Millions of women could lose their legal right to abortion in the US

·6-min read
Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch - Getty Images
Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch - Getty Images

Open your news app on Tuesday morning and you’d have been forgiven for thinking you’d been transported five years back to those days before the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States.

When the terminal grey of mid-winter was punctuated by a sea of lurid pink; as millions of women worldwide donned pink ‘pussy’ hats and marched to show their fury at Donald Trump being elected to office.

Chief among the slogans on the homemade placards were four words: ‘My body, my choice’, often placed next to illustrations of the female reproductive system.

And now they’re being waved in the US capital once more - but with even more urgency this time. As the threat to safe and legal abortion provision in the US appears graver - and more immediate - than ever before.

Why are people protesting abortion law in the US?

Millions of women across the US could soon lose their legal right to abortion, according to a document leaked from the country's Supreme Court.

Labelled ‘first draft’ the leaked document was published by news website Politico, with the outlet reporting it was written by Justice Samuel Alito and that it was distributed in the court on Friday.

Politico quoted Justice Alito as saying: ‘Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences.'

‘And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, [it has] enflamed debate and deepened division.’

The Supreme Court's chief justice has confirmed that the leaked document, which appears to reflect the majority opinion of the court, is a genuine draft ruling. And for women looking to terminate a pregnancy safely and legally, alongside their allies, this could be utterly devastating.

Yes, this draft does not represent the court's final decision. But if the proposals contained in it are unchanged, and federal protections for abortions removed (leaving the decision of whether to ban abortions down to individual states) this could mean 26 US states banning abortion immediately, or as soon as possible.

What is Roe v Wade and why does it matter so much?

Passed in 1973, Roe v Wade gave US women an absolute right to abortion up to the first three months of pregnancy, then limited rights in their second trimester - 24 weeks in total. This is the point at which a foetus can survive outside the womb.

It's a landmark piece of legislation underpinning women's rights in America. But ever since it was passed, it's been controversial - especially among conservative and religious groups.

And in the decades since, anti-abortion rulings have gradually restricted women’s access to a safe and legal abortion in many states. To such an extent that accessing abortion in Texas is practically impossible, and states like Mississippi, there is only one abortion provider.

In fact, momentum to restrain abortion provision has been building. Last year, the BBC reports, 600 abortion restrictions were introduced across the US; 90 of these were written into law. That’s more than in any year since Roe was introduced.

On Tuesday, Oklahoma's governor signed an anti-abortion measure based on one passed in Texas last year. This law will criminalise terminations in almost all cases. It will also allow private citizens to sue anyone who helps a woman get an abortion after six weeks of gestation. That’s before most women know they are pregnant.

US Abortion Ban: Reactions from the UK

'We are shocked and appalled by the draft opinion... If Roe v Wade were overturned women in a string of US states would lose access to abortion altogether or face even greater restrictions than they do already,' Clare Murphy, CEO of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, told Women's Health.

Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch - Getty Images
Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch - Getty Images

'Banning abortion does not remove women’s need to end a pregnancy. It simply makes it more difficult and more dangerous for women. It forces women to either make long journeys to access the care they need, or take matters into their own hands.'

And, let's be honest, if abortion is banned in 22 states the negative impact isn't going to be experienced evenly by the women who reside in them.

Data shows us that women who are going to have their reproductive freedoms - and consequent ability to choose the direction of their lives - curtailed will disproportionately be those from poor and marginalised groups. Black Americans, for example, get abortions at the highest rate - 27 per 1,000 women aged 15-44.

'We are also concerned about the message this sends to the world at a time when women in many countries are still struggling to achieve abortion rights,' Murphy continues.

'It further underlines the need for the UK to be a beacon for women’s reproductive choice and we call on the UK Government to clearly condemn what is nothing short of an assault on women, their families and their lives.'

US abortion ban: What can you do?

If you agree, you can add your name to the latest campaign petition from BPAS, which calls on UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to publicly condemn the leaked draft judgement.

Remember, you can also lobby your own MP to raise the issue in parliament.

If you wish to donate, campaigners are recommending that you donate to local abortion funds in states with already-restricted abortion provision and where abortion looks likely to be banned, if the draft ruling comes into effect.

We've shared a list below, helpfully compiled by US site The Cut.

Mississippi: Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund, Access Reproductive Care-Southeast

Texas: Fund Texas Choice, West Fund, Texas Equal Access Fund, Stigma Relief Fund, Clinic Access Support Network, Lilith Fund, SYS (Support your Sistah), The Bridge Collective, Jane’s Due Process, Buckle Bunnies Fund

West Virginia: Women’s Health Center of West Virginia Choice Fund, Holler Health Justice

Kentucky: Kentucky Health Justice Network, A Fund, Inc.

Missouri: Missouri Abortion Fund

Arkansas: Arkansas Abortion Support Network

South Dakota: South Dakota Access for Every Woman

Louisiana: New Orleans Abortion Fund

North Dakota: North Dakota Women in Need Abortion Access Fund

Wisconsin: Women’s Medical Fund

Indiana: All-Options Hoosier Abortion Fund

Utah: Utah Abortion Fund

Alabama: Yellowhammer Fund, Access Reproductive Care-Southeast

Georgia: Access Reproductive Care-Southeast

Ohio: Preterm Access Fund, Women Have Options - Ohio

Oklahoma: Roe Fund

Nebraska: Abortion Access Fund

Michigan: Fountain Street Church Choice Fund, Reclaim MI WIN Fund

Arizona: Abortion Fund of Arizona, Tuscon Abortion Support Collective

Wyoming: Chelsea’s Fund

Tennessee: Abortion Care Tennessee, Access Reproductive Care-Southeast

South Carolina: Carolina Abortion Fund, Access Reproductive Care-Southeast

Iowa: Iowa Abortion Access Fund

Florida: Florida Access Network

Montana: Susan Wickland Fund

Virginia: Richmond Reproductive Freedom Project, Blue Ridge Abortion Fund, DC Abortion Fund – VA, Stigma Relief Fund – VA

Pennsylvania: Women’s Medical Fund

New Mexico: New Mexico Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, West Fund NM, Mariposa Fund, Indigenous Women Rising

Kansas: Kansas Abortion Fund

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