WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden yesterday (May 3) urged voters to stand up for “basic” rights after a leaked draft Supreme Court ruling indicated the imminent end of legal abortion nationwide , long considered a fundamental freedom by tens of millions of Americans.
A protester outside the Federal Building in San Francisco yesterday (May 3). Photo: Nick Otto / AFP
If the draft decision is upheld by the court, it would overturn Roe v. Wade of 1973, which enshrined the right to abortion nationwide. Instantly, abortion laws would be left to the discretion of individual state legislatures, with half expected to enact bans or new restrictions.
For many women, the potential loss of abortion rights across swathes of the United States raises the prospect of being forced to travel hundreds of miles for the procedure or give birth in traumatic circumstances.
Outside the Supreme Court building in the heart of Washington, more than a thousand protesters from both sides of the hotly debated issue gathered yesterday.
“It’s an obscene invasion of women’s privacy and their ability to decide what to do with their own bodies,” Adriane Busby, a 40-year-old political analyst, told AFP.
“I didn’t think we would have to be here in 2022, debating, protesting this. It’s a regression,” the Washington resident said.
Republicans pushed hard for years to overthrow Roe, and it was only a matter of time after three conservative justices were appointed under former President Donald Trump, shifting the Supreme Court’s political balance sharply toward the right.
The release of the decision, leaked late Monday by US news site Politico, propelled the hugely contentious issue to the center of November’s midterm congressional elections, potentially paving the way for beleaguered Democrats to stem expected losses.
Biden, whose Democrats are expected to lose their already tight control over Congress, issued a rallying cry on the left, warning that restricting abortion rights will only be the start.
“I believe that a woman’s right to choose is fundamental … and the fundamental fairness and stability of our law demands that it not be overridden,” Biden said in a written statement.
“It will be up to the voters to elect” officials who support abortion rights, he said, vowing to work to pass legislation in Congress codifying Roe against Wade — a goal impossible to achieve unless many more Democrats won seats.
Speaking to reporters later, Biden went further, calling the proposed decision “radical” and warning of a “fundamental shift in American jurisprudence” that could challenge the future of same-sex marriage and “ the way you raise your child.
In New York, a liberal stronghold, thousands of protesters gathered outside a federal courthouse in Manhattan chanting “Abortion is a human right, fight fight fight”.
“You can only ban safe abortion. You can’t stop women from making their own reproductive choices. It’s a fantasy,” said Kaytlin Bailey, 35.
‘Roe v. Wade is going!”
The leak of the draft ruling was unprecedented, punching another hole in the highest court’s once-hallowed reputation as the only apolitical branch of the US government.
Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed that the document published by Politico was authentic, although he warned that it did not necessarily represent the court’s final decision. Roberts ordered a probe into the leak.
Earlier yesterday, crowds of protesters from both sides descended on the Supreme Court building, with anti-abortion activists chanting “abortion is violence. Abortion is an oppression” as well as “Hey Hey Ho Ho Roe v. Wade will disappear!”
But in the evening, it was mostly activists for abortion rights.
“Women are going to die, they already do,” warned Victoria Lord, a gloomy 61-year-old historian.
“People with less economic means will be most affected by this decision,” said Michaela Palmer, 29, who held a sign reading “My uterus, not yours.”
“The privileged will find other ways to have abortions, they will go to other states,” the energy consultant told AFP.
In Roe v. Wade, the court ruled that access to abortion is a constitutional right. In a later 1992 decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, which is usually around 22 to 24 weeks gestation.
Most developed countries allow abortions on demand up to a gestational limit, most often 12 weeks.
Roe v. Wade makes the United States one of the few countries to allow the procedure without restriction beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy — although many others allow it beyond that point for specific reasons.
The court was scheduled to rule in June on challenges to Roe v. Wade.
The Republican National Committee has said it’s time for abortion decisions to come back to state governments.
“The far left wants unelected judges to impose a sweeping, one-size-fits-all abortion policy, leaving Americans speechless,” he said.
Oklahoma’s governor marked the day by signing a very restrictive law banning abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy – with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest – matching a Texas law enacted last year.
Laws are challenged in court.
‘Bad from the start
The Supreme Court’s draft opinion was drafted by Justice Samuel Alito and, according to Politico, has been circulating in the court since February – now dominated 6-3 by the conservatives.
He characterizes Roe v. Wade’s “obviously wrong from the start”.
“We believe that Roe and Casey should be quashed,” Alito wrote in the document, titled “Court Opinion.”
“It is time to respect the Constitution and to return the question of abortion to the elected representatives of the people.
The Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, said 26 states are “certain or likely” to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is canceled.