By Hannah Newberry
In 2019, there are states in the US like Louisiana that only have three abortion clinics. This might seem deranged when you consider the proportionality in relation to the people that live there (upwards of 4.5 million), but apparently, there are still people who feel we haven’t gone far enough. This week in the news, the US Supreme Court faced a challenge that Louisiana should knock their available abortion clinics down to one in the entire state. This would mean that in a state bigger than the UK itself, there would be no more than a sprinkling of professionals that were legally permitted to perform abortions, and only out of one approved centre.
In today’s evolving society with increasingly liberalised opinions and respect for the ‘pro-choice’ movement and a woman’s right to be heard, the fact that this loss was only attributable to a 5:4 majority is a true red light that politics has weaved itself too far into contentious ethical issues, such as when we should be allowed to terminate a baby. Allowing any party with a personal agenda to influence a multidimensional and problematic issue will always raise doubt as to whether the law exists to represent society’s views or to serve the interests of the economy, the powerful and the self-invested.
Politicians have a wealth of opportunities to influence the accessibility of abortions beyond an angry social media post, and it creates potential for any influential opinion to affect someone else’s future. While freedom of speech is fundamental, we have to be mindful of how much time we give to views that infringe someone else’s rights, especially when they play a role in the background of every legal proceeding the US undergoes. The confusing culture of media vs law was already demonstrated with the success of Trump – as a boisterous character come (failed) businessman, and demonstrated the electorate’s consensus that a man in politics does not have to be remotely passionate about politics himself. What kind of assurance does this give someone who already struggles to find redress in the civil justice system?
We have seen a shocking rise in public figures emerging to share their opinions on abortion while hiding under the protective legal shield of, ‘I’m thinking about the woman’s health’. This is completely disingenuous and convinces people that minority views are a lot more reflective of society than they generally are. The Unsafe Abortion Protection Act is as archaic as it sounds, but much like the KKK and swastikas, still remains a part of American culture when it should have been stamped out as soon as evolving societal opinions started to reflect common sense and not just mimicking the entertainment value of the most controversial figure at the time. (That ‘taking our country back’ rhetoric died pretty quickly when Boris Johnson faded from British screens after the referendum, didn’t it?)
The fact that many legal jurisdictions around the world actually legislate on what counts as a ‘necessary’ abortion is problematic in itself. Enduring an experience like that cannot be something that people opt to undergo, yet incurs costs worthy of your next food shop as if it’s a luxury like getting your back cracked after a strenuous week at work. You have to bite your tongue to not be aggravated by the fact that these practical implications are enforced and monitored by the least affected; old, white males with an agenda that isn’t representative of safety, health or general decency.
We are consistently failing to give adequate medical protection to women, as there is no proof that any restrictive abortion laws actually serve for our best interests. Instead, we are creating a demand for mental health services, adoption centres, a rise in demand for the benefit system for those who wished to opt out for financial reasons, and funding of further healthcare when the inevitable consequence of backstreet abortions in retaliation to restricted common law rears its ugly head. The sheer refusal of successive governments to update the law leaves an ‘archaic legal framework’ that millions of women in the western world still have to battle against. While the UK has luckily progressed further than the US in this respect, we still struggle with our own legal challenges here and have a way to go before we are entirely rid of the same problems. To demonstrate why this issue is relevant on our own doorstep, it was only in 2018 that women in Wales were permitted to take their second and final self-administered abortion pill in the comfort of their own homes. While this seems minuscule in relation to being forced into having a child, there was still years of costly litigation and anecdotes of women bleeding heavily on buses and feeling extreme and sudden bouts of illness in public before any judge saw it as a problem worthy of attention.
Figures like Kavanaugh demonstrated where they stood on abortion law by arguing that there was negligible proof that the new laws to cut Louisiana to a one-clinic state would be ‘unduly burdensome’ therefore there was not enough of a legal foundation to justify its abolition before it was trialled as good law. While society seemingly makes gradual progress, there is one thing about abortion in law that doesn’t change; the loudest voices in the room are always those of the people that won’t bear the burden.