- 30 Jun 22
The overturning of Roe V Wade has sparked international condemnation, however, we need to remember that after over two years of abortion legislation, Northern Ireland are still waiting for access to abortion services.
On June 24, history was reversed. A decision was made in the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe V Wade on Friday, erasing nearly 50 years of case law protecting abortion rights under the Constitution.
Roe V Wade was first brought into law in 1973, ruling unduly restrictive state regulation of abortion as unconstitutional. Since then there have been multiple cases affirming the case law in Roe V Wade, such as: Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992), Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (2016), June Medical Services L.L.C. v. Russo (2020). These cases all affirmed the viability of a foetus (24 weeks), and that restrictions on abortion are unconstitutional if they place an “undue burden” on a person seeking an abortion before the foetus is viable.
In May 2021, the Supreme Court agreed to review a lower court's decision to strike down a state law that had been adopted in 2018. The Mississippi law banned most abortions after the fifteenth week of pregnancy, long before the point of foetal viability. According to Roe V Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, this law was clearly unconstitutional. However, although these Mississippi lawmakers knew this law was unconstitutional, they had hoped the case would land before the Supreme Court, where a majority of justices are conservative, and therefore would be more likely to overturn or drastically reduce the scope of those decisions.
In May 2022, an alleged draft of the majority Supreme Court (SC) decision written by Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr. was leaked in an extraordinary breach of the secrecy in SC deliberations. Dated February 2022, the document indicated the Supreme Court had majority voted to overturn Roe V Wade and Planned Parenthood V Casey. The public reaction to this leak was immense. The expected rollback of constitutional rights for women was met with fear, rage and deep sadness.
As expected, in the Court's official decision, published just last week, both Roe and Casey were overturned. The Democrats could have taken action in those crucial few months and even years, dating back to Obama failing to codify Roe into law and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg not retiring, which would have given Obama the choice of a Democrat-leaning judge to appoint. Instead, Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh were appointed under Trump.
Justice Alito held that there is no constitutional right to abortion. This decision has ended constitutional protections for abortion and is expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half of US states. This decision has put millions of people with uterus' lives at risk. As seen all over social media in recent days - you cannot ban abortions, you can only ban safe abortions.
Since this official decision, there has been international uproar. United States President Joe Biden spoke from the White House, condemning the Supreme Court's decision, describing it as: "the realisation of an extreme ideology" and a "tragic error", which was "literally taking America back 150 years" and would see women "punished for protecting their health" - in a "sad day for the country". Biden called on people to vote for pro-choice candidates in November's midterm elections, saying: "The only way we can secure a woman's right to choose a balance that exists is for Congress to restore the protections of Roe v Wade as federal law."
However, waiting until November to take action is an absolute failure. History has shown that Presidents can stack the Supreme Court, and even ignore the decision entirely, which was what Lincoln did when it came to federal slavery laws. Taking action against the filibuster, and even impeaching certain judges for federal crimes are both options. Yet the Democrats bide their time until the mid-terms, despite the party knowing well that Roe was the target for years. Some of them (Nancy Pelosi included) even had newsletters prepared asking for $15 dollar donations towards the elections, rather than taking action in the last weeks, months or years when they knew what was coming down the road.
olivia rodrigo at glastonbury name dropping the justices of the supreme court who voted to overturn roe v wade “we hate you” and then singing fuck you by lily allen to them yea that’s my girl. pic.twitter.com/BueiLOApNx
— bri (@strawberritom) June 25, 2022
Celebrity reaction across social media and on stage has been colossal. During her set at Glastonbury this weekend, Olivia Rodrigo brought Lily Allen on stage to sing a rendition of 'Fuck You', dedicated to the Supreme Court judges that she named on stage. Past first lady, Michelle Obama, posted a statement on social media which has garnered thousands of shares and over five million likes. In the statement she said: "I am heartbroken today. I am heartbroken for people around this country who just lost the fundamental right to make informed decisions about their own bodies.
"I am heartbroken that we may now be destined to learn the painful lessons of a time before Roe was made law of the land – a time when women risked losing their lives getting illegal abortions. A time when the government denied women control over their reproductive functions, forced them to move forward with pregnancies they didn’t want, and then abandoned them once their babies were born.
"That is what our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers lived through, and now here we are again," she emphasised.
"So yes, I am heartbroken – for the teenage girl, full of zest and promise, who won’t be able to finish school or live the life she wants because her state controls her reproductive decisions; for the mother of a nonviable pregnancy who is now forced to bring that pregnancy to term; for the parents watching their child’s future evaporate before their very eyes; for the health care workers who can no longer help them without risking jail time."
This issue has forced a lot of Irish people to look at the rights of women in their own home. While we repealed the 8th amendment in 2018, allowing Irish people access to abortion in certain circumstances, an enormous amount of women must still travel for abortions. This issue is prevalent both in the Republic and in the North, where abortions remain inaccessible. Despite abortions being made legal in 2019 in NI, the Northern Ireland Department of Health have yet to commission abortion services so citizens can actually access these services.
In response to the overturning of Roe, a lot of English celebrities spoke out on stage at Glastonbury, yet there seems to be a lack of realisation that this issue is not just a foreign one. English singer Charli XCX encouraged people across the world to act towards protecting abortion access. English band IDLES condemned the decision, dedicating their song 'Mother' to "every woman".
Frontman Joe Talbot said: "Of course, this is for every mother and every woman and her right to choose whether she is a mother or not." It's a shame to see that a lot of these public figures and musicians don't understand that these issues are prevalent closer to home as well as in the US.
Despite having access to abortions in Ireland for about five years now, still only one in ten GP per county actually perform medical abortions. There isn't a single GP who provides the service in Sligo, meaning women may have to make a round trip of up to 100km to Donegal or Roscommon to access a GP twice, three days apart with the possibility of a third visit if a scan is required.
Ireland allows abortion up until 12 weeks, and abortions after that are only allowed if there is a serious threat to the life or health of the mother or where two medical professionals agree there is a fatal foetal abnormality. In 2021, more than 200 people travelled to the UK for an abortion. This is followed by 161 people from NI. While this number in the NI significantly dropped from 2020, in Ireland it was actually an increase. Irish people who received a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality are among those still traveling to access abortions.
Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) chief executive Niall Behan said: "Legal abortion has transformed reproductive healthcare in Ireland, but 206 women travelled to the UK for abortion care in 2021. This tells us, unequivocally, that the law is not good enough. The 2018 Act is denying care to women and girls and forcing them to seek abortion services in the UK. This is an unacceptable injustice.
"We know from our clients that exclusion from access to termination services in Ireland is traumatising. We know also that denial of care because of the gestation limit disproportionately burdens the most vulnerable, marginalised and disadvantaged. Exclusions from essential healthcare cause harm."
For people with disabilities, migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, those from a disadvantaged economic background and Travellers especially, the issue of bodily autonomy and access to healthcare is even more terrifying.
"No-one should have to leave Ireland for abortion care. We know from our services that the law is also forcing some who present at under 12 weeks of pregnancy to travel outside of Ireland for abortion services.
"The mandatory three-day wait means that a person who presents after 11 weeks and four days cannot be provided with abortion care in Ireland."
If the US is indicative of how the rest of the world leans, this definitely isn't a good thing for the rights of women throughout the Western world, never mind those in more disadvantaged countries. This decision is a massive win for Republicans and religious conservatives in the States who are trying to limit the amount of these procedures completed in the country. The Irish Pro Life Campaign described the ruling as a "momentous development for the right to life."
Worryingly, an anti-abortion rally has already been planned for Dublin city centre this Saturday. Whether the organisers will see large numbers of participants is another story, as two-thirds of the country voted for abortion rights in 2018.
The Irish Abortion Rights Campaign (ARC) spokesperson Darina Murray said: "This is not an isolated or sudden incident - this is the culmination of a decades-long quest from anti-abortion groups to erase reproductive rights. We must resist the erosion of our hard-won rights at every turn - in the USA, in Ireland, and across the globe."
This decision by the Supreme Court will see masses of people dying at the hands of back-alley doctors and self attempted abortions. Also, pregnant women are infinitely more likely to be murdered at the hands of a partner as a result of domestic violence. There are layers and layers to the pain this will cause, including to those seeking IVF and other fertility treatments, as well as those seeking oncology treatments. It will also affect people suffering miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies. The list goes on.
We must remember that despite what some people have written about this Supreme Court decision being a "sex-based right", abortion affects trans and non-binary people too. This mischaracterisation of abortion rights will not help circumstances and will instead only further divide opinions and cause more undue stress.
Also, despite the gross inaccuracies about the Repeal campaign in Ireland, which was recently depicted in The Guardian as a "political leader"-led conversation - the power for change is in the hands of the people. People have to drive the change both in the North and in the US because relying on politicians will only let you down. Just as the Repeal campaign was a "decades-long intersectional, grassroots campaign", the US must now rally and demand more of their government.
This is a grotesque mischaracterisation of the repeal campaign in Ireland. This is absolutely not how the decades-long intersectional, grassroots campaign against the 8th went. Just out here making shit up, is it? pic.twitter.com/s1L1XuVyIN
— Dr Nollid (@altkrelb) June 26, 2022
Cross-sections of such a polarised society uniting could prove difficult. We must remember that a majority of white women voted for Trump in the US, so uniting all people under the banner to halt this decision and codify federal rights for abortion care as a community could prove impossible. Black people, Latinx and Indigenous groups have by far the most experience of grassroots organising, but will white women give them the microphone? Bodily autonomy in those communities continuously been stripped, in the past and present.
This decision also opens the door for more countries to question their abortion legislation, and whether they make a progressive decision or not, the rights of approximately half of the population being brought into question is a very worrying state to live in.
To enact change in the US, the protections of Roe must be brought in to federal law, far before mid-term elections in November. Rights that have for almost 50 years been seen as Constitutional must now be protected again, before any person is forced into carrying a foetus.
In light of the overturning of Roe V Wade, it seems there has been some judicial unrest with the decision. A Louisiana judge on June 27 temporarily stopped the state from enforcing Republican-backed laws banning abortion which were set to take effect after the Supreme Court's decision last week. The Orleans Parish civil district court judge, Robin Giarrusso, issued a temporary restraining order, blocking the state ban. This is only one of several judges challenging Republican-backed abortion laws under state constitutions.
In terms of the island of Ireland: in the Republic, our abortion laws are currently under review. Activists are calling for longer periods for abortion, feeling that 12 weeks doesn't give a person a long enough time period to actually figure out if they're pregnant and weigh their options. Higher rates of access to abortions also must come into the equation. One in ten GPs is simply not good enough. This basic healthcare should be covered in every GP practice to allow optimum ease for the person needing the service.
The North, however, has much further to go. While even certain states in America still have access to abortions, the North currently has absolutely none. In February of this year, a high court judge ruled that the Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has the legal authority to direct the establishment of abortion services.
Lewis had given the Northern Irish Health Service a deadline of the end of March but this date came and went and still no abortion services. Now, the Health Service has been told it must start setting up a fully-funded abortion service for Northern Ireland "within days to weeks." The UK government had indicated it would itself act on abortion services after the Stormont assembly election, if an executive was not restored by then.
Us Irish people can be infuriated at the situation in America, but we need to support those attempting change on our own island as well as across the Atlantic.
You can donate here to Belfast based charity, Alliance for Choice which campaigns for abortion rights in NI.