In a historic and watershed judgement of the US Supreme Court, on June 24, reversed the Roe V Wade (1973) decision that had provided a constitutional right to abortion. This momentous decision shocked the world that perceived USA as flag bearer of the liberal ideology and a leader of the free world. Heads of several democratic nations including those of natural allies of the US such as the UK, Canada, France and New Zealand have denounced the overruling of the Roe V Wade, calling it a “step backward”. The US now joins the unenviable list of just about 20 countries, mostly African and South American nations that have banned abortion. But the subject of abortion rights isn’t a simple one as in most progressive nations. It’s a divisive and complex issue that is deeply enmeshed in the historical, constitutional, political, religious, moral and social fabric of USA.
Since the earliest days, the United States has been founded in the austerity of Puritan Christian values. Therefore, historically abortion has always been a tabooed subject and those involved in the process of abortion faced stringent punishments. The first anti-abortion laws started being implemented in the 1800s and by the 1900 in every state abortion was illegal but laws varied from state to state. In 1967, Colorado became the first state to decriminalise abortion in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is at risk. It’s only in 1973, fifty years ago that abortion was legalised throughout the United States when Supreme Court ruled in favour of Roe, in the Roe V Wade case.
While the constitution does not make any explicit mention on abortion, the Supreme Court in the Roe V Wade case invoked the right to privacy to turn abortion into a right. The majority of members in the current nine justices of the Supreme Court found this to be a loose interpretation of the constitutional texts and a judicial overreach.
This is deeply political issue between the conservatives and liberals, represented by the Republicans and the Democrats respectively. For decades now in every presidential debate there’s a vehement pro-life versus pro-choice debate. Donald Trump during his presidential term appointed a record three justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett, all conservatives to the Supreme Court. This gave spurt to a series of litigations on this issue which finally upended the constitutional rights on abortion by an easy majority.
Although the Bible does not specifically talk about abortion, it emphasises about the value of a human life and prohibits anyone to take the life of another human being. After the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, the main backlash came from groups representing US Catholics and the White evangelical Protestant ministers. Even though these two groups had centuries of bitter differences, they came together to form a religious and political movement for the reversal of the abortion rights.
From a traditionally anti-abortion society, United States, through a series of reforms in the domains of women’s rights has now turned into a society that is largely pro-choice. According to Reuters, currently 61 per cent say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 37 per cent say it should be illegal in all or most cases. The anti-abortion laws are also perceived as a direct attack on woke activism that is taking the Americans away from their traditional roots into a life of excess freedom, choice and unreasonable equality.
The ramifications of the reversal of the Roe V Wade’s decision means that twenty-six states are certain to ban abortion or implement stricter controls, of those, thirteen have already “trigger laws” in place. This means that in more than half the states in US, women will be end up carrying their pregnancies to term even for an unwanted child born out of rape, incest or other unfavourable circumstances. This could also mean that millions of women would have to travel long distances, to other states or countries to have access to legal abortion clinics and in desperation they may be have to depend on shady and illegal procedures. In a country that is lacking universal healthcare, the socially weaker families and marginalised women are likely to be affected the most by this decision.
The ramifications of the reversal of the Roe V Wade decision means that twenty-six states are certain to ban abortion or implement stricter controls, of those, thirteen have already “trigger laws” in place
While Trump, from a podium in Illinois, celebrates the verdict terming it as “victory for life” and the pro-choice activists throng the roads screaming “my body, my choice!” the world stands shocked at the immaturity of the politics and decision making springing out of the land of freedom. Its shoddy exit from Afghanistan, its hypocritical stance on Ukraine, its inability to fight the Covid virus and now its extreme legislature on women’s right to abortion are clear indications that pomp and shine of the once super power is waning. May be it’s time that the world begins to turn its head towards the East – to India for learning a thing or two about how to make mature, democratic decisions.
Here’s how the abortion laws look like in India:
- For the last fifty years The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, makes abortions legal under many circumstances. An abortion in India is legal under this act if it is terminated in the span of 20 weeks, has the approval of a doctor, and is performed by a registered medical practitioner.
- This act was amended in 2003 to enable women’s accessibility to safe and legal abortion services.
- In 2020, the MTP act was again amended and the period of abortion was extended to 24 weeks for certain cases based on the extent of foetal abnormalities or pregnancies due to rape faced by women.
- The law also protects the identity of woman whose pregnancy has been terminated. The identity cannot be revealed except to a person authorised by law.
- Any medical professional carrying out an abortion without the consent of the woman is punishable by criminal laws.
In India, there is still a lot of stigma around abortion and voluntary termination of pregnancy is a criminal offence under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). However the Government and the powers that have put in place a system that protects the vulnerable and respects the rights and choices of women. In a vastly diverse country like India where faiths and opinions often collide the framing, enacting and implementation of the abortion laws have been an example of a mature population and an empathetic, modern political system.