If you’re surprised by the leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion that seems to indicate that Roe v. Wade is set to be overturned, then you haven’t been paying attention. This is the culmination of a decades-long campaign by conservatives and Christian evangelicals to gut the landmark abortion decision, and take control of women’s bodies.
Be horrified. Be angry. But don’t be shocked.
The war has been fought in plain sight, in courtrooms and state legislatures across the United States. During the 2016 presidential debates, when asked if he would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned, Donald Trump replied, “If we put another two or perhaps three justices on [the Supreme Court], that’s what will happen. That will happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.”
He appointed three justices to the court – Neil Gorsuch, Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh – and now, here we are. Those three justices are said to have sided with Justice Samuel Alito in the majority ruling to overturn Roe, the 1973 decision recognizing a woman had a right to terminate a pregnancy. The ruling has not officially been made public, and is not expected until June, but a draft copy of the majority opinion was leaked to the news site Politico.
Abortion rights were already being curtailed in much of the U.S., restrictions that disproportionately affect people who are already poor or marginalized. This ruling, if it happens, will make things unimaginably worse. Twenty-six states will automatically ban abortion if Roe is overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
I can’t decide whether it’s dismaying or terrifying that our influential giant neighbour to the south is occupied with ginned-up “culture wars” (over such crucial issues as the neutering of Mr. Potato Head) when there is an actual war being fought here over the bodies of women and trans and non-binary people, who also give birth. Trans people are the subject of an overwhelming onslaught of legislation in America that is designed to negate their rights and humanity. These two issues are not unrelated. It seems that the only people allowed to be fully human Americans these days are men who go to church.
There are a couple of very good reasons why those who believe in reproductive freedom around the world should keep a close eye on what’s happening in the United States. First, the anti-choice movement is international, and it will be taking cues and encouragement from this development. Second, it signals an alarming decline in democratic norms in a country where a relatively consistent majority of citizens supported abortion rights. As Max Fisher wrote in the New York Times: “Curbs on women’s rights tend to accelerate in backsliding democracies, a category that includes the United States, according to virtually every independent metric and watchdog.”
In Canada, our access to abortion has not faced the same political pressure as in the United States. That does not mean we should take our eye off the ball. As we learned from the United States, the foes of reproductive health are ready for a long campaign, and there are politicians at the federal and provincial levels who support rolling back reproductive rights, and will try to seize opportune moments to achieve this. If the issue is important to you, grill your local candidates and party leaders about where they stand.
We also need to expand access to surgical and medical abortions in Canada, because services are not provided equally across the country. As nurse and advocate Martha Paynter points out in her valuable new book Abortion to Abolition: Reproductive Health and Justice in Canada, the issue isn’t just one of choice, but of justice, which means recognizing racism and other forms of discrimination in health care: “The fight does not stop at the right to abortion; the social transformation required for reproductive freedom is vast.”
Unfortunately, our American friends are now further than ever from that kind of justice. In fact, they’ve regressed by centuries. While Justice Alito’s leaked draft reportedly says that “a right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and traditions,” scholars point to abortion having a long and sanctioned history in Colonial America. It was only when abortion became illegal that women were forced to seek degrading and sometimes lethal procedures. As advocates like to say: You can’t get rid of abortions, only legal ones.
There’s been an explosive response to the leaked draft opinion, and it’s too early to say how the U.S. will proceed. Will it decide that all its citizens deserve freedom, or only some?
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