Roe v Wade: Supreme Court decision highlights US abortion divide

As the United States Supreme Court voted to roll back abortion rights, reversing the landmark 1973 decision Roe v Wade which enshrined the legal right to an abortion in the US, it was a moment of elation for those who have fought for that outcome, and a day of dismal reassessment for those who fought against it.

For the US conservative movement, the push to undo Roe and criminalise abortion has been an animating cause for decades. After years of relentless organising around the goal of revoking the federal protection to an abortion, for conservatives, Friday was a cause for celebration.

Among progressives, abortion rights advocates, and many legislators in the Democratic Party, the mood was a mixture of rage, shock, and renewed urgency.

The polling agency Pew recently reported that more than 60 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases.

“Be aware of this,” said Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a press conference on Friday. “The Republicans are planning a nationwide abortion ban.”

Thirteen US states have “trigger” laws that automatically outlaw abortion in the event that Roe is struck down, and the court’s decision will throw life into flux for millions more across the country whose right to an abortion is now an open question to be decided by state legislators. That uncertainty was reflected in the statements of some pro-abortion rights and women’s health groups. ​​

“We know you may be feeling a lot of things right now — hurt, anger, confusion. Whatever you feel is OK,” said Planned Parenthood, a women’s health advocacy organisation. “We’re here with you — and we’ll never stop fighting for you.”

However, the court’s decision is one that has been anticipated by many pro-abortion rights groups.

The National Abortion Federation tweeted out a link to a website which raises donations to help cover the cost of transportation for people who will now need to travel from one state to another to access abortion. The site also provides a hotline that can help direct people seeking an abortion to a provider.

Among conservative anti-abortion rights groups, which have organised for years to push back abortion rights, the mood on Friday was ecstatic.

The National Right to Life Committee, which describes itself as the country’s “oldest and largest” anti-abortion rights organisation, retweeted a video of participants of an anti-abortion rights convention breaking out in cheers after hearing that Roe had been overturned. In a statement released Friday, the group said that “This is a great day for preborn children and their mothers.”

Students for Life of America, an anti-abortion rights group that organises students, tweeted “ROE V. WADE HAS BEEN REVERSED! We are the Post-Roe Generation!”

The mood among Republican legislators likewise reflected the outpouring of energy among anti-abortion rights groups. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who laid the groundwork for the decision by stacking the Supreme Court with conservative justices and denying former President Obama the ability to fill a vacancy towards the end of his term, called the decision “courageous and correct”.

Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, said on Friday that “Every unborn child is precious, extraordinary, and worthy of protection. I applaud this historic ruling, which will save countless innocent lives.”

Among Democratic legislators, the mood was sombre. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the decision “one of the darkest days our country has ever seen” and said that Americans have had “their rights taken by 5 unelected Justices on the extremist MAGA court”.

MAGA refers to former president Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan. Trump appointed three of the nine justices on the court. All three voted to overturn Roe v Wade.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive congressperson from New York, shredded the decision on Friday, saying that outlawing abortion “only makes them more dangerous, especially for the poor + marginalized. People will die because of this decision.”

The US branch of the international human rights group Amnesty International mirrored that concern. “People will be forced to give birth. They’ll be forced to seek unsafe abortions,” the group said in a statement. “This is the outcome of a decades-long campaign to control the bodies of women, girls, and people who can become pregnant.”

Attitudes towards abortion in the US are sharply divided along religious and partisan lines, with conservative evangelicals leading the charge against abortion rights.

While only 37 percent of Americans believe that abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, that number rises to 72 percent among conservative Republicans and 74 percent among white evangelicals, according to a Pew survey. Among liberal Democrats, 90 percent believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases.

On Thursday, the polling agency Gallup released new data showing that public confidence in the US Supreme Court is at all-time lows, with just 25 percent of Americans saying they have confidence in the court, down from 36 percent one year earlier.

The court’s ruling on Roe is likely to push those numbers down further, as liberals come to the conclusion that the court is not an apolitical body for adjudicating disputes but a vessel for the advancement of conservative political goals.

“Make no mistake: SCOTUS is as much a political body as the House or Senate,” tweeted Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who placed the court’s decision on Roe in a line of other notorious decisions that legitimised slavery and segregation on Friday. “We just pretend it’s above all that.”

The decision could also overwhelm abortion providers in states where abortion is still legal. “Patients in states without abortion restrictions have been reporting long wait times to be seen in clinics for months,” said Kiki Freedman, the CEO of Hey Jane, a telehealth company that offers abortion care in a number of states, said in a statement Friday. “Those healthcare systems will be even further strained under this new decision and individuals who want to access an abortion, regardless of where they live, will need more options to obtain this essential healthcare.”

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