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Abortion in the United States: an extended right, a very contrasting reality

What does the judgment “Roe v. Wade”?

In the absence of federal law, the United States Supreme Court declared in 1973 in its decision “Roe v. Wade” that the Constitution guaranteed the right of women to terminate a pregnancy, overturning the prohibitions then in force in several states.

This right exists as long as the fetus is not viable, “that is around 22 weeks of pregnancy”, specified the Court in 1992, going beyond the limit of 12 weeks frequently adopted in the rest of the world. And states retain the right to legislate to protect women’s health, as long as they do not impose “an unjustified burden”, she added on this occasion.

According to a draft judgment which leaked in May, this legal framework could be completely overhauled. “Right from the start, Roe was totally unfounded. It is time to respect the Constitution and to return the subject of abortion to the elected representatives of the people”, it is written there.

Anticipating this turnaround, 13 states have passed so-called “zombie” or “trigger” laws to ban abortions, which will come into effect almost automatically if the Supreme Court buries “Roe”.

Multiple restrictions and constraints

Without waiting for the final decision, conservative states have played vaguely around the term “undue burden” to multiply restrictions, forcing many clinics to close. In West Virginia or in Mississippi, there remains only one center practicing terminations of pregnancy, while California has more than 150.

Some States also impose constraints on patients: obligation to have parental authorization for minors, to hear the heartbeat of the embryo… And, since September 1, thanks to a legal sleight of hand, the Texas bans all abortions from six weeks pregnant.

Another inequality: money. About ten states prohibit private medical insurance from reimbursing abortions, while about fifteen draw on their own funds to pay for abortions for low-income women.

The poor and overrepresented minorities

In 2020, more than 930,000 abortions were recorded in the United States, according to the latest statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, which noted a recent rebound in abortions after 30 years of continuous decline.

This figure corresponds to a rate of 14.4 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age. It is of the same order of magnitude as in the rest of the rich countries.

Nearly 50% of women who resort to abortion live below the poverty line, and black and Hispanic women are overrepresented (29% and 25% respectively).

A divided opinion

40% of Americans are anti-abortion. A stable level for several years. (EPA)

More than 60% of Americans believe that abortion should remain legal in all or almost all cases. A level that has been relatively stable for several years, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. But there are huge differences based on political beliefs: 80% of Democrats are of this opinion, against 35% of Republicans. And the gap is widening: these figures were respectively 72% and 39% in 2016.

Religious beliefs also weigh heavily, with 77% of white evangelicals believing that abortion should be illegal in the majority of cases.

The conservative offensive

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump won over voters on the religious right by promising to appoint judges to the Supreme Court who shared their values, and in particular ready to overturn the “Roe v. Wade”.

During his tenure, the Republican was able to name three wise men out of nine. Their arrival has galvanized local elected Republicans who have multiplied laws openly defying the framework set by the Supreme Court in order to provide it with an opportunity to backtrack. A strategy that seems to be about to bear fruit.



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