Polity Notes

US Supreme Court Verdict on Abortion

The US Supreme Court on 24th June, 2022 struck down the historic Roe vs. Wade judgment of 1973 that had institutionalised abortion-related protections in the country. The NineJudge bench headed by Chief Justice John Roberts by 6:3 majority wiped out the constitutional Right to Abortion i.e. women in America now have no fundamental right to seek an abortion. The verdict will open the doors for states to impose an outright ban on abortion or severely curtail it. Immediately after the judgment, Missouri became the first American state to ban abortion.

The judgment was triggered by a case which involved a Mississippi legislation that banned abortion beyond 15 weeks. The concurring judgment of the Supreme Court not only upheld Mississippi Law but also struck down the Roe v. Wade judgment. The majority verdict held that “The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives”. The dissenting judgment states that the decision took away women’s right to be an equal and free citizen in the country. The Supreme Court verdict drew widespread criticism, from dissenters on the bench, the President, Democrats, and a wide constellation of women, reproductive health, privacy, civil liberties, and human rights groups who framed it as an unprecedented attack on a woman’s right to choose, exercise autonomy and control over her own body, women’s health and the broader right to privacy.

Terming the verdict a “tragic error”, President Joe Biden said the Court had expressly taken away a fundamental right. He said this would have real and immediate consequences, jeopradising the women’s right to health and forcing her to have children even in cases of rape and incest. “It just stuns me.. It is cruel… The court is taking America back 150 years”. tradition and that it was not a part of an entrenched broader right such as the right to autonomy. It also dismissed the need to respect judicial precedent in this regard.

The Roe vs. Wade judgment of 1973 had declared abortion to be a fundamental right; located it within the right to privacy; and advocated it on the grounds that having unwanted children may force upon women a distressful life, cause psychological harm and tax her health, among other reasons.

In a subsequent 1992 case, the Supreme Court upheld the principle that women could abort before foetal viability without undue state interference. This has been the broad practice regarding abortion in the US at present, even though, in recent years, Republican activist, legislators and governors have made a strong push to limit abortion rights.

The judgment of 24th June buries this entire framework and now empowers the states to ban or circumscribe abortions if they choose to do so at any stage. At least 20 states, all Republican-governed states, are expected to do so in a matter of days or weeks and nearly a dozen have automatic triggers to ban the procedure once the judgment was overruled. The fate of abortion in ten other states is uncertain.

In Democratic-dominated states, abortion rights will remain and may even be expanded. In his remarks, President Biden said that court had not banned travel of women to states where abortion is legal and he would do all that was within his power to ensure that the right of women to travel, to access medication, contraception was protected.