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  • Gem Kirwan

The overturning of Roe v Wade and Republicans’ assault on human rights

Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq

This article is part of The Broad's short series in response to the US Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v Wade. For more articles like this, search the hashtag 'Roe v Wade' on our website.

The American right prides itself on being citizens of the “Free World” – a giant melting pot where everyone is free to live their life however they see fit. Whether that freedom comes in the form of the right to vote in elections, publicly express your opinions and identity, or treat yourself to a shotgun while doing the weekly shop at Walmart, the government promises to butt out and leave you to it. However, every line must be drawn somewhere and, according to the Supreme Court, women and pregnant people exercising bodily autonomy is where laissez faire must be left behind. On 24 June, the Supreme Court successfully overturned Roe v Wade six votes to three, in a bid to make it virtually impossible, and illegal, for millions of Americans to access an abortion.

With the decision overturned, power is in individual states’ hands to decide whether to ban abortions, and many are working to do so faster than you can say “my body, my choice”. As many as 26 states are expected to completely criminalise abortions, and 13 of those had trigger laws that have already seen appointments cancelled and clinics closed down. While some states have promised to serve as “safe havens” for those seeking abortions nationwide, this leaves many patients having to travel across the country, potentially at huge personal expense, to access what the World Health Organisation classifies as essential medical care. It goes without saying that for most, such as those from disadvantaged backgrounds or abusive households, this simply is not viable. Even for those who can travel for an abortion, it will undoubtedly add extra stress and trauma to an already unimaginably stressful and traumatic situation. Just days after Roe v Wade was scrapped, a ten-year-old pregnant rape victim was forced to travel from Ohio to Indiana for an abortion because she was three days further along than her home states’ laws allow. In response, Republican governor Kristi Noem reiterated her party’s stance that “every life is precious” and implied that the child should have been forced to carry and give birth to a baby she couldn’t even consent to conceiving in the first place. I always hoped that dystopias were meant to be set in a far-off future, or even better, forever confined to the realms of fiction, and yet we seem to be watching The Handmaid’s Tale become reality before its fortieth birthday.

The Supreme Court’s justification that Roe v Wade had to be scrapped for being unconstitutional is, of course, completely absurd, given the Constitution was written at a time when safe abortions were non-existent and many were still on the fence about whether a woman owning a black cat was suspicious enough to warrant being burnt at the stake for Witchcraft. But beyond being nonsensical, the new abortion bans are a shameless violation of women and pregnant people’s human rights. The United Nations lists forced birth as a crime against humanity – a crime that six Supreme Court Justices will now be enacting against hundreds of thousands of pregnant people every year without consequence. While women are already reporting being scrutinised for having miscarriages and stillbirths, and rape victims who seek abortions could face harsher punishments than their rapists, states are imposing laws that would mean doctors who perform abortions could receive 99-year prison sentences for murder. Medical professionals will thus be faced with the impossible decision of taking essential measures to save their patient’s life and be accused of killing someone or, refusing to do so and actually killing someone as a consequence. Whichever way you look at it, you hardly get the impression that the “Free World” is particularly free after all.

If one thing is clear, it is that for all the right’s rambling about how all life is precious (unless, of course, that particular life belongs to a woman, queer person, poor person, or person of colour) and how more laws should be decided based on What Jesus Would Do, the overturning of Roe v Wade is nothing to do with saving lives and everything to do with making those of women and trans people even harder. After all, if the Supreme Court were all that bothered about protecting people, they would have put in the frankly minimal research it takes to discover that abortion rates are actually higher in countries where it is illegal. Or that, in high-income countries, the risk of death brought on by an unsafe abortion is thirty times higher than legal ones performed by doctors. Hell, if they’d really wanted to push the boat out, they might have even considered the hypocrisy of scrapping the right to an abortion because of all the innocent babies they kill but deciding the very same week that, despite gun violence being the leading cause of death among US children, gun ownership should be a fundamental human right.

It’s evident that the criminalisation of abortions will cause nothing but suffering, but, so long as it makes it harder to make decisions God might disagree with, Republicans will remain entirely indifferent. And Roe v Wade being overturned is only one of the first major steps on a much longer campaign to curtail Americans’ human rights, with the far-right promising to turn their attention to contraception access and gay marriage next. These are measures deliberately designed to disproportionately impact marginalised groups while giving the most advantaged ones yet more power, and they are measures that will turn the clock back on human rights by centuries.

On Abortion Access in Scotland - Statement by Anna Cowan, campaigner for Back off Scotland

The verdict of Roe v Wade represents a huge step back in the progress we have made for equal reproductive rights. Allowing abortion to be banned does not ban abortions - it bans safe abortions.

Although decisions like this may seem incredibly far away, in Scotland we are facing a fight against abortion access in the form of anti-choice protests outside of clinics which provide abortions. These protestors come from Texas-funded organised 40 Days for Life, who are an insidious and restrictive religious group who's sole purpose is to ban abortion.

In Scotland we must show our solidarity with our American sisters and siblings, while also being vigilant and fighting against anti-choice movements. If you want to be apart of the cause to establish buffer zones around abortion clinics, please fill out the Scottish Government consultation to enact this into law at

Please fill in Gillian Mackay’s consultation on buffer zones here, open until 06/08/22.

You can write to your MSP here.


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