Analysis Politics

The role of the US Supreme Court on women's rights

Hannah Boyle examines the new Texas abortion law and the effect it will have on the fight for women's rights in the US

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New and extreme abortion legislation came into force in September 2021 in the state of Texas, USA, following a lack of intervention from the Supreme Court. The new ‘Heartbeat Act’ outlaws all abortions once embryonic cardiac activity is detected, often around six weeks into a pregnancy. The legislation, which was passed by the Republican dominated legislature and signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott, outlaws abortion in all circumstances. While exceptions may be made for medical necessity, in which doctors’ guidance is essential, there are no measures for pregnancies as a result of rape or incest.

Despite emergency appeals to the Supreme Court by pro-choice groups such as Planned Parenthood and a lawsuit from the Biden administration, it was confirmed in September that the legislation would come into effect.

The legislation also gives power to private citizens to take legal action against anyone who ‘aids and abets’ an illegal abortion, including doctors, clinic staff and family members- suing for up to ten thousand dollars in a successful case.

Texas is not an isolated event: three other states in the USA, South Carolina, Idaho and Oklahoma have all attempted to pass similar legislation, however, have been held in legal challenges. In a day and age of modern politics, in which Biden won an election asking Americans to “keep the faith,” can we really be sure of the rights of women in politics and across America?

The new and challenging law comes close to providing compelling evidence for erosion of rights — challenging the landmark ‘Roe v Wade’ ruling where it was declared that women have the right to an abortion up until 22–24 weeks into the pregnancy. The increasing politicisation of the Supreme Court, now weighted heavily towards a conservative majority with the appointment of Amy Coney Barret last year, indicates that rights are a bargaining chip to be decided along party lines.

While the Supreme Court decided that the rules should stand until it can be considered fully, it should be asked: if this legislation cannot be considered fully at the first opportunity, what can? What value is being assigned to the rights of women if it cannot even be put first on the agenda of the court designed to uphold the rights of American citizens as highlighted in the constitution?

No longer a secure and apolitical check and balance against the system, the Supreme Court has failed to secure the rights of women in Texas, and the worry is that more states could be next and more rights could become overturned in the conflict between America’s Liberals and Conservatives.

These political battles are under-lined by the harsh reality that banning safe abortions leads to illegal and dangerous backstreet clinics, posing more harm to women in the long term. Concerns over the impact of the legislation stretch beyond the physical wellbeing of women, financial shifts and burdens may increase, as well as increased demand on mental health provision.

And these are not the only worries. According to The Guardian, countries in which abortion rules are under threat is not the only thing to be concerned about, as these often come in tandem with threats to other basic human rights, including rights of minorities and LGBTQ+ communities.

Despite the election of Biden as US President, security for these groups cannot be assumed, with each state championing just enough power to undermine federal rights — and perhaps Texas is just the start.

While abortion access may be a well-known topic of controversy, women in America already face challenges from every choice they make. Being a woman in politics is already a deep and problem filled water in which to swim, whether you go to the Met Gala sporting a ‘Tax the Rich’ dress and find yourself trolled in the swamps of Twitter, or you are simply a woman existing in the political eye-women’s rights have appear to be challenged to a new level.

From harassment outside abortion clinics and online, to potential discrimination in the workplace for requiring maternity leave and having childcare obligations, women deserve better, and it is only a matter of time before they demand equal standing in the eyes of Supreme Court of the United States.

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