The debate about women’s right to abortion has caused much tension politically and legally. Women across the world are enraged as the 1973 Roe vs Wade decision regarding abortion has been overturned.

Credit: Financial Times

History of Abortion Rights in America

The Roe vs Wade legal case of 1973 saw the US Supreme Court decriminalise abortion in the United States. The plaintiff  ‘Jane Roe’ challenged Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County on the issue of abortion. While the Supreme Court at the time denied granting Roe the “absolute right to terminate pregnancy in any way and at any time”, it did mandate that a woman could abort a foetus in the first 23 weeks of pregnancy.

However, since then, there have been numerous challenges to Roe vs Wade, with many conservative constituents pushing the pro-life agenda. It wasn’t until May 2021 when the US witnessed a dangerous shift towards re-criminalisation of abortion. Texas passed a law that criminalised abortions taking place past the sixth week of pregnancy. The law also gave private citizens the right to “file a lawsuit against anyone who performs an abortion, or “aids or abets” the performance of an abortion, of a foetus more than six weeks old”. This law was extremely problematic. Most women are not even aware of their pregnancies for the first two months. Furthermore, Texas’s adoption of this law did not exempt cases of rape or incest.

Criminalising Abortion Disproportionately Impacts BIPOC and Disadvantaged Women

As a woman of colour myself, the rising anti-abortion rhetoric aided by pro-life arguments instils fear. The US Supreme Court’s decision to criminalise abortion disproportionately effects women of colour, women from lower socio-economic backgrounds and Indigenous and Bla(c)k women. A 2019 study from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that white women had the lowest abortion rates with Black and Hispanic women having some of the highest rates. The increasing disparities between the healthcare accessible to white women and BIPOC women illustrates that the abortion ban will only reinforce poverty, higher risks for poor maternal and infant outcomes and lead to increased mortality rates.

Denying safe and legal access to abortion will not ensure that the lives of foetus’ are protected. Denying safe and legal access to abortion means that unsafe abortion tactics will be attempted. The lives of the pregnant women seeking abortions are endangered.

So far, 26 out of the 50 American states (so more than half) are either “certain or likely” to ban abortions”.

Pro-Life vs Pro-Choice

Recently there has been a resurgence of pro-life protests and political rhetoric. The argument pro-lifers make is one that holds little plausibility. Pro-life insists that the life and rights of an unborn foetus are far more important than the life and rights of a pregnant individual. The question I have for pro-lifers is this, once the child is born and if the mother/parents are unfit to take care of said child due to either financial, emotional, physical and/or mental constraints what then? Will the pro-lifers be willing to pay for the child’s needs and provide physical and emotional support? Or does the pro-life obsession with an unborn foetus’ rights and life end upon birth?

As someone who is pro-choice myself, I recognise that I would most likely never opt for an abortion unless it was medically necessary. However, my beliefs regarding whether I would opt for an abortion do not give me the right to dictate the decisions other people make about their bodies and their pregnancies. Being pro-choice means recognising that women come from different situations and have varying capacities. Being pro-choice means recognising that abortion rights are human rights. Abortion rights are essential for working towards racial justice on political, social, and healthcare levels. I applaud women who are honest about their capacities and whether they can care for the child.

Where Does Australia Stand on Abortion?

However, US’s overturning of Roe vs Wade will implicate the Australian legal approach to abortion laws. It already has. As of July 7th, 2022, South Australia will only allow women to have abortions up until twenty-two weeks and six days’ gestation without providing a reason. Any abortions scheduled in the twenty-third week of pregnancy or later will need the approval of two medical practitioners. Although significant changes in other Australian states have not yet occurred (and let’s hope they don’t), here is a summary of abortion laws in the remaining Australian states:

New South Wales: Abortion was decriminalised in October 2019 via The Abortion Law Reform Act 2019

  • Under this law, women and others who are pregnant can terminate a pregnancy up until the twenty-second week of gestation
  • After 22 weeks, anyone wishing to undergo an abortion must have the approval of medical practitioners.

Victoria: Abortion was legalised in 2008

  • Under this law, anyone who is pregnant can access a safe and legal abortion up until 24 weeks of gestation
  • Any abortions requested after 24 weeks must be approved by two medical practitioners
  • In May 2016, Victorian law established a safe zone radius of 150 metres around abortion providers to ensure that medical staff and people leaving and entering the clinics are safe and do not experience harassment.

Queensland: Abortion was legalised in December 2018 via the Termination of Pregnancy Act 2018

  • Under this law, women and those who are pregnant can request for abortion without providing a reason up until 22 weeks of gestation.
  • Any request for abortion after 22 weeks requires the approval of two medical practitioners.

Northern Territory: Surgical abortion was legalised in 1974 and medical abortion was decriminalised in 2017

  • Further amendments were to NT’s abortion laws in November 2021
  • The gestational limit for pregnancy terminations increased from 23 to 24 weeks.
  • Pregnant individuals are now able to access abortion between 14-24 weeks and only require consultation with one doctor whereas formerly they needed to consult with two independent doctors.
  • Late-terms abortions, or anything past 24 weeks, are legalised but require the pregnant individual to seek consultation from two independent doctors.

Western Australia: Abortion was decriminalised in 1998

  • An abortion can be requested up until 20 weeks of gestation without reason.
  • Anything past 20 weeks requires the approval of two medical practitioners.

Australian Capital Territory: Abortion was decriminalised in 2002

  • Pregnant individuals can request for an abortion at any point in their pregnancy.
  • ACT is the most liberal of all Australian states and territories regarding its abortion laws.
  • Interfering with a person’s decision and access to abortion has been criminalised.
  • Protesting within a 50 metres radius of an abortion provider is a criminal offence.

In all Australian states and territories, medical practitioners must provide patients with information about counselling services. Consent must be obtained from the patient for all abortions except in the state of a medical emergency where obtaining consent is not possible.

So What Now?

The obsession with controlling the decisions women and other people make about their bodies is archaic and sickening. Overturning Roe vs Wade is not a guarantee that foetuses will be carried to full term. Nor does it indicate that children born due to the criminalisation of abortion will live good lives. The only thing that the US Supreme Court has achieved is the setting of a dangerous precedent. People can now use this legal decision to argue that their personal beliefs are much more important than an individual’s human rights. We must do better.

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