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The Battle for Abortion Rights in America

Last week, the Republican governor of the southern state of Georgia, Brian Kemp, signed a legislation for a “Heartbeat Bill”, which makes it illegal for women to have abortions after 6 weeks of pregnancy, which is when the cardiac activity of a fetus is first detected. The state of Alabama was quick to follow in Georgia’s footsteps, by signing an even stricter bill regarding abortion bans, which also affects women who have been victims of rape and incest. In addition, 5 other states are also passing “Heartbeat Bills”, and 20 more have proposed some sort of restriction regarding abortion. The recent legislation which have been signed have caused a widespread debate, not only in the USA, but also on a global scale, regarding women’s rights.

Protests and tension have clouded the debate over abortion, marking the beginning of what could be a lengthy battle. This new backlash against a woman’s right to decide the fate of her unborn child is part of a wider culture war as radical social conservatives try to turn back the advance made by liberal values in recent decades.

Just over fifty years since Kate Millet published Sexual Politics, considered by many to be a seminal work of feminist literature, Alabama and Georgia have taken a huge backwards step, and set an incredibly dangerous precedent

Supporters of the legislation, including pro-life activists and conservative lawmakers, appear to be seeking confrontation. Kemp, who signed the legislation in Georgia, has said that he had done so in order to “ensure that all Georgians have the opportunity to live, grow, learn and prosper”. It has been predicted that even stricter abortion laws will follow, as, thanks to Donald Trump, pro – life supporters are backed by a Conservative majority in the Supreme Court.
‘It’s happening now because Trump is in office right now’ was the assessment of Alabama House of Representatives Merika Coleman. Claiming that ‘he (Trump) has stacked the Supreme Court with very Conservative members’, Coleman’s statement is only the most recent in a series of accusations levelled at President Trump, arguing that he is a misogynist whose public demonization of women may have contributed to the new abortion laws.

Just over fifty years since Kate Millet published Sexual Politics, considered by many to be a seminal work of feminist literature, Alabama and Georgia have taken a huge backwards step, and set an incredibly dangerous precedent. ‘This isn’t a scene from The Handmaids Tale’ wrote Senator Kamala Harris in a fundraising email. ‘This is happening in Alabama – in our country – in the 21st century’.

Hyperbole? Perhaps the US has not quite entered Margaret Atwood’s dystopian world, where women able to conceive are raped and forced to carry the children of powerful men, but the similarities between fact and fiction are terrifying. As in The Handmaids Tale, George and Alabama’s abortion laws have, in part, been pushed through by a powerful and radical group of Evangelical Christians. ‘This law’, remarked Governor Ivey, is ‘a powerful testament to Alabamian’s deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.’

The language of the bill makes no secret is distinctly religious roots, and reflects an entrenchment of Christian hegemony in America. It’s a belief echoed at the very top of the US administration

This was not a debate characterised by secular moderation. The language of the bill makes no secret is distinctly religious roots, and reflects an entrenchment of Christian hegemony in America. It’s a belief echoed at the very top of the US administration – Vice President Mike Pence has in the past caused controversy for his strongly held views, remarking on a trip to Canada last month that he was ‘proud to be part of a pro – life administration’ and that the Trump administration ‘would always stand for life.’ Whilst Pence, and others like him, can hold their views, denying the freedom of non-Christians (and of pro – choice Christians) to have an abortion, essentially prioritises the religious views of one group over the rest. It’s a priority that may have a damaging effect on women for years to come.

Taking the issue of abortion bans to the Supreme Court could pose a massive threat to the Roe vs Wade law which was ruled in 1973, stating that a woman’s decision to get an abortion was protected constitutionally in all 50 states. This therefore means that on a legal basis, women’s rights to get an abortion are protected until their 24th week of pregnancy. If this law is altered, it doesn’t necessarily mean that women will be completely banned from getting abortions across the country, but it does mean that the constitution will no longer protect this right, therefore implying that any state can do whatever they please regarding this issue. For example, the “Heart Beat Bills” which are being signed by Georgia prevent this from happening after 6 weeks of pregnancy (which is usually too soon to determine whether a woman is pregnant), and Alabama’s even stricter bill aims to stop abortion from happening after a few days post conception. Eric Johnston, a member of the Alabama pro-life coalition, has stated “we hope the bill will go through the court and be reviewed by the US Supreme Court to test the basis of the Roe vs Wade decision that unborn children are not persons in the meaning of the constitution”.

Pro-choice and women’s rights activists have been quick to react to the recent legislations, with many expressing their concerns over what these abortion bans could mean for society. If abortion is completely banned in certain states, women may still follow through with abortions, while being forced to use more unsafe procedures. Coleman has expressed her concerns, saying “we will return to having women getting abortions in back alleys”. Moreover, experts say abortion bans could have a disproportionate impact on women. This is because if abortion is banned in a state, women might travel elsewhere in order to follow through with this procedure, meaning the impact will be greater for women of low income backgrounds and other disadvantaged groups.

If abortion is completely banned in certain states, women may still follow through with abortions, while being forced to use more unsafe procedures

Furthermore, the democratic Senator of Georgia, Jen Jordan, has also expressed her disagreement and worries regarding the abortion bans, in particular in regard to healthcare, as this law could push obstetricians away from practicing in Georgia, further worsening the situation for women in a state that already has the highest maternal mortality rates in the country, according to America’s Health Rankings. “They’re making policy choices that are going to end up causing women to die, and they’re preventable deaths”, declared Jordan.

This has also prompted huge backlash from activist groups, with numerous Hollywood directors, including JJ Abrams and Jordan Peele, promising to boycott Georgia, and donate film profits to pro-choice groups, in a statement released after the legislations were signed. The filmmakers stated that they “stand shoulder to shoulder with the women of Georgia”. They were also quick to criticise governor Kemp, by indicating that his “Heartbeat Bill” is an “unconstitutional effort to further restrict women and their health providers from making private medical decisions on their terms”. They concluded their statement by saying “make no mistake, this is an attack aimed squarely and purposely at women”.

Whether the bill will be considered constitutional remains to be seen, but it marks the start of what may become a long, arduous battle for reproductive rights in America.

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