“Abortion support networks have been fundraising and organising logistics to help those forced to seek surgical abortions in another state. But for many, travel to other states is not feasible.”
Susan Pashkoff, Leyton and Wanstead CLP Women’s Officer, looks at the unfolding struggle
The overturn of Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood by the Supreme Court of the United States on 24th June had several immediate effects. The elimination of this 50-year-old civil right by a politically appointed body at a stroke meant that women’s right to bodily autonomy was no longer guaranteed in the US as a whole.
The majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organisation decided that there was no constitutional basis for either Roe or Casey; that the right to abortion was not consistent with the historical precedent; and that the decisions had “short-circuited the democratic process”, bypassing both state and federal legislatures.
On that basis it sent the political struggles over the right to abortion back to the States. Not accidentally, this takes place at a time when the Voting Rights Act is under siege, and Republicans are working overtime by redistricting and other gerrymandering measures to suppress black and Democratic voters.
It was clear from both Supreme Court oral arguments and the leaked draft of the Court’s majority opinion that Roe would be overturned, yet President Biden and Congressional Democrats sat on their hands. The Women’s Health Protection Act protecting federal abortion rights passed the House of Representatives, but it failed in the Senate due to the filibuster.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to allow abortions on Federal land in states where it is banned or extremely limited was ignored by Biden. Some state abortion bans (eg. Texas and Oklahoma) that place travel restrictions on pregnant people to states where abortion is legal represent a significant threat to civil liberties that has yet to be addressed by the Supreme Court, despite assurances from Biden that they would not be allowed.
The various iterations of the Hyde Amendment limited the use of Medicaid funds for abortion except where the mother’s life was in danger, or in cases of incest or rape. Although a clear majority of Americans supported Roe, Republican state legislatures continued limiting access to abortion, vying with each other to be the first state to overturn Roe.
Other states began strengthening access to abortion before Roe was overturned, with several passing legislation allowing out-of-state access to Medicaid funds. Abortion support networks have been fundraising and organising logistics to help those forced to seek surgical abortions in another state. But for many, travel to other states is not feasible. Access to abortion pills can broaden access. Increased availability is essential but faces regulation in states with abortion bans.
Prior to Roe’s overturn, some state legislatures passed ‘Trigger Laws’ outlawing or severely restricting abortions. One month after the overturn of Roe and Casey, eight states had banned abortion completely, while four had restricted it to 6 weeks. Prior to the 24th June there were 71 abortion clinics in these states. After one month, this was down to 23.
Attempts by Republican-dominated state legislatures and anti-choice governors to restrict or ban abortion outright have faced obstacles. Attempts to use pre-Roe bans in Michigan, Wisconsin and West Virginia face legal challenges, with temporary injunctions against bans in place. Extremely restrictive anti-abortion laws have been passed by some Republican-controlled state legislatures. In Florida and Kentucky, abortion rights have been reduced to 15 weeks. An attempt by South Carolina to pass a total ban failed due to Republican divisions over rape and incest exemptions. The case of the 10-year-old rape victim who had to go to Indiana to get an abortion due to Ohio’s severe restrictions angered many people and exposed the true impact of anti-abortion laws and the misogyny of anti-choice campaigners.
In 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution guaranteed abortion rights and that a law to make surgical abortions illegal was unconstitutional. Anti-choice politicians vowed to change the state constitution. On 2nd August 2022, Kansas held a referendum to criminalise abortion and this was rejected by over 60% – a major defeat for anti-choice politicians and right wing religious organisations.
On August 6th, the Indiana legislature passed the first post-Roe abortion ban. It is facing two lawsuits before the law takes effect. One challenges the constitutionality of the ban, while the other cites religious freedom of Jews. A similar lawsuit around limits to abortion has been filed by Jews in Florida. Some US states allow voter-initiated plebiscites and in Michigan, a citizen’s initiative to keep abortion legal got over 755,000 signatures.
- This article originally appeared in Labour Briefing (Co-operative) magazine and is reproduced with permission. Subscribe by sending a £20 cheque with your address to Labour Briefing Co-op, PO Box 78639, London N16 1LA
- Susan Pashkoff is the Leyton and Wanstead CLP Women’s Officer.