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Our take: US pro-choice law under attack

Pro-choice advocates worldwide are in an uproar after a leaked draft US Supreme Court opinion indicated that Roe v Wade, a landmark 1973 ruling that made access to safe and legal abortion a constitutional right, could soon be overturned.

In the leaked version of Supreme Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion, dated 10 February and leaked by Politico on Tuesday, he states that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start.” 

The court has confirmed the document is genuine but it is a draft and the final version may differ. 

The US Supreme Court is roughly the equivalent of our apex Constitutional Court. We’ve told you before that the US court system is notoriously political because judges are appointed by politicians for life. Here in SA, our judges are appointed for 12 years through a mostly impartial process. Donald Trump may not be in office anymore, but the consequences of his unprecedented mass appointments of conservative judges during his term will be felt for decades to come.

Alito was appointed by former President George W Bush. His opinion shows what can be expected from the other conservative judges who make up a majority on the bench and are typically “pro-life”. However a final judgment is only expected to be released in June.

Roe vs. Wade has divided the US in the nearly five decades since the ruling and the legalisation of abortion hasn’t been codified in the US unlike, for example, in South Africa. The extent to which it is legal (such as cut-off times or circumstances) has been a grey area; different US states have different legal frameworks.

This is just the latest salvo in a long battle. Last September the state of Texas made abortion illegal after 6 weeks, a point before which a woman is unlikely to even know that she’s pregnant. 

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, 22 states have abortion bans that would quickly become law. Many of those bans contain no exemptions for rape or incest, the Atlantic notes. The consequences could also stretch far beyond the US, including to the African continent. Some foreign aid could become conditional based upon a particular country’s abortion laws. 

It’s the vulnerable who will suffer most: in the absence of safe abortions, women are often driven to dangerous back alley procedures. We will watch the final ruling later this year with great trepidation. 

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