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US court decision proves fight for women’s rights goes on

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An abortion rights supporter at a protest in New York against the US Supreme Court judgment. Photo: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

An abortion rights supporter at a protest in New York against the US Supreme Court judgment. Photo: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

An abortion rights supporter at a protest in New York against the US Supreme Court judgment. Photo: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

The decision of the US Supreme Court to overrule the landmark 1973 decision of Roe v Wade, concluding there is no constitutional right to an abortion, is a seismic moment that will have far-reaching consequences for millions of women, possibly for decades to come. In a released judgment, the conservative justice Clarence Thomas also appeared to offer a preview of the right-wing dominated court’s potential future rulings, when he suggested the court may return to the issues of contraception access and marriage equality, threatening LGBTQ+ rights.

In the US, the backlash among women, liberals, pro-choice advocates and Democrat politicians has been immediate and furious, with widespread protest across the nation. However, the reality now is that 26 conservative states will move quickly to ban terminations, leaving around 36 million women of reproductive age without abortion access.

In reaction, Democrats have vowed the decision will be the central issue in forthcoming mid-term and future presidential elections. “Make no mistake: This decision is the culmination of a deliberate effort over decades to upset the balance of our law. It’s a realisation of an extreme ideology and a tragic error by the Supreme Court,” President Joe Biden said. He added: “This is not over.”

The most effective protection against state abortion bans is a federal law. In the US, public opinion favours such statute — 85pc of Americans believe abortion should be legal in most or all circumstances.

Such a law would need majority support of the House of Representatives, a 60-vote majority in the Senate and the signature of President Biden to pass. A majority of members of the House of Representatives support an abortion rights statute, as does the White House. However, Republicans are almost certain to block abortion rights laws in the Senate, which is evenly split with Democrats. There would need to be sweeping mid-term election victories for Democrats to introduce laws to restore abortion rights, but that seems unlikely at this time.

The reality is that supporters of abortion rights now face a possibly long and protracted campaign to restore those rights. Justice Samuel Alito authored the majority opinion and was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.

These are all Republican-appointed justices. In the US, they are appointed to life-long terms. Three judges confirmed during Donald Trump’s presidency — Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Coney Barrett — are all under 60.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan filed a dissenting opinion, claiming existing laws “struck a balance” between allowing abortion and allowing laws to regulate it. “Today, the Court discards that balance. It says that from the very moment of fertilisation, a woman has no rights to speak of. A State can force her to bring a pregnancy to term, even at the steepest personal and familial costs,” the dissent reads.

The bans will make the US one of four nations to roll back abortion rights since 1994. The other three are Poland, El Salvador and Nicaragua. The court’s decision may embolden pro-life supporters elsewhere, including in Ireland, in ongoing campaigns against abortion access laws here. The decision is a timely reminder that the fight for women’s reproductive rights is not over.

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