NEW DELHI: The US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v Wade verdict after 50 years will have a transformative impact on the lives of women in the country. The judgment is a grim reminder that the progression and expansion of rights does not occur along a linear continuum and can be subject to regressive retreats. Declaring that there was no constitutional right to abortion, the Supreme Court’s judgment effectively ends the protection that a pregnant woman had to choose to have an abortion.
In a country where Supreme Court justices are nominated by Presidents, the judgment was made possible by the three judges appointed by former President Donald Trump. The three liberal judges who dissented with the majority view warned against the practical consequences of the judgment while declaring it was a sad day for women and their rights. In returning the authority to regulate abortion “to the people”, the Court has triggered abortion bans and/or severe restrictions in the States in America. While it will still be possible for women to legally opt for an abortion by travelling to other States, it will become more difficult, particularly for poorer people.
It is possible that the ruling will strengthen anti-abortion movements and those in favour of limiting abortion access in other countries. The US, which likes to preach about things such as gender equality and human rights, may find it difficult to do so now. The judgment puts the US in a bracket with a small number of countries – El Salvador, Nicaragua and Poland – that have tightened abortion laws over the recent years.
In the US, the judgment will only sharpen the political divide, which has already reached ruinous proportions. At the same time, it may give the Democratic party and President Joe Biden some hope of tapping into the disquiet generated by the judgment. The vast majority of Americans do not fall in either extreme of the spectrum when it comes to abortion rights. They recognise that the right approach lies somewhere between permitting abortion only in cases where the safety of a woman’s life is involved or allowing it without any regulation whatsoever. Their views are nuanced and the shades of opinion exist across both Republican and Democrat voters.
Biden has already declared that in “this fall, Roe is on the ballot”, signalling that the Democrats are going to make this a major issue in the November midterms. Given Biden’s plummeting popularity, the fall of Roe gives Democrats a talking point – one that appeals to women, that warns against conservatism, and cautions against anything that strengthens Donald Trump’s hand – for the midterms. It is a talking point that could deflect from the number of issues that the Biden administration is facing flak for – a list that includes runaway inflation, high gas prices, a weak foreign policy and failure to control illegal immigration. If nothing else, raising the fall of Roe is a topic that could put Republicans on the backfoot.