By Julie Ngalle
June 2022 saw the US Supreme Court, ruling in favour of Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks, consequently ending the constitutional right to an abortion for millions of US women.
Now, the purpose of this article is not to go in depth about the whats, the hows and the whys of this, if you want to find out more about what is happening, you can find lots of resources on news websites such as the BBC or the Guardian. What we want to focus on here is what it could mean, why it matters and why many, including myself, find it absolutely appalling that these conversations are STILL taking place today.
In early May 2022, political media Politico got hold of a leaked draft majority opinion, detailing U.S Supreme Court plans to retract the constitutional right to an abortion in the United States. How would they do this? By overturning Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision that led to the legalisation of abortion nationwide in 1973. Under Roe, all people with uteruses have the right to an abortion without excessive governmental restriction up until about 23 weeks of pregnancy. And this decision, put a much-needed cap on how restrictive states and their officials could be when it came to reproductive rights.
When the draft document was leaked, many headlines, medias and people claimed that this could mean an abortion ban in the United States was looming, which is not exactly what the draft says, or what would in fact happen if the decision to overturn Roe was made. Indeed, it would simply make that a state specific decision, meaning each State could impose as much or as little restriction, sanction or access and protection. So far, we are aware that 10 states have banned abortion now that Roe has been overturned, and even more are on their way to doing so.
Now this, of course, this poses many problems. If it did not, we would not be seeing so much debate, so many protests and simply so many headlines about it.
One of the most obvious reasons is, there is a real question around freedom and who’s decision it is to make. As American journalist and feminist Gloria Steinem says it herself, “we are still in something of a patriarchy, as we can see by who is in the White House, who is in Congress, who is in state legislatures”. And this is where one of the issues lie: men making decisions for women. Even broader, people without uteruses, deciding what people with uteruses can do with those. And this is far from being the first time or instance where we see men, usually cisgender and heterosexual, trying to control female bodies and the bodies of other genders. Of course, a lot of women are anti-abortion, some feminists are anti-abortion, but that can particularly be a problem when they try to deprive other women from that same reproductive freedom they possess when choosing not to get abortions. However, whether they are pro-choice of pro-life, women are barely a part of these conversations, at the stages where their opinion can make a difference.
Currently, the U.S Supreme Court is made of 9 justices, 4 of which are women, 3 of which were appointed by President Obama, and one by President Trump. The fact that the majority of people making this decision do not have uteruses speaks volumes. Not only is it an infringement on what should be considered a human right, it also reinforces the ease with which, in 2022, cis/het men can still control and make LEGAL decisions that have no impact on them, but rather on other genders’ body autonomy and freedom. Furthermore, pregnancy and parenthood are a private and personal issue that no political or legal body should be allowed to regulate and restrict.
There is also here, a real question of intersectionality. Yes, this is a women’s rights issue and a gender equality issue, but it also shines light on the existence and impact of systems of oppression. This ability to very suddenly restrict access to abortion raises evident questions around who it would affect the most.
In a 2021 article, which was republished following the leak, the New York Times drew a typical abortion patient profile based on the statistics available. They found that the typical patient is most likely to be a low-income or poor single or unmarried mother in her late 20s that is having her first abortion in the first 6 weeks of her pregnancy. Now although of course, any person that can be pregnant and give birth could want and need an abortion, here are a few demographic statistics worth considering:
• About 1 in 4 people with uteruses will go through an abortion in their life;
• For 58% of people that get abortions, it is their first one;
• 43% of people get abortions in the first 6 weeks of pregnancy, with less than 20% getting them after the 10th week of pregnancy. Often, abortions are sought later in pregnancy for financial, age or health reasons;
• Of all people that get abortions, 46% are already parents, and 60% are single or unmarried;
• It is estimated that half of them live in poverty and 29% are low-income earners;
• Less than 10% of people who get abortions are under 20, and less than 30% are under 25;
• Black women are twice more likely to have abortions. Despite representing 13% of the US population, they still represent 34% of the people that get abortions, which is just 5% less than their white counterparts who represent 60% of the population.
• There are still about a third of all abortions happening in States with more restrictions.
These stats notably contradict many conservative arguments which claim that abortions are used as a form of contraception amongst younger age groups, that they barely happen in restrictive states, that women only get abortion for convenience or that they tend to wait very late into the pregnancy to make up their minds. Furthermore, what these statistics show is that, if we consider this typical abortion patient profile, we can see that this patient might choose to get an abortion because of a lack of another choice given their present situation. And this is where the pro-life argument is flawed.
In many cases, giving birth and raising a child can become a financial, physical, and mental burden on the mother, and this is something the child will suffer from as well. Forcing someone who cannot, for whatever reason, provide for another person is anything but pro-life. It fails to consider all the barriers and hardships this child – and later adult – may face as well as ignoring the impact on the parents, both of which are things, much more often than not are considered by people actually undergoing abortions. Finally, statistics have also shown that pro-lifers are often also pro-guns, racist and xenophobic, homo/transphobic, and not in favour of gender equality, which are of course, all opinions, values and ways of life that impact the lives of all Americans, including the unborn ones they claim to be saving and protecting. What pro-lifers fail to consider, is if they would be as protective of a child that was not a straight, cisgender, able-bodied, Christian White American male.
What these statistics show, is how disproportionately unfair and dangerous banning or restricting abortion would be on women and people with uteruses depending on their race, age, income levels, family situation and physical or mental health. What restricting abortion does is not lower unplanned pregnancies, but simply give women less choice and options as to what they want to do about it. Abortion rates has in fact been exponentially decreasing since the 1980s, after its legalisation in 1973.
Realistically, an efficient way of reducing abortions and unplanned pregnancy rates is not by restricting or banning abortions. Again, the sentence just above reinforces that. It is estimated that abortion rates are up to four times higher in countries with restrictive laws and bans than in countries with legislation that protects this right. Research showed for example that between 2010 and 2014, for every 1000 people aged 15-44 giving birth, there were 37 abortions in restrictive countries, versus 34 abortions for that same scale in countries with few or no restrictions. Almost half of abortions worldwide are performed in unsafe conditions, which shows that whether people are legally able and supported to or not, when needed, they will get them.
All criminalising abortion does is limit safe abortion which can have devastating effects on the pregnant person’s mental and physical health. Unplanned pregnancy can be avoided, and abortion rates decreased with comprehensive and inclusive sex education, which ironically has been a conversation that many states are trying to limit at the same time – Florida, for example. Another way of preventing those is by making contraception accessible for all, and making sure people use it properly. Again, we also notice that many states in the United States, often the same states that restrict abortion, also restrict access to contraception, making it an even more unfair playing field.
Between the increasing will to censor conversations about pride, queerness, and LGBTQ+ history and existence, to the right to an abortion being stripped, it is clear that the conservative agenda is to stop any conversation, recognition or encouragement around sex, sexuality, and liberation. However, just like with abortions, and members of the LGBTQ+ community, sex will not stop no matter how little it is discussed and acknowledged. All that these state officials and policy makers are doing is taking away people’s safe spaces, freedom and support which ultimately puts current and future generations in danger, and that is not, and will never be pro-life.