Roe vs Wade, Explained: What's The Nub Of Abortion Verdict That Has US On Edge?

Does a woman have the right to choose abortion? This question is at the heart of a social debate reignited by a likely legal turnaround in the US.

Roe vs Wade, Explained: What's The Nub Of Abortion Verdict That Has US On Edge?

Protests have been held across the US ever since a leaked document pointed to court's likely verdict.

New Delhi:

Does a woman have the right to choose abortion? This question is at the heart of a social debate reignited by a legal turnaround in the United States.

The American Supreme Court has overturned a constitutional right granted in a landmark 1973 ruling, called Roe vs Wade, which had legalised abortion across the country. A leaked document containing the views of judges had already shaken the US, and pro-choice protesters have been out on the streets. 

But what is this judgment from five decades ago that's now been overturned? 

Whose names are these? 
Jane Roe was a pseudonym for Norma McCorvey, who was 22, unmarried, unemployed, and pregnant for the third time in 1969, when she sought to have an abortion in the state of Texas. By the time the US Supreme Court ruled in her favor, McCorvey had given birth to a girl whom she placed for adoption. Others did get the right to abort as a result of her legal battle, though.

Henry Wade was the district attorney of Dallas County, Texas, whose job it was to enforce a state law prohibiting abortion (except to save a woman's life). Technically, he was the person that Roe/McCorvey sued when she sought the abortion.

What was the 1973 verdict?
The question before the US Supreme Court was: Does the American constitution recognise a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy by abortion? The court said a woman's decision to have an abortion during the first three months of her pregnancy must be left to her and her doctor.

Since this was a decision of the Supreme Court, it overruled all other legal tangles around the abortion across the US. 

What happens after the overturn?
A reversal of the 1973 judgment means that individual states can decide on legality of abortion. In a country that has seen deeply divided political and social opinions over the past few years, this will mean different laws across the US. 

Religious and social conservatism is widespread particularly in the southern and western states. Conservatives, traditionally Republican Party supporters, argue that life begins at conception.

The liberals, mostly seen as Democratic Party supporters, maintain that this is about a woman's right to choose. So, in a relatively liberal California, the governor had said "we are going to fight like hell" against any overturning. 

But leaders in conservative states like South Dakota, Arkansas, Georgia and Indiana planned special legislative sessions to ban abortions as soon as the Supreme Court overturned the binding judgment.

Many states have tough laws already, though the Row-vs-Wade judgment meant they could not cross a line. With the judgment reversed, at least 13 states have laws that allow them to ban abortion immediately or within 30 days. These laws would have exceptions if the life or health of the woman is in danger. But many do not make exceptions for pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest.

However, experts say that even if the Supreme Court overturned Roe-vs-Wade, more than half the US states may still allow abortions; but most of the mid-west and the south may not.

What can women do?
Laws against abortion put many women at risk of back-alley abortions outside institutional care. 
In effect, with the Roe-vs-Wade binding is removed, the US will look very different for different people, according to an article in the New York Times. 

For women in the relatively liberal Democratic states, and for women elsewhere who have the means to travel to a clinic, abortion may still be accessible. 

But poor women, especially in many Republican states, may find traveling to other states for in-clinic abortions to be an impossible challenge.

Where's the politics at? 
Traditionally, the Democratic Party has been pro-choice, something borne out by President Joe Biden's stand on abortion. The country has mid-term elections this autumn, and President Biden has vowed to make abortion rights a defining issue.

The Republicans and other conservatives have largely stuck to their stance, which they call "pro-life", against abortions rights. And they will see the overturning as a victory. 

Interestingly, a survey by CNN showed that just 30 per cent of Americans wanted the court to completely overturn Roe-vs-Wadee, whereas 69 per cent opposed such a move.

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