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America preparing for chaos as Roe v Wade law may be overturned

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Protests erupted on Monday night in the streets of Washington D.C. with both pro-abortion supporters and anti-abortion rights activists up in arms about an impending Supreme Court decision that could see a historic court ruling set aside.  Pro-choice groups have apparently urged followers to ‘storm catholic churches on Sunday (Mother’s Day) to protest changes to abortion laws in the United States after a draft Supreme Court opinion was leaked to the press. Another group called Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights, is allegedly organizing a ‘week of resistance’ commencing on Mother’s Day, with protests in New York, Chicago, and Seattle.

The draft is in response to a recent application by Thomas E Dobbs, the State Health Officer of the Mississippi Department of Health, requesting the famous Roe v Wade (1973) ruling on abortion be overturned.

The United States Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade (1973) supported the fundamental right of a woman to decide whether or not to terminate her pregnancy, based on underlying values of ‘integrity. To uphold this fundamental right, the court applied what is referred to as the strict scrutiny test – that is the highest standard a court can impose to evaluate the constitutionality of governmental discrimination.

Following this test, the court in Roe v Wade (1973) upheld that pregnancy could be divided into three trimesters to assist in determining the rights involved in abortion. The first trimester saw the decision to terminate a pregnancy at the sole discretion of the woman. During the second trimester, the state could regulate (but not outlaw) abortions in the interests of the mother’s health. After this time, the state could regulate or outlaw abortions in the interests of potential life, except when necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother. This decision was upheld in a second case – Planned Parenthood v Casey (1992).

Recently, Roe v Wade (1973) has been revisited, with US authorities fearful of potential chaos resulting from any change to abortion laws.

According to US publication, Politico, Justice Alito wrote an initial majority draft circulated inside the Supreme Court that votes to overturn abortion rights. Further reading of the draft opinion discusses the State of Mississippi’s request to ‘uphold the constitutionality of the law that generally prohibits an abortion after the fifteenth week of pregnancy- several weeks before the point at which a fetus is now regarded as ‘viable’ outside the womb.’

It goes on to say that the ‘State’s primary argument is that we should reconsider and overrule Roe and Casey and once again allow each State to regulate abortion as its citizens wish.’

The draft opinion is said to completely overturn the Roe v Wade decision, with Alito writing that Roe was ‘egregiously wrong from the start. It went on to say that ‘it is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.’

The opinion of the Court opened with the lines:

Abortion presents a profound moral issue on which Americans hold sharply conflicting views. Some believe fervently that a human person comes into being at conception and that abortion ends innocent life. Others feel just as strongly that any regulation of abortion invades a woman’s right to control her own body and prevents women from achieving full equality. Still others in a third group think that abortion should be allowed under some but not all circumstances…’

The backlash has come thick and fast from both sides of the debate including from prominent political figures. President Joe Biden has allegedly called Justice Alito’s argument “way overboard and radical”. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a leading Democrat has said ‘the senate will vote next week on protecting abortion rights. Americans will see where every single Senator stands.’ On Friday 6 May 2022 Schumer ‘tweeted ‘We’re standing together with Senate Democratic women to announce that next week the Senate is going to vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act to codify the right to abortion into federal law.’

According to some news reports, US House of Representatives speakers Nancy Pelosi and Schumer said the move to overturn Roe v Wade ‘would go down as an abomination, one of the worst and most damaging decisions in modern history.’ Independent Senator Bernie Sands was quoted as saying congress must pass legislation that codifies Roe v Wade as the law of the land in this country NOW.’

The implications of overturning the Roe v Wade decision are significant, including the potential for doctors to be imprisoned for assisting women to access abortions. Legal experts have also warned that the decision may lead to many women being prosecuted and every single pregnancy loss to be investigated. The decision will have consequences for all women given the potential to remove a woman’s right to bodily autonomy. Some fear that the overturning of the Roe v Wade decision will have broader implications on gay marriage.

A final decision is yet to be reached with many holding on to the hope that the precedent will remain in place and women will continue to have control over their lives.

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