Abortion rights are under threat in the US. President Donald Trump is due to announce a new Supreme Court judge following the retirement of Anthony Kennedy.
Trump had publicly vowed to only consider judges who want to repeal the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that made some abortions legal in all states.
Planned Parenthood is a key reproductive rights organisation and sexual healthcare provider.
Its former president Cecile Richards said Trump’s promise is the first time a president has said such a thing. But she added that the attack is sparking widespread opposition.
“This has thrown kerosene on a fire that’s already burning among women in America” she said.
“In the last 18 months 20 percent of America has marched on some issue and the number one issue has been women’s rights.”
The Centre for Reproductive Rights found that if the Roe ruling is overturned, legal abortion would immediately be at risk in 33 states.
Some states have put “trigger laws” in place to ban abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v Wade.
Cecile said it will be “widely unpopular” to take away rights that women have had for over 40 years.
One poll for Quinnipiac University this month found that 63 percent of people said the Roe ruling should stand.
“Women aren’t going to wait,” said Cecile. “Women are on fire—they are ready to make sure that they protect their rights.”
The fight for women’s rights can’t be left to politicians who are pulled by a desire to win over right wing voters
It matters who is on the Supreme Court, but the problem is bigger. The NARAL Pro-Choice America group pointed out that Trump is also “filling federal courts across the country with anti-choice judicial nominees”.
One Alabama nominee, Andrew Brasher, is defending an Alabama law that allows judges to appoint attorneys for foetuses. Wisconsin nominee Gordon Giampietro thinks that contraception is “an assault to nature”.
The Roe ruling granted some abortion rights, but women still face restrictions and hurdles—especially if they are poorer (see below).
Trump represents a serious threat to women’s reproductive rights and some think the best way to fight this is at the ballot box.
One Hollywood Life article last week referred to the case of Savita Halappanavar, who died in Ireland in 2012 after being denied a life-saving abortion.
“Are you ready to be a Savita?” it asked. “If you aren’t, then make sure you register to vote and then vote in this year’s midterm elections.”
Yet Democrats have overseen attacks on abortion rights too (see below). Unfortunately even Democrat Bernie Sanders, who calls himself a socialist, has backed Democratic candidates who want to restrict abortion rights.
The fight for women’s rights can’t be left to politicians who are pulled by a desire to win over right wing voters. Struggle has protected and extended abortion rights—more of it can push back Trump’s assault.
‘We broke a powerful taboo’ says veteran reproductive rights activist
Abortion rights have been won in the US, as elsewhere, by struggle.
The landmark Roe v Wade ruling in 1973 saw the Supreme Court legalise abortion. Prior to that, medics practising abortion faced jail, fines or the loss of their licence.
But the ruling didn’t come from nowhere.
The fight for abortion rights was a big part of the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s. Women and some men held protests to demand safe and legal abortion.
A woman from Connecticut, Gerri Santoro, died after an illegal abortion in 1964. Her face became the symbol of the pro-choice movement.
Some feminist groups set up their own referral groups to support women seeking safer abortion services.
One group, the Abortion Counselling Service of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, created an underground abortion service in 1969.
The group’s codename was Jane. Over four years it provided over 11,000 abortions.
Former Jane member Laura Kaplan said, “We were ordinary women who, working together, accomplished something extraordinary. In picking up the tools of our own liberation, in our case medical instruments, we broke a powerful taboo.”
Pressure from the movement saw 14 states reform restrictive abortion laws between 1967 and 1973—while four repealed the laws entirely.
In 1970 New York became the first state to legalise abortion on demand up to the 24th week of pregnancy. Others followed.
On 22 January 1973 the Roe v Wade ruling struck down all existing criminal abortion laws. It said a woman’s decision to end a pregnancy in the first 12 weeks was protected under the “right of privacy”.
The ruling allowed states to regulate abortion after 12 weeks. But it said if a woman’s life or health were in danger, she would not be forced to continue the pregnancy at any stage.
Over the next two decades the court rejected dozens of efforts to limit access to abortion services. But it allowed some attacks.
A ruling in 1979 said states could insist a minor had to obtain parental consent or get a judge’s agreement to have an abortion.
The next year the court limited access to abortion for women who depended on Medicaid for health insurance—hitting poorer women.
In 1976 Congress passed the Hyde Amendment. It banned federal funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or if the woman’s life is endangered. It led to a swathe of state restrictions.
The Guttmacher Institute, a research organisation that promotes reproductive rights, said states enacted 1,074 abortion restrictions between the 1973 and 2016. Barack Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act extended the Hyde Amendment restrictions on abortions.
Medicaid officially only covers abortions in cases of rape, incest or when the woman’s life is in danger, although some states differ. In 2016 some 1.2 million women did not have access to affordable coverage for abortion.