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Upending of Roe v Wade reverses progress made on women’s rights in America, and possibly elsewhere

Around the world, the US has been seen to lead the march towards greater individual rights. The struggle to keep the individual at the heart of an expansive rights-based framework could now get tougher.

roe v wade explained, resurgence of coat hanger as an abortion symbol, coat hanger roe v wade, roe v wade protests, roe v wade supreme court, united states, express explained, indian expressThe US Supreme Court has cleared the path for abortion bans in 26 states. In doing so, it may have gone against what a majority of the American people want.

On June 24, the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) struck a blow against American women’s rights over their bodies by overturning the 1973 Roe v Wade judgment, which ensured the nationwide right to abortion. The judgment in the case of Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organisation upheld the controversial Mississippi Gestational Age Act which bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, while overruling Roe, as well as the 1992 Planned Parenthood v Casey judgment, both of which had given American women the right to safe and legal abortions.

The court held Roe as “egregiously wrong” and said it will “return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives”, clearing the path for bans in 26 states. In doing so, however, it may have gone against what a majority of the American people want. A recent Gallup poll found that 55 per cent of Americans identified as “pro choice”, with 52 per cent saying they found abortion “morally acceptable” — the highest ever number to say so. Popular majorities may sometimes prove transient, but Dobbs has irreversibly damaged the edifice of individual rights built, piece by piece, over two centuries, dealing a body blow to the evolving 21st century American understanding of what liberty and self-determination is, the freedoms it entails. The court’s argument that the right to abortion was neither upheld by the constitution nor “deeply rooted in this nation’s history and tradition” fails to take into account how much the American rights landscape has changed since 1789, when the constitution took effect. Where the American woman was once invisible to those who drafted the document, she is now an equal citizen. The denial of bodily autonomy can take an incalculable toll on women’s ability to fully participate in the nation’s social and economic life — not to mention the risk to their own health and lives, as many will be forced to seek illegal, unsafe abortions. Even as the Biden administration moves to ensure that abortion pills are accessible in states that ban the medical procedure, the future of other rights also seems to be in question. Alarm bells are ringing over Justice Clarence Thomas’s concurring note urging the “reconsideration” of all cases which guaranteed rights to contraception and same-sex relationships and marriage.

By taking away a right, the court has set a dangerous precedent and the ripples will be felt beyond US borders. Around the world, the US has been seen to lead the march towards greater individual rights. The struggle to keep the individual at the heart of an expansive rights-based framework could now get tougher.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on June 28, 2022 under the title ‘Long step back’.

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First published on: 28-06-2022 at 04:04:13 am
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