The institution of rights supporting access to abortion set out in Roe v. Wade in 1973 changed the lives of millions of women in the United States. Now, the future of the historic ruling looks bleak, with its fate (weakly, I might add) in the balance.
On Saturday October 2, the 5th Women’s March was held, with demonstrators from across 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 toughest anti-abortion laws in the states. United – September 1.
The draconian law prohibits abortions after 6 weeks gestation, generally considered to be the stage at which the 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. In addition, the law does not provide exceptions for conceptions resulting from rape or incest. Of course, it is not the first time a state has attempted to pass such a restrictive anti-abortion law, but this is the first time that it has been successfully done.
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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 prohibition; what this essentially means is that it is not the state government, but the individual citizens who act as executors. This unique provision of the law makes it more difficult for abortion rights groups to challenge the application.
Friday’s coming, however, threw in what Judge Sonya Sotomayor aptly called “Cold comfort,” because the US Supreme Court has ruled to let Texas’ abortion law remain in effect. At the same time, the predominantly conservative judiciary agreed to review the law on the basis not of its constitutionality, but of its relationship to the state-level justice system.
By focusing on whether state courts could prevail over the exercise of a constitutional right by delegating the power to enforce the law to the general population and whether the United States can bring federal action against them. State-level operations into the foray, the court awaits to determine what essentially constitutes a challenge to the long-celebrated spirit of Roe v. Wade himself. If the court rules in favor of the measures provided for by law, the constitutional right to abortion could be, at least de facto, abolished.
Recently, there has been a dangerous trend, especially seen in majority Republican or Affiliate states, to challenge abortion rights. Just a few weeks ago, supporters of Choice found a silver lining in the person of US judge Robert Pitman, who issued a temporary injunction suspend the execution of the law. However, hopes were quickly dashed when the the administrative stay has been issued on the injunction. The Supreme Court is a crucial actor; on December 1, the Bench is ready to hear a Mississippi case that challenges pre-viability bans on abortion across states. While the Supreme Court chose not to block the Texas Heartbeat Bill before it went into effect, it remains to be seen whether it will choose to overturn Roe v. Wade.
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There are many obvious reasons why this act is problematic; its implications reverberate far beyond the abortion restrictions in the state of Texas alone. This law threatens decades of hard-won progress as the landmark Roe v. Wade guaranteed. As a woman, it pains me to see that even now, as we move forward in leaps and bounds in so many areas, laws like this exist. It took a ton of collective effort, mutual kindness, and infinite strength to get here; it would be so much more than a shame if we had to reverse all this progress.
Access to abortion should not be a privilege; it is a right. In addition, it is important that this access is safe and affordable. The question is more than a choice; it is essentially about recognizing women as sovereign entities and treating them with dignity and respect. The current political landscape and the strongly polarizing pro-life discourse are to the detriment of the women of the country’s population. We owe it to them to do our best so that women can use their bodies as they wish.
(To follow the landscape surrounding abortion laws in the country, you can check out this Resource.)
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Pavas is an international student with a double major in English and Economics, with a minor in Philosophy. She enjoys writing about political, social, economic and lifestyle trends.