Hi, This is Hot Mic and I’m Nidhi Razdan.
It’s a verdict that’ll have a huge impact on American politics, but more importantly, on the reproductive rights of millions of American women. The United States Supreme Court appears all set to overturn a landmark ruling called Roe v. Wade, which had legalized abortion across the United States. A leaked document containing the views of the judges has shaken the US this week, where pro-choice protesters have been out on the streets in outrage.
The US Supreme Court has confirmed that the document which was leaked, is genuine. But they also say this is not their final verdict. They have demanded a probe as well into the leak, which itself is very, very unusual and rare for the US court breaching all existing norms. The top court in the US is made up of a nine-member bench. The draft opinion on the abortion law was circulated amongst the justices in February with the support of at least five out of the nine members of the bench.
However, a final order is not expected until June or July. If the court does go through with this, it would mean that the constitutional right to abortion that was first established in 1973 would be completely negated. It would then be left up to individual states to decide whether abortions are legal or not, which means that there would be a number of different laws across America for this. So first of all, who was Roe and who was Wade? Jane Roe was the pseudonym for Norma McCorvey, who was 22, unmarried, unemployed and pregnant for the third time back in 1969 when she sought to have an abortion in Texas. By the time the U.S. Supreme Court actually ruled in her favor, McCorvey had given birth to a girl whom she placed for adoption.
Henry Wade was the District Attorney of Dallas County, Texas. It was his job to enforce a state law prohibiting abortion, except to save a woman’s life. So he was the person that McCorvey sued when she sought the abortion. So what exactly did the US Supreme Court decide in 1973? Essentially the question before it was – does the Constitution of the US recognize a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy by abortion? The court simply said that a woman’s decision to have an abortion during the first three months of her pregnancy must be left to her and her doctor.
Abortion is a deeply divisive and deeply political issue in the United States. At the heart of the debate have been Conservatives on one hand who argue that life begins at conception and on the other side you have Liberals who have emphatically maintained that this is about a woman’s right to choose – something that has taken many, many years of hard work and activism. And many believe a reversal of this ruling will push that back by decades.
So if you look at how this may play out in different American states, there’s the liberal California, for example, where the Governor has already said that “we’re going to fight like hell.” They will clearly be pro-choice. The New York Times reports that leaders in conservative states like South Dakota, Arkansas, Georgia, and Indiana are talking about calling special legislative sessions to ban abortions as soon as the Supreme Court ruling comes in. US laws on abortion are already very complicated and many states already have tough laws in place.
There are 13 states, in fact, that have laws which would allow them to ban abortion immediately or within 30 days, with the exceptions to the ban, if the life or the health of the woman is in danger. But many do not make exceptions for pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest. Earlier this year, Florida passed a law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. This was modeled after a similar abortion ban in the state of Mississippi. Oklahoma has approved a ban prohibiting abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, when many women don’t even realize or know that they are pregnant. This one is modeled on an earlier law that was passed by the state of Texas.
Experts say that even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe, more than half of the US states would still allow abortions but most of the states in the Midwest and the south would not. And that puts many women in these states at the risk of back alley abortions that would put their lives at risk. As a piece in The New York Times says, in effect, the United States without Roe would look very different for different people. So for women who live in Democratic states and women elsewhere who have the means to travel to a clinic, abortion would still be something that they could access.
But for poor women in many Republican states traveling to other states for an in-clinic abortion could be prohibitively challenging. The issue has big political implications for the US, which has mid-term elections coming up later this autumn. President Biden has already vowed to make abortion rights a defining issue in these polls. Interestingly, a survey conducted by CNN shows that just 30% of Americans actually want the Supreme Court to completely overturn the Roe verdict, while 69% were opposed to it.