Tomás Ó Flatharta

Looking at Things from the Left

Abortion Rights in the USA Shredded to Bits – Supreme Court Likely to Overturn Historic 1973 Roe V Wade Ruling

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The USA Supreme Court, dominated by far-right Justices such as Donald Trump nominee Amy Coney-Barrett, is likely to overturn the constitutional right to access an abortion. Joan McKiernan, an Irish-American activist, reports from New York.

We Won’t Go Back!

This was one of the slogans shouted by angry protesters gathered in the thousands in cities across the US after the leak of the Supreme Court’s plan to overturn the constitutional right to abortion provided in the Roe v Wade case. We know the Supreme Court as the place to go to fight for rights. But this time the Court is taking away a right – to control our bodies, which is fundamental to the quest for women’s independence. 

Diane Feeley, speaking at a rally in Detroit, explained what we fought for fifty years ago. “Before 1973, the women’s movement called for free abortion on demand, 24-hour childcare available to all, opposition to sterilization abuse and equal pay for equal work. We testified at legislative hearings, brought class-action lawsuits, organized speak outs and tribunals, picketed and marched, built networks of support for those who needed underground abortions, told our stories and reached out to women internationally.” Unfortunately, the middle class dominated feminist movement settled for much less in the Roe decision. This based the right to abortion on the tenuous notion of privacy implied in the 14th Amendment, rooted in the end of slavery and Reconstruction, which prohibits states from depriving “any person of life, liberty, or property without due process”.

Over the fifty years, opponents in republican dominated states took the knives out to decimate abortion rights, shredding Roe to bits. Parental involvement, time limits – six weeks, fifteen weeks, waiting periods, mandated counseling, requirements for doctors and hospital attachments made it more difficult for clinics to continue to legally provide care. Then there is the savage harassment of women going to clinics so that most are dependent on volunteer escort services to protect women. Is it any surprise that today 90% of American counties do not have a single abortion clinic?

Protests in many USA cities against a Supreme Court threat to impose abortion bans – Roe V Wade Judgment likely to be overturned

Throughout these fifty years, the Democratic Party did nothing to solidify the right to abortion through legislation, though they held power in the federal government for many years. But the right to abortion was not won in the legislature. It was in the streets and communities where people organized. 

The first really public fight for abortion came from Sherry Finkbine, a TV presenter. In 1962, during her fifth pregnancy, she took thalidomide resulting in a deformed foetus. She could have gotten a quiet abortion in the local hospital, but she chose to make the fight public and went to the press and the courts in order to alert other women. She flew to Sweden after the courts turned her down. 

Later, networks to support women grew in many areas of the country. Clergy from different faiths gave advice about obtaining abortions in Europe or Puerto Rico. The Jane Collective, women based in Chicago, provided advice, access to doctors, and learned to provide abortions themselves. Their leaflet, “Pregnant? Don’t want to be? Call Jane”  reached so many from 1969 to 1973.

For those who did not reach these networks, or could not afford travel to another area, never mind to Europe, there were back street abortions or do it yourself. Daily papers during those years regularly reported the deaths of women resulting from these disastrous alternatives.

Similarly today there will be an impact on the reproductive rights of all, but particularly working class, Black, and Hispanic women who have lower access to health care generally. 58% of women of reproductive age are living in states that already limit abortion access. These and other states are passing legislation to ban all abortions once Roe is finally overturned.

Clinics, providers, and states are all scrambling to continue provision. New York has just allocated money to enable women to travel to access abortions there. Travel is easy to say, but not to do. Time off work, childcare costs, travel costs make it so difficult. 

The Court’s decision has not only placed obstacles in the way of reproductive rights. It has emboldened the right to pursue women further. DIY abortions are now more readily and safely available. 54% of abortions are medicated processes. With access and proper advice women can manage it themselves. Except many states are banning online purchase of the pills, and requiring a licensed doctor to prescribe them. Some on the right are even looking to ban IUDs and the morning after pill. 

It is ironic as so many countries like Ireland and many in Latin America liberalize access to abortion, the US is moving backwards. Soon women from Texas will be travelling south to Mexico for better health treatment than they get at home.

We need a new strong movement to stop this assault on our rights and fight for the needs of all women to be fully independent. As protests like this onemake clear, We won’t go back.

Joan McKiernan May 11 2022

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