Roe V Wade overturn is a catastrophe for American women's health


Abortion controversy goes beyond ethics, and is fundamentally a medical issue

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Image by Lorie Shaull

By Hope Gilvarry and Alfie Sloman

Women in America have seen a legal battle for their rights in the U.S. supreme court end with an overturn of the hard-fought constitutional right to abortion. The supreme court has ruled on the case of Dobbs v Jackson, which could has reversed the famous and controversial Roe vs Wade.

The landmark verdict in 1973 was thought to be a pinnacle in the fight for women to have rights over their own bodies. The outcome of the case was very clear, and the unduly restrictive state regulation of abortion was deemed to be unconstitutional. Through a creative application of constitutional litigation, the case found that the state of Texas – at the time deeming most instances of abortion illegal – violated the constitutional right to privacy. This was extremely important at the time, somewhat slicing through the anti-abortion rhetoric held by much of the American population. Its verdict allowed women an absolute right to an abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy, restricted government regulation on the practice in the second trimester and, despite the legal ban, allowed some women to abort in the third trimester if a doctor certified it was a necessary action. These outcomes were paramount at the time, and it appeared we could only move forward from this achievement, but actions taken after by certain American lawyers seem to suggest otherwise.

While the legal decisions behind abortion are disproportionately led by white, rich, Christian men in suits, often leaning on ethical jargon of questionable logic, the importance that abortion holds in women's health is often left unspoken. The Center for Disease Control has reported that around fifty percent of all pregnancies in the USA are unplanned and unwanted, with approximately forty percent of these resulting in an abortion. Research conducted by epidemiologist Dr. Cailtin Gerdts attempted to quantify the impact of carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term on the mother’s health amongst those seeking abortions at 30 clinics across the united states. Her team found a strikingly high incidence of eclampsia (high blood pressure causing seizures) and postpartum haemorrhage (uncontrolled bleeding) in women forced to give birth. This group was also forced to limit their post-procedural physical activity for three times longer than those women allowed access to abortion. While labour is hazardous for anyone, this study reinforces the need for induced abortion as a required and essential part of standard women's healthcare. Reflecting any medical procedure, conducted after a consultation with a medical professional and the patient, it should be void of any undue interference of outside parties.

Centrally, the pro-life argument focuses on “deaths” and the claimed preponderance of them being committed through the abortive process. Under this preventative approach, the debate of stopping them by banning abortions becomes absolute. However, decades of studies have concluded the sobering fact that a large proportion of those falling unintentionally pregnant will access abortions through other means anyway. An estimated forty-five percent of abortions are committed under unsafe practice, with a staggering ninety-seven percent taking place in developing, and politically anti-choice, countries. In these nations collectively, an estimated seven million women in 2012 had severe health complications caused by unsafe abortion, with a majority leading to death. Furthermore, given the difficulty in surveying illegal and societally-taboo events, this figure is likely an underestimate. If access to safe abortions were made illegal in all countries, this suggests their rates are unlikely to decrease substantially, however the death rates of pregnant women would dramatically increase. This then begs the question: why limit this right?

The use of law as a tool to exert control over women and the lower classes is a strategy as old as legislative assembly. Forced pregnancy impedes women from climbing up career, social and financial ladders. Poverty in general contributes to the deterioration of communities through lack of access to healthcare, food, hygiene and education and leads to a disproportionate occurrence of health problems, perpetuating this vicious cycle. An estimated quarter of pre-retirement deaths are caused by poverty-related issues, and for women in particular, a large proprietor of poverty is pregnancy and single parenthood. Legal and safe access to abortion allows women to transcend these biological requirements, and subsequently lead a healthier, longer and more productive life. In cases where abortion is legalised in impoverished countries, rates of women's academic success increase and many go on to be the main providers for their families. Breaking this cycle of poverty causes both parent and baby to be healthier with infant mortality rates sharply decreasing with increased household income.

Unfortunately, the patriarchal and conservative attitudes pervading modern American politics overrule the science and data suggesting legal abortion is the safest option for all parties. Thinly-veiled attempts to legislatively subjugate women’s choices can also be seen in an obvious lack of progress in the contraceptive medical field. If legislators and the anti-choice, “pro life” movement’s concern lies solely in that of protecting human life, they would tackle maternal mortality and poverty. They would make contraceptives and sex education accessible to every woman. Society functions best when children are born into loving homes where they are warmly welcomed, not forced into a world that requires their inception to perpetuate a system of oppression. The safest, and ultimately happiest outcome for those of all sexes is for us to use the medical tools at our disposal. Only then will the term “pro-life” cease to be deeply hypocritical.