The reason that abortion rights have become a hot topic of late is Republican lawmaking—in the United States, several states’ governments have recently passed anti-abortion laws that have stirred up controversy around the world.
What’s gone down?
Several states, including Alabama, Ohio, and Georgia, have passed anti-abortion laws, and more states are soon to follow suit. While the laws come as huge victories for the right, left-wing supporters have been very vocal in their criticism of the legislation.
Among these states, Alabama’s passed arguably the most restrictive law, and as such it has been the most critically received. The bill, which was recently signed into law, would make it a felony to attempt to perform an abortion at any point of pregnancy in Alabama, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Performing an actual abortion could warrant a punishment ranging from 10 years in prison to a life sentence. The bill makes no exception even in cases of sexual assault or incest, with right-wing activists claiming that this would dilute the validity of a fetus being a person.
Other states have signed into law bills of varying levels of stringency. Georgia, like Alabama, makes no exceptions for incest or sexual assault, but allows abortion if performed before 6 weeks of pregnancy, along with Kentucky and Ohio. Missouri and Montana criminalize abortion after 8 weeks of abortion, while Utah and Arkansas make it a felony after 18 weeks. The previous law, set according to the Roe v. Wade ruling, allowed abortion up until around 24-28 weeks of pregnancy, at which point the fetus is generally considered viable. (1)
While almost all the bans are expected to be challenged in court, many of their proponents expect and hope for this to happen.
Currently, the national precedent set by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion, renders these state laws unenforceable.
However, with the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the Court now has a majority of conservative judges. This makes it more likely that if Roe v. Wade is revised, it will be overturned, leaving states free to make abortion illegal all over the country.
In fact, the reason for many of these bills being extreme—to the extent that even the President has called them out in his tweets (2) —is to ensure that these bills are challenged all the way to the Supreme Court and cause the revision of status quo.
The underlying agenda and greater purpose behind these measures aren’t lost on anyone. Republicans aren’t even trying to put up a pretense of sincerity towards the cause they claim to be furthering, a feigned drive to protect the sanctity of the lives of unborn children. The plasticity of such proclamations, more than evident, is even unsurprising.
The same Alabama Senate that claimed to be the guardian of unborn lives faked no interest in protecting the lives of the already-born. Senator Linda Coleman-Madison proposed an amendment to the bill that would require Alabama to supply free healthcare for mothers who stood being denied abortions under the new law, however, her amendment was struck down 23-6. (3)
In addition, it’s rather ironic that states such as Ohio are the frontrunners in this campaign when they happen to be the greatest supporters of gun rights, largely for self-defense. Irony hits its peak, as statistics tell us that the proponents of this ban are largely male. Pregnancy and childbirth are well-evidenced to cause permanent and often uncomfortable physical, emotional and psychological changes to a woman (4). The hypocrisy of these states becomes so evident at this point- they champion protection against home invasion, be it at the cost of the invader’s life (5), yet force a woman to motherhood, knowing and understanding the health risks it involves.
There’s been palpable disdain for such draconian measures in national and global commentary. This wave of righteous anger is also imbued with a tangible fightback, a chain of legislative and economic measures to counter the Republican agenda.
Pro-abortion lawmakers hasten to amend their constitutions to blockade similar attempts in their states (6) .#BoycottAlabama is trending online, and people are being spurred to boycott Alabama-made products. (7)
What about Roe v. Wade though?
Here’s the big picture. Republicans have based their opportunistic stakes on the most conservative Supreme Court in decades to rule in their favor and permanently override the 1973 ruling.
There are (optimistic) people who suggest that overturns of Supreme Court precedents happen in gradual increments and such a drastic reversal is hence unlikely (8). Events from just last week burst that bubble.
In an uncanny detour from the normative criteria for overturning precedents, the Supreme Court panel ruled in Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt around May 13th to revoke a benign 1979 precedent, one that had caused negligible legal damage to date, simply because they differed from the ruling on personal opinion. (9)
This overturn ran against a long-established policy of overturning precedents only in rare circumstances. It went against Brett Kavanaugh’s forthright claims of respecting precedent. It went against the reason he got the nomination votes of pro-abortion lawmakers. It all but triggered Alabama, just days later, to venture to pass such an audacious bill as the one they did.
The very fate of abortion rights in the USA hangs in the balance. Will deterring economic boycotts and legislative resistance prevent a catastrophic overturn or will the country edge closer to tyrannical theocracy?
The future looks bleak, but the fightback is just as resilient. Here’s hoping the dignity of the individual prevails, and women don’t end up being collateral damage in this livid political crossfire that has morphed itself into becoming America’s perpetual reality.