Could Roe v Wade be overturned and abortion outlawed in the US? | The Guardian

By Molly Redden

Who was Norma McCorvey?
Norma McCorvey is the real name of the woman known as “Jane Roe” in the landmark US supreme court case on abortion rights, Roe v Wade. The 1973 case established a right for US women to have abortions. McCorvey became the plaintiff after she met with two lawyers looking for a test case to challenge Texas’s abortion ban. That was in 1970. At the time, McCorvey was pregnant, unwed, unemployed and unable to obtain an abortion legally or otherwise.

McCorvey never had an abortion. Her case, which proceeded largely without her involvement, took too long to resolve, and she gave birth to a child that she placed for adoption. Several years after the ruling, she publicly revealed her identity and became involved in the pro-abortion rights movement. But after a conversion to Christianity, she became an anti-abortion rights activist. Before she died last week, McCorvey had said that it was her wish to see Roe v Wade overturned in her lifetime.

Is Roe v Wade actually in danger?
It depends on what you mean. Many legal experts are sceptical that the US supreme court would overturn it any time soon. For starters, it’s difficult to bring a case before the supreme court that would threaten the ruling, because those cases almost always founder in a lower court. And even if Donald Trump’s supreme court nominee opposes abortion rights, the current makeup of the court is such that there aren’t enough votes to overturn Roe.

An alternative strategy is to poke so many holes in Roe that its protections for abortion rights become weakened. At this, anti-abortion activists have been very successful. Since Roe, some states have enacted laws requiring women seeking an abortion to attend anti-abortion counselling or to wait 24 hours or more for the procedure, laws extensively regulating abortion after 20 weeks, and laws blocking public funding for abortion. And they have picked up speed in recent years. Since 2010, lawmakers have placed 338 new restrictions on abortion.

Will states continue to pass new anti-abortion laws?
Many states are controlled by Republicans who oppose abortion rights, so they will certainly try. You might have heard about a proposal in the state of Oklahoma calling for women to require permission for an abortion from the man who impregnated her. One legislator justified the bill by saying pregnant women’s bodies are not their own because they’re “hosts”. It’s outrageous, but not a huge threat to abortion rights – the jurisprudence is pretty clear that you can’t require an adult woman to get permission before having an abortion.

What does threaten abortion rights are laws that chip away at Roe v Wade. Several states are attempting to ban a common method of second-trimester abortion on the basis that it’s cruel to the foetus. There are efforts to regulate how abortion clinics dispose of medical waste, which the clinics say are just attempts to shut them down with unnecessary rules and expenses. There is also a push to give women scientifically untrue information that it is possible to “reverse” an abortion performed with medication.

Have all these laws really made it harder to get an abortion?
It’s hard to say. There is evidence that shutting down clinics can cause a drop in the abortion rate. In Texas, after a 2013 clinic regulation forced about 20 clinics to close, there was a 50% drop in abortions in areas where the distance to the nearest clinics suddenly increased by more than 100 miles. Last June, the US supreme court ruled that the regulation had no medical justification and was unconstitutional. But in many places, the damage had already been done.

Making it harder for women to pay for abortions also seems to have an impact. Since 1976, when Congress blocked Medicaid – insurance for those on low-income – from paying for abortions, more than a million women have been blocked from access. A new tactic is to try to ban abortion coverage in state insurance marketplaces. Congress is exploring ways to replicate those restrictions nationally.

Then there are laws that place extra restrictions on abortion – a waiting period, or a counselling requirement, or a ban on abortion after a certain number of weeks. The research isn’t definitive, but people who study abortion restrictions are pretty sure that these kinds of laws don’t prevent women from having abortions – they just make it more time-consuming and expensive. The exception may be bans on abortion after a certain week of pregnancy, which studies show can force women to carry a pregnancy to term.

What could change under Trump?
Republicans in Congress have plans to pass a national ban on abortion after 20 weeks, to make it harder for a future Congress to restore public funding for abortion, and to curtail insurance coverage for abortion. It’s not clear if they will overcome opposition in the Senate, where Democrats retain enough votes to filibuster legislation.

But many public health advocates fear that the Trump administration will scale back the availability of contraception – which seems to have helped bring the US abortion rate to historic lows. Obamacare requires insurance companies to cover contraception with no copay, and the share of privately insured women who were able to obtain contraception at no extra cost quadrupled. Trump and Congress intend to repeal Obamacare – and so far, none of the replacement models have the same coverage requirements. At the same time, Republicans are attempting to strip public funding from Planned Parenthood, a move that health experts warn could blow a hole in the family-planning public safety net.

Source: The Guardian

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