In one stroke of the pen, the US Supreme Court removed nearly 50 years of Government protections for abortions and gave the states the right to make the procedure illegal within their jurisdictions
In a shocking decision, that is sure to take American society, economy and the civil and reproductive rights of women back by centuries, the US Supreme Court recently overturned Roe v. Wade. In one stroke of the pen, the apex court removed nearly 50 years of Government protections for abortions and gave the states the right to make the procedure illegal within their jurisdictions if they so decide.
In its infinite “wisdom,” the court argues that the word “abortion” is not there in the American Constitution. By the same yardstick, one can plead that neither do the words “fetus” or “fetal life” or “potential human life” exist in the US charter. In fact, the 14th Amendment clearly identifies “persons born” as the basis for granting human rights.
Infuriatingly, in today’s day and age, when women are at the forefront in many fields across the world and in America, the court’s misogynistic argument dispenses with the idea that women have the liberty to make decisions regarding their own body and empowers states to elevate the rights of the unborn.
Obviously, the ruling was met with disbelief, shock, anger and horror not just in the US, but all around the world. Because, if the US, which is considered to be the free world, and a supposed beacon for human rights, equality and liberty has taken such a conservative and retrogressive decision, then it could happen in any country around the world, affecting millions of women in their reproductive years. In one ruling, women of child-bearing age could be deprived of their hard-won liberty and equality.
So, globally, women shuddered, empathized with and lamented the lot of females in America as this regressive decision would impact their lives in a bad way.
And this is not just alarmists making up stories. These are hard and well-researched facts, that untimely, unplanned and repeated pregnancies and a huge brood negatively impact the mother’s life. And I’m not talking about health here because the dangers of repeated childbirths on the physical well-being of the mother have been done to death. I’m talking about the impact on their education, careers, earning power and financial independence.
For instance, according to a study by the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) on teenage pregnancies, “pregnancy and birth are significant contributors to high school dropout rates among girls. Only about 50 per cent of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by 22 years of age, whereas approximately 90 per cent of women who do not give birth during adolescence graduate from high school.” Corroborating these findings, a research paper based on state abortion data that was published by Kelly Jones, professor of economics at American University, says that a complete ban on abortions would lower attainment of college degrees by women by 5.6 per cent. Conversely, access to abortions increased their chances of finishing college by about 20 per cent.
Sadly, despite the obvious benefits of giving women reproductive freedom, handing over their right to decide, to state legislatures was always the objective of retrogrades supporting the “pro-life” or anti-abortion movement, with the more traditional and conservative among them wanting to establish a national policy to ban abortions throughout America. Thankfully, simply overturning Roe will not help the anti-abortion lobby achieve this goal as it would need Government action or another landmark yet damning (for women’s rights) Supreme Court ruling that would grant constitutional rights to fetuses.
For the sake of American women and for generations to come, one just hopes that this doesn’t happen anytime soon. Because, look at the ramifications of this for a country like the US where teenage pregnancies are commonplace. According to the CDC, the country’s teen birth rate is significantly higher than in other western industrialized nations including neighbouring Canada. And the US Department of Health and Human Services data says that in 2020, the teen birth rate was 15.4 (births for every 1,000 females ages 15-19). And given the age of these mothers, in 2020 nine in ten (91.7 per cent) of these births occurred outside of marriage. Even more alarmingly, not all teen births were first births and in 2020, roughly 15 per cent of live births to 15 to 19-year-olds were at least the second child born to the mother. These are shocking numbers, and more so because these pregnancies and births take place in families where education and economic security levels are low. And they still want to take away the right to abortion!!!!
Now chew on this: according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for 15–19-year-old girls globally. “Adolescent mothers (ages 10–19 years) face higher risks of eclampsia, puerperal endometritis, and systemic infections than women aged 20 to 24 years, and babies of adolescent mothers face higher risks of low birth weight, preterm delivery and severe neonatal conditions,” says the WHO study. Given these reports and statistics, the right to reproductive choice should not even be questioned!
Unfortunately, the negative impact of an untimely pregnancy does not end with the mother herself, as according to the CDC, the “children of teenage mothers are more likely to have lower school achievement and to drop out of high school, have more health problems, be incarcerated at some time during adolescence, give birth as a teenager, and face unemployment as a young adult.”
And it’s not just the negative impact on teenaged or single mothers that should be taken into consideration, the consequences of bearing too many and unplanned children on married, working mothers, are as bad. Before the Roe decision in 1973, a measly 40 per cent American women were working outside the home. This number went up significantly in the 1980s and today it has gone up to 60 per cent, which shows that there is a direct relation between reproductive choice and the financial independence of women. Sadly, the court’s decision will to a large extent reverse the gains American women have made in the workforce, and adversely impact the nation’s economy too. In particular, it will hit the job security and earning capacity of single mothers and low-income families the most as the cost of childcare in the US is prohibitive and will negatively impact household budgets.
And what of the men? Unwanted pregnancies impact their lives too! Ask the teenager in love who had to drop out of school or college to take up whatever work he could get in order to provide for his girlfriend and the baby unexpectedly on the way? Or the trauma of having to become a dad when he himself is barely out of his childhood and certainly doesn’t want to or is ready to shoulder the responsibility. Or the father, who works hard to provide for his family and who can’t afford to be burdened with another mouth to feed, educate and provide for.
The court’s ruling has already begun upending lives in the US and strict limits or total bans have already gone into effect in a dozen states and about a dozen more states are set to impose additional restrictions. Shut abortion clinics have left many who don’t have the means or support structure to travel outside their state for a procedure in the lurch and holding a baby they can’t afford or want. One wonders if the court stopped to think of the ramifications of its decision because more and more girls and women will be pushed by their circumstances to resort to unsafe means of abortion like quacks, or self-harm.
It’s easy for pro-life activists to say that people should take precautions, and I agree that people should take precautions but what of pregnancies resulting from rape? And pregnancies in transgender men, gender non-conforming people and others? Also, what of women in marriages where there is an abusive and dominating partner who sees frequent childbirths as a way to keep the spouse tied to him and totally dependent on him financially, because which workplace will tolerate a worker who gets pregnant again and again, even if they are the most brilliant person?
It is a horrible truth but according to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, a whopping 2 million American women became pregnant as a result of rape by an intimate partner, and 5 per cent of them reported that, at some point in their life an intimate partner had tried to impregnate them when they did not want a baby. The state prohibiting abortion expands the power and control of the abuser and further traps victims, denying them autonomy and freedom.
And as the world is a global village now, the ramifications of such a retrograde decision would have an impact on the lives of women internationally, because often times the judiciary takes a certain case as a precedent, even if it is halfway around the world. For instance, when the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision by a US court established vital protections against violations of individuals’ rights to bodily autonomy, its effect was not only felt in America but also around the world. Globally courts relied upon Roe to articulate their own constitutional recognition of reproductive rights and bodily autonomy, including in India.
Thankfully, the women in India have not much to worry about because even though we are supposedly a Third World nation, our judiciary is quite progressive and liberal in its thinking, especially where the rights of women are concerned. Because they are well aware that access to abortion is a human right vital to ensuring health, equality, and autonomy and even the United Nations recognizes that.
Plus, what will be the quality of life of children brought into this world by unwilling parents? Who see them as an impediment to their emotional, financial and professional well-being. There will be more abandonment of such unwanted babies by unwed mothers thus forcing the US Government to take on their responsibility and burdening the already beleaguered economy more. In the case of married couples forced to bring in another child they can ill-afford, there will be a rise in abuse of children by angry and frustrated parents. There might be more divorces, too, as economic hardship drives a deeper wedge between the already struggling couple. Once again the State will be looking for foster homes for the unfortunate children who did not ask to be brought into this world in the first place. So, who does this decision benefit, one is forced to ask.
And it’s not just the right to choose that this ruling effects. It casts a shadow over
debates raging across America over the nature of rights under the Constitution.
It also signals a huge change in how America will read the Constitution from now on and regresses from a living reading to an original one.
For the uninitiated, in a living Constitution, the meaning of the document’s language changes
as the beliefs and values of society change, ensuring that more rights can emerge over time. This is how the right to abortion, privacy and gay marriage came into existence.
Originalism rejects the living Constitution and it is the viewpoint taken by the judges who overturned Roe. Under originalism, the Constitution is static until officially altered through an amendment. In originalism, if a right is present in the original text of the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights then the decision is beyond the reach of majority rule.
Hence, the rights that have been recognized by the court over time – abortion and gay marriage, among others – are simply not constitutional rights in the view of the new majority and thus are up for question and in the hands of state legislatures. This perpetuates an unjust social system in which power resides in the hands of a few while others are treated as second-class citizens. This does not augur well for many of the people and the hard-won civil rights in the free world. America would do well to listen to the impassioned plea made by its President Joe Biden and vote for his Government in November so that they can restore Roe by passing a national law. Americans must defeat this regressive mindset that will take the US into the dark ages.