The shadow of patriarchy seems to be growing ever thicker in the United States, especially after the Supreme Court ruled last Friday that it upholds a challenge to Texas’ restrictive abortion law, S.B. 8, but leaves the law in place.
The SCOTUS decision essentially allows a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy (that’s two months) when few women even know they are pregnant.
S.B. 8 is part of a wave of radical and restrictive laws and initiatives by several conservative states to strangle one of the most important judicial achievements in the history of the country (and the world) — Roe v. Wade.
The decision concerned the case of Norma McCorvey — known in her lawsuit by the pseudonym “Jane Roe” — who in 1969 became pregnant with her third child. McCorvey wanted an abortion but lived in Texas, where abortion was illegal except when necessary to save the mother’s life. She was referred to attorneys Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, who filed suit on her behalf in U.S. federal court against local District Attorney Henry Wade, claiming that Texas abortion laws were unconstitutional. A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas heard the case and ruled in their favor. Texas then appealed this ruling directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In January 1973, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution establishes a “right to privacy” that protects a pregnant woman’s right to decide whether or not to have an abortion. But it also ruled that this right is not absolute and must be weighed against the government’s interests in protecting women’s health and prenatal life.
What does it mean that Roe v Wade is at risk?
As Jessica Grose explained in her op-ed for the New York Times, abortion restrictions create a chilling effect on medical professionals who are understandably concerned about being prosecuted for anything resembling an elective abortion.
To quote Irene Donadio, senior advisor to the International Planned Parenthood Federation, doctors in countries with restrictive laws “don’t always provide all the relevant information concerning the pregnancy, especially if they see there are complications and they’re afraid women can take drastic measures.”
In the United States, with the wave of restrictive laws in conservative states such as Texas and Mississippi, sentences such as that of Brittney Poolaw, a 21-year-old Oklahoma woman who was jailed after suffering a miscarriage at 17 weeks due to drug use, sparked protests and widespread discontent. Still, experts warn that her case is a preview of a draconian future in which such trials could become all too common if Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that established a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy nationwide, is overturned, Newsweek explained.
Considering that 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion if the conservative-dominated court’s ruling, in that case, overturns Roe, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion research organization, the outlook is even more critical.
“This is a defining moment for women across the globe,” said LaTosha Brown, co-founder of the Until We’re Equal Campaign, to BELatina. “Today, we demand real structural change that grants fundamental human rights and bodily autonomy. It’s not just about showing up for a moment, it’s time to claim power, space, and victory for gender justice.”
Lynn Paltrow, the founder and executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW), said that women have been arrested for allegedly harming their fetuses for decades. “There were arrests before Roe, not that many, but there absolutely were some,” she told Newsweek.
She cited a 2013 peer-reviewed study by NAPW that documented 413 cases of women arrested or deprived of their liberty between 1973 and 2005. But the pace has picked up in the years since, she said, with more than 1,200 such cases identified between 2005 through 2020.
Paltrow said that criminal feticide laws were initially adopted as “a response to violence against pregnant women and wanting to be able to penalize the attacker for the loss of both lives.” But prosecutors “have used those laws and tried to twist them into tools for arresting the pregnant woman herself,” she added, pointing to the case of Adora Perez. The latter is serving an 11-year sentence for manslaughter after giving birth to a stillborn baby following methamphetamine use.
If Roe is overturned, Paltrow said it would be “a giant green light for prosecutors who are intent on finding ways to police and penalize the people who get pregnant.”
“Women across the country, especially those in states with reproductive restrictions, are at risk today,” said Jess Morales Rocketto from Care in Action to BELatina. “Their future, health, and economic security are on the line; we are relying on the power of organizers and activists more than ever to provide the safety net we need,” says Jess Morales Rocketto.