In the White House this Friday, Joe Biden pledged to use his power as President of the United States to protect women’s abortion rights. Just a few blocks away, Claire, a 20-year-old college student, joined thousands of others in the March for Life to the Capitol and Supreme Court to demand more restrictions on abortion freedom. “Our fight is not over yet. It’s more important than ever,” she assured behind her round glasses. Her group of friends nodded.
This Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion rights throughout the United States in 1973. And the first of those anniversaries that this Supreme Court decision no longer protects that freedom. Justices of the United States Supreme Court ruled last June that that opinion was wrong. The decision to allow or ban abortion, and under what circumstances, would depend on each of the states. Something that has deepened the already deep divisions in the country, unleashing an avalanche of legislation of both kinds and encouraging supporters and opponents to entrench themselves in their positions.
“El Supremo proved Roe right 50 years ago. It was a balanced decision, with the broad national support that most Americans have continued to support for the past 50 years. And it was a constitutional principle upheld by judges appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents,” Biden noted in his jubilee proclamation. “I will continue to appeal to Congress to pass safeguards [del derecho al aborto] into law once and for all. Until then, I will continue to use my presidency to protect women and families from the consequences of the Dobbs decision.”
Biden was referring to the June Supreme Court ruling that ruled on a lawsuit filed in Mississippi, Dobbs, against the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a reproductive health clinic that provided abortions.
This decision came as no surprise: a first draft had already been published two months earlier in an unprecedented leak in the Supreme Court, the originator of which is still unknown. But it provoked numerous protests. The majority of Americans, according to polls, support keeping this right. A Pew Center poll last year found that 62% of the country’s adult residents believe abortion should be legal, compared to 36% who believe it should be prohibited in all or most circumstances.
The anger unleashed among much of the female electorate had political ramifications, with women voting as a bloc for the Democratic Party in November’s midterm elections. This game got better results than expected. He consolidated his control of the Senate and lost the currently Republican-held House of Representatives by just a handful of seats.
But after that ruling, a dozen states governed by the Republican Party passed legislation that almost completely curtails abortion rights. This is the case in Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Oklahoma or West Virginia, among others. In some cases, these measures are still awaiting judicial review.
In other states, there is no access to abortion rights at all. In the case of Wisconsin, due to legal uncertainty surrounding the situation of doctors practicing there. In North Dakota, the only clinic practicing it moved to another state.
But the Supreme Court ruling also sparked a backlash. States like California, Vermont and Michigan voted to protect women’s reproductive rights in their jurisdictions in the November midterm elections. Kentucky and, a few months earlier, Kansas opposed bills that would have written abortion bans into local constitutions. This month, the South Carolina Supreme Court overturned a state law that banned abortions for pregnancies longer than six weeks, saying the ban violated privacy rights.
“Numerous states, with very limited exceptions, have enacted near-total bans on abortion or banned the procedure from very early in pregnancy. Courts have lifted some of these bans, creating a chaotic legal landscape that adversely affects clinics trying to provide care to patients and patients trying to receive it,” Elizabeth Nash and e Isabel Guarnieri of the Guttmacher Institute, defense attorneys of reproductive rights.
Faced with the uncertainty, some states like New York have rushed to provide facilities to allow women living in other states where the law is threatened or vetoed to have abortions in their territories.
But the organizations defending this right point out that for many women this is not a viable solution. The transfers and the stay involve costs that they cannot afford.
“Millions of people are being denied the right to autonomy over their bodies and access to essential health care. When people don’t have access to abortion in their state, they are forced to make the difficult choice of traveling long distances to have it, having an abortion themselves, or carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term,” Nash and Guarnieri note.
Reproductive rights defenders in the US have tried to find solutions. Organizations such as Planned Parenthood have begun establishing, among other things, mobile clinics that can provide reproductive health services along borders with states where obtaining them is problematic.
The government has also tried to take steps on the federal side. Starting this month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will allow abortion pills — mifepristone and misoprostol, used in most voluntary abortions in the US — to be available in pharmacies. United States Vice President Kamala Harris plans to deliver a speech in Florida this Sunday to reiterate that defending reproductive rights is a priority for her government, while several states have called for events and demonstrations in support of that right.
But despite its repeated willingness to protect that right and make it law, the White House finds its power to do so limited. Abortion legislation doesn’t stand a chance in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. And vice versa: a national veto or tougher measures on reproductive rights would not thrive in a democratically controlled Senate.
Though that doesn’t stop anti-abortionists from trying. Leaders of the movement, such as Marjorie Dannelfelser, the president of the Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America organization, are seeking to enforce a “federal minimum standard” that would impose a limit of around 13 weeks gestation, after which no service could be performed, no abortion in every state. And states could set even tighter limits if they so choose.
But despite calls for more action and claims their goal is total abolition of the law, the anti-abortion movement itself, still jubilant after winning in June, has yet to agree on what its next steps should be o yours Strategy: Whether you aim for federal action, focus on state legislation, or be content with what you’ve already achieved. Friday’s march, according to its organizer Jeanne Mancini, was designed to start the demonstration to determine “where we should focus our efforts as a movement as we begin this new era of our mission to protect life.”
In any case, abortion rights promise to be one of the burning issues in next year’s presidential election. Anti-abortion advocates are already beginning to think about it. Any White House candidate who is perceived as soft in their positions, Dannelfelser told the AP, “is going to be disqualified in our eyes, and if that happens, they have a very slim chance of winning the nomination.”