Prove your humanity

On the 24th of June, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe v. Wade, and with it, almost fifty years of reproductive rights.

What is Roe v. Wade?

In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Jane McCorvey (who used the pseudonym of Jane Roe), who argued that the United States constitution protected her liberty to receive an abortion. At the time, Texas, where McCorvey lived, had strict laws in place that prevented abortion in any circumstance, unless the parent’s life would be saved by the procedure. McCorvey won her District Court case, but an appeal meant that the matter was taken to the Supreme Court. Of the presiding justices, 7 of the 9 agreed that the right to an abortion fell under the fundamental constitutional right to privacy. This was a landmark decision that changed the laws of many American states who had restricted or banned abortions.

Jane Roe. Credit: The Associated Press

In saying this, Roe v. Wade did not mean American abortion was entirely unrestricted. Depending on the trimester, the government was allowed to regulate access to the procedure. No regulation was allowed during the first trimester. In the second trimester, the government could involve itself in regulating the procedure. Post viability (the last couple of weeks of the second trimester, and the entirety of the third trimester), there was full scope for regulation or prohibition of abortion, except in cases where the abortion would protect the health or life of the parent.

What has changed?

Nearly fifty years later, the Supreme Court of the United States has overturned Roe v. Wade—despite polling that determined nearly two-thirds of Americans supported the 1973 ruling. Put simply, this means that most of the Supreme Court justices agreed that the ruling in this case was wrong, and from now onwards should be discarded. This means that abortion is no longer protected in the United States, and instead of being federally guaranteed a right to choose, people with uteruses must instead follow the laws of the state in which they live.

The Supreme Court of the United States, 2022. Credit: Erin Schaff/The New York Times/Bloomberg

For many, abortion is likely to remain protected. Consistently progressive states, like New York, California, and Massachusetts, have continued to offer the procedure unrestricted. Conversely, traditionally conservative states, like Mississippi, Kentucky, and Missouri, have already put bans in place. Some of the suggested bans are especially harsh, restricting abortion even in cases of assault, incest, or health complications, and punishing those who receive them with jail time. This means that access to abortion in America is purely geographical, and even further impacts impoverished people. Not only do low-earning Americans comprise the largest demographic of people who receive abortions, but they are also those who are least likely to be able to afford to travel interstate for the procedure.

What does this mean for Australia?

It is important to remember that though the overturning of this ruling has happened on the other side of the world, it will have an unprecedented international impact.

Australia looks to the United States for much of its legislation—for one, only after the United States had voted to legalise marriage equality did Australia do the same, just two years later in 2017. Further, anti-choice viewpoints are not an exclusively American stance. In Australia, anti-abortion protests have happened as recently as 2022, and have been attended by prominent politicians. Though the focus is on the United States, access to abortion is a fundamental right that many other nations have not afforded.

President of the International Students Committee, Sofia Gonzalez Torres says, “[Restriction] is not only in the USA, in most second-world countries, women worldwide have limited access to safe, accessible, and legal abortion.”

“I am from South America, and there is a lack of reproductive rights and abortion regulations. Although it has been long activism to change the abortion law, women are not fully enjoying their rights. The government should review their decisions regarding abortion regulations thoroughly. Restricting women to their right to abortion will lead to unsafe abortion practices, health issues and maternity mortality. It will also contribute to women’s cycle of poverty by restricting them from achieving professional careers or opting for better jobs.”

Colombian protesters fight for the legalisation of abortion. Credit: Joaquin Sarmiento/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Is abortion accessible in Australia?

Each state and territory has varied legislation regarding abortion.

South Australia has moved to completely legalise abortion beginning this month, leaving Western Australia as the only state where abortion is still criminalised. For those in WA who request an abortion after 20 weeks, an “ethics panel” of medical practitioners must decide whether the parent has a condition of sufficient severity to justify the procedure.

In saying this, abortion is allowed across Australia for the first 9 weeks of gestation but can be expensive and particularly difficult to access for Australians living in rural or remote areas. All states and territories have imposed safe access zones around abortion centres to protect those seeking the procedure from harassment.

What can be done?

Currently, 6 of the 9 justices of the Supreme Court are conservative. Three of them were appointed by Donald Trump. One, in questionable circumstances. Two face accusations of sexual assault. The Republican Party, who has flooded the court with justices sympathetic to their hyper-conservative viewpoints, has won just one single popular vote in the last 33 years. Now they have the power to create legislation that impacts every American—and by extension, the rest of the world.

The Democratic Party has been attempting to codify Roe v. Wade in Congress (meaning, mandate accessible abortion federally), but little action towards this has occurred, in large part to a filibuster. Instead, the Democrats are taking steps to make pregnancy termination medications “available to the fullest extent possible.” They are also trying to ensure free and easy interstate travel for those in conservative states who wish to receive an abortion.

Pro-choice protesters in Perth. Credit: Ian Munro/The West Australian

In Australia (and the rest of the world), protests for the freedom to choose have been occurring across the country. On the 27th of June, Curtin students joined other West Australians gathering at the US Consulate in Perth to protest for reproductive rights. The Guild endorsed the event.

Women’s officer, Salwa Kilzi, issued a statement on behalf of the Guild. “Basic Human rights have been violated with the overturn of Roe vs Wade, together we gather to stand in solidarity and demand free, safe, accessible, legal abortions. It is my body and it is my choice and no person can outlaw permission to my body. Let our voices be heard as we stand tall and fight for our rights! Abortion is health care!”

Another protest is set to occur on Saturday the 2nd of July at 1pm, in Murray Street Mall. Attend to stand in solidarity with those who do not have reproductive freedoms, in the USA and beyond.