sub-urban countries to scrap the rights in their respective states.
Taking to social media, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, a Dalit rights activist in the US, writes, “This is not new for the Supreme Court; it has a racist history of judgements that have aligned with the interests of white supremacists against BIPOC communities for years. This ruling is setting the stage for the right-wing to steal more rights from our people, from contraceptives to LGBTQ Rights. It also carves into our already fragile data and privacy rights as well.” She further adds, "Reproductive Justice is Ambedkarite. Reproductive justice is survivor justice. Reproductive justice is key to all of our freedoms."
Activists believe that the ban will also affect women from the economically weaker sections the most, as they have to travel to other states to access abortion. The southern states are mostly populated by Black and Hispanic women, who already face discrimination in exercising their rights equal to the Whites. This will further accentuate the divide.
The decision will also make it more difficult for women from low-income groups to escape poverty, as the added responsibility of family may create a setback in pursuing a financially sound life. In 2021, more than 150 economists and researchers filed an amicus brief with the courts showing the connection between women’s access to abortion and economic opportunity.
Impact on rape and sexual assault survivors
In 2021, when Texas banned abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, it created no exception among people who are victims of rape or incest, creating a hue and cry among social workers who highlighted that the ban would cause serious harm to sexual assault survivors in the state.
The fear is spreading its wings to other states also. While many women don't realize they are pregnant until after six weeks, social activists believe that a ban on abortion is a particular problem for those who are being repeatedly raped or abused, as they are often unaware of their pregnancy.
Although there might be hopes that states will make exceptions for rape survivors following the ban, requirements vary. Many, such as Utah, require victims of sexual assault to file a police report. And this often creates a more traumatic experience for victims.