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by Margaret Taylor
03 May 2022
Comment: The erosion of US abortion rights should concern all of us

Comment: The erosion of US abortion rights should concern all of us

There was always the danger after Ruth Bader Ginsburg died that the US Supreme Court would not so much slide as lurch to the right – and that when it did it would be women who would pay the price.

Though small in stature, Ginsburg’s dissenting voice was huge and she was seen by many as the force that prevented the court from descending into full-blown conservatism.

But, after having arch-conservatives Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh appointed to the bench, the departing President Trump’s naming of Amy Coney Barrett – a textualist and staunch pro-lifer – set the scene for what was to come.

And here we are. After Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett joined justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in last year refusing to block Texas from banning abortions after six weeks, it looks like the court is now going to go all out in using its conservatism to tear up the most fundamental of women’s rights – the right not to proceed with an unwanted pregnancy.

Ever since the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v Wade abortion has been legal across the US, giving women the right to live their lives the way they want to without the intervention of the state. It was a landmark decision for so many reasons, chief among them being, as Ginsburg said in a 2009 interview with the New York Times, that the government “has no business making that choice for a woman”.

But, as has been widely reported today, that could all be about to change. Alito has drafted a 98-page opinion saying that the court got things "egregiously wrong" in Roe and calling on his colleagues to overturn it. Due to the way the US system works that would immediately lead to abortion being made illegal in 22 states and embolden other Republican legislatures to follow suit.

The significance of this cannot be understated. Access to abortion has been fundamental in progressing women’s rights, with the ability to choose when to have a child – and who with – allowing women to take control of their lives in a way men have always taken for granted.

Those who oppose abortion on religious grounds are, of course, entitled to their opinions, but they have no right to impose those opinions on others. Rolling back Roe would represent an imposition on an epic scale.

Ginsburg was no great supporter of Roe v Wade, believing that the decision was so totemic it stopped the evolutionary process of fighting for abortion and wider women’s rights in its tracks. That will prove disastrous if Alito gets his way. Roe has given the pro-life movement something to focus on for the past 50 years but, given the current make-up of the Supreme Court, it could well take another 50 for women to win that most basic of rights back.

In the US, religion, politics and the law are uncomfortably intertwined in a way that is far less obvious here. But at a time when US-style pro-life protesters are hounding women outside Scottish hospitals, leading opposition MSPs to demand the Scottish Government set-up protest-free buffer zones in response, it is a development that should seriously concern us all.

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