Overturning of Roe vs Wade robs women of basic rights

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Overturning of Roe vs Wade robs women of basic rights

Saturday, 02 July 2022 | Priyanka Chaturvedi

The US Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe vs Wade judgment shocked the world, putting women at grave risks

In the landmark Roe v. Wade (1973) judgment, the US Supreme Court had then declared that the constitution protected a woman's right to liberty to choose to have an abortion. In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court found that a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her pregnancy deserves the highest level of constitutional protection. It struck down several federal and state laws restricting abortion.

Now, in 2022, the very same historic judgment was overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States. This has come across as a shock globally for all activists fighting for a gender equal world. This decision has snatched away the constitutional rights of women and has made the progress on sexual and reproductive rights of women over the decades redundant. Despite strong opposition by women, civil society organisations and human rights activists, the Supreme Court of the United States of America overturned the historic case of Roe v. Wade. The conservative overturning of this case intrinsically reflects an authoritarian control of women's bodies and has put the lives of American women in danger by denying them bodily autonomy and the right to choose. Most importantly, it denounces the women's rights movement and decades of struggle by women in the country.

Surprisingly, the US Supreme Court has claimed several reasons for overturning Roe v. Wade, and none of them features women and their bodies as the main theme. The judgment states that the court finds that the right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the nation’s history and tradition. The legal reasoning that the court provides may sound rational, but the experience of women in the U.S would differ with the court's reasoning. As Justice Breyer rightly points out in his dissenting opinion: "Whatever the exact scope of the coming laws, one result is certain: the curtailment of women’s rights and of their status as free and equal citizens."

Some 40 million women of child-bearing age will live in states where abortion will become more difficult to access, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organisation that supports abortion rights. The restriction of abortion means an increase in unsafe abortions, a threat to the lives of women and dire physical and mental health consequences for women. While the Supreme Court is now leaving it to the states to decide how to outlaw or regulate abortion, 22 states already have laws in place that will immediately outlaw abortion, thus leaving women with grave and deadly options when it comes to not conceiving. On the personal autonomy front, this is a disaster waiting to happen.

This decision has not only stirred up the liberal groups, the political scenarios, and the feminists, but also has put women, their health, and safety at a huge risk of being left with only abstinence or unsafe abortions. It also puts the lives of infants at risk who will be born through pregnancies unwillingly carried due to inaccessibility to safe abortions.

In 1971, two years prior to Roe V. Wade, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act was enacted by Parliament in India, allowing registered medical practitioners to carry out abortions under certain specified circumstances. It also granted immunity to doctors performing abortions in accordance with its provisions from prosecution under Section 312 IPC. When the law was initially passed in 1971, the upper-limit for abortion was 20 weeks. Following the 2021 amendment, it has been extended to 24 weeks in the case of women who meet certain criteria. India’s generous stance on the termination of pregnancy is definitely comforting. India might even be a part of the highest echelons of countries that safeguard the constitutional and legal rights of women of the country. While the women of America had to endure a long struggle in the fight for equal suffrage, India had given equal voting rights since Independence. Not only this, when it comes to women representation in the highest political offices, India fares better than the United States of America. Even as the West retrogresses, India shows the path to a progressive society.

As the decision of SCOTUS will regress the United States of America, it is important to highlight that the judiciary is an extremely important pillar of democracy, protecting the constitutionality of laws and the rights of the people. It’s a shame that the institution has failed the women of the country and stripped them of the basic human rights that they have been expected to preserve. In fact, up to 66 per cent of US citizens did not want it to be overturned. So, for whom did the SCOTUS issue its decision? The self-serving extreme conservatives who would disvalue a living individual, the authoritative and patriarchal regime?

In a nutshell, Roe v. Wade protected women's right to have an abortion and didn't "force" anyone to have an abortion. The USA is on a similar path of suffering that Ireland was on from 1983-2018.

(The author is Rajya Sabha MP and deputy leader of  Shiv Sena)

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