Friday 21 May 2021
Presidents come and go, but the fight over abortion continues regardless in the United States
Claudia Williams: Hi, I’m Claudia – and this is Sensemaker, from tortoisemedia.com.
One story every day to make sense of the world.
Today: the new crusaders fighting against abortion rights in America.
Greg Abbott is everything you might expect from a Republican Governor in a southern state like Texas. He has deeply-held conservative values, he’s against same sex marriage, he’s pro gun ownership….
So him being anti-abortion might not come as a surprise.
On Wednesday, he signed into law a strict anti-abortion bill…
“Now, we’re about to make it law….”Governor Greg Abbott signing the heartbeat bill
But this new bill – the “heartbeat bill” – is really controversial.
“It’s called one of the most extreme abortion bans… The heartbeat bill, now a Texas law, forbids pregnancy termination as early as six weeks, no exceptions for rape or incest.”Kens 5 Eyewitness News report
It bans women from getting an abortion after just 6 weeks of pregnancy. That’s when a foetal heartbeat can first be detected – but it’s before many women actually know that they’re pregnant.
It also allows private citizens to sue anyone who helps a woman get an abortion after that 6 week mark. Whether that’s an abortion providor or an abortion rights activist.
The person suing doesn’t even need to know the person getting an abortion. It could be completely random.
Although it might sound shocking… what’s happening in Texas right now isn’t an anomaly. A wave of anti-abortion legislation has been spreading across the United States…
“The Supreme Court has agreed to review a Mississippi law restricting abortions, the case could set the stage for a weakening of Roe vs Wade. There is energy on the right and dread on the left that this…”MSNBC news report
On Monday the country’s highest court announced a review of a similar law in Mississippi – a bid to ban most abortions after 15 weeks.
That case could undermine the landmark Roe vs Wade ruling from 1973… which guarantees a woman’s constitutional right to end her pregnancy. But this ruling divided America back when it was first introduced… and the divisions are still raw today.
So the question is: nearly half a century on… are abortion rights in the US facing a major rollback?
These bills haven’t come out of nowhere.
Back in 2019 nearly 30 states, including Texas, introduced some form of abortion ban into law. They included restrictions on facilities, penalties for doctors, and requirements for spousal consent.
“They’ve decided that the best way to erode abortion rights in this country is to chip away at it, as opposed to banning it 100%.”CBC news report
It began just after Donald Trump appointed two new Supreme Court justices… tipping the balance on the bench to be more conservative.
The hope was that these controversial laws would work their way up through small courts… and get the attention of the Supreme Court.
“So Brian the most important thing to know is that the Supreme Court never has to hear anything, they never have to hear a case… they get 10,000 requests a year to hear cases, they hear about 65 of them, but they agreed to hear this case.”Neal Katyal, Georgetown University law professor
And if they got the attention of the Supreme Court… state leaders like Greg Abbott in Texas hoped that they could eventually overturn the Roe vs Wade ruling nationwide…
“Our creator endowed us with the right to life and yet, millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion. In Texas, we work to save those lives.”Governor Greg Abbott signing the heartbeat bill
For him… abortion is a particularly personal subject…
“Well years ago, years ago I held a little baby in my arms, months before that her mother talked to staff at a crisis pregnancy centre… well that little infant girl is now my 21 year old daughter.”Governor Greg Abbott speaking at an anti-abortion rally
Greg Abbott says adopting his daughter is the driving force behind his efforts to curtail abortion. But are they going to work?
“According to a statement from the Supreme Court Associate Ruth Bader Ginsburg died this evening surrounded by her family.”ABC news report
In September 2020, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – a champion of reproductive rights – died.
Her place on the Supreme Court bench had largely prevented attacks on Roe vs Wade… but after her death she was replaced with a judge with long-held anti-abortion views….
“Judge Amy Cohen Barrett Barrett is expected to be President Donald Trump’s pick… he’s hoping she’ll become the court’s all-important sixth conservative vote.”Wall Street Journal news report
That means six of the nine seats are now held by conservatives. The ideological balance of the bench has shifted once again.
Back in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott’s new law will come into effect in September if it’s not stopped by the courts. Eight other US states have tried to introduce similar six-week bans before… so far, all were blocked by the lower courts. But collectively, these laws make a clear statement. Renewed efforts to make abortions harder to obtain aren’t stopping anytime soon.
And the Supreme Court review of the Mississippi law is not just about one state: it could affect the entire country… undermining the landmark Roe vs Wade ruling… and paving the way for more states to impose their own limits.
A result in the Mississippi case isn’t expected until June 2022… just a few months before the midterm elections in the US. In the coming months and years… Abortion is set to be a crucial issue across the political spectrum.
What’s clear is that the shift in the composition of the Supreme Court is already having an impact.
Today’s story was written and produced by Imy Harper.