The unconfirmed leak from the US Supreme Court revealing a majority decision in favour of overturning the 1973 ruling in Roe vs Wade might be shocking, but ultimately it is unsurprising.
Republican politicians have renewed their focus on an anti-abortion position in recent times, as a means of pitting themselves against liberals in the culture wars. Donald Trump was a prime example of this electioneering tactic – shapeshifting from disinterested pro-choicer to evangelical protector of unborn babies almost overnight. Those of us who have watched with dismay the attempts to introduce punitive heartbeat bills and brutal restrictions across various states, as well as the appointment of two staunch conservative justices Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, will know that Roe has been in danger for some time.
But all is not lost. While little can be said about the positives of the past two years in the pandemic, one thing that did emerge was a discussion about individual rights and privacy in relation to mask and vaccine mandates. Republican strongmen such as Ted Cruz were quoted making admirable speeches in favour of bodily autonomy. “I think you ought to have the choice to make your own medical decisions with your doctor,” he told CNBC in August 2021. Fox News’s Tucker Carlson described vaccine mandates as akin to a “medical Jim Crow”. Protesters from Arizona to Indiana walked the streets brandishing signs saying “my body, my choice”. To abortion rights activists, this all should have sounded familiar.
Instead of parading in Margaret Atwood-inspired clothing – references to The Handmaid’s Tale have become a common sight in protests against abortion – those of us who want to defend women’s freedom to make choices about their own bodies need to start boxing clever. This renewed interest in individual freedom among the right, which deplores the idea of state intervention in private lives, provides a way in for discussions about abortion. The original ruling of Roe was in part based on a decision that outlined that the “right of privacy… is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy”. The Fourteenth Amendment and this belief in privacy is a principle held dear by many Americans on both the left and the right – an aspect of the fight for abortion rights that is often overlooked.
The main opposition to Roe, and indeed arguments to extend access to abortion beyond the limitations of “foetal viability”, is from right-wing politicians who are convinced they own the moral high ground. Instead of deepening this polarisation, pro-choice advocates must push for solidarity from across the political divide by calling their bluff on the issue of autonomy. If governments should not be allowed to interfere with citizens’ medical decisions in times of pandemics, why should they be allowed to stick their nose into a woman’s private medical decisions when she is pregnant?
Arguing for debate is a tall ask these days, but there is no other way to democratically secure the future of women’s freedom. We must convince those with a newfound love for bodily autonomy of the need to extend this passion to a defence of women’s freedom. The moral case for abortion is one of liberty, freedom of choice and a defence of privacy. These are American values as old as the US constitution itself – perhaps it’s time to start reminding people of them.