Why The Draft To Overturn Roe V Wade Is Just The Beginning

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Political wars fought over in the US make waves all over the world, especially here in Australia. So what is the big deal about overturning Roe v Wade?

The legal right to an abortion in the US has been hanging by a thread for decades. Since the Roe v Wade case in 1973, where the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the government can’t make abortions illegal, this topic has been the battleground of a huge political divide. 

Now it’s looking like Roe v Wade could be overturned and some people think this is just the beginning.

What Is Roe v Wade Exactly?

The 1973 Roe v Wade case was between a woman named Norma McCorvey, operating under the pseudonym “Jane Roe” and Texas attorney general Henry Wade.

The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court for judgement on whether abortions were legal even in situations where the mother’s life wasn’t in danger. The Supreme Court ended up ruling that, yes, they were allowed.

And it’s still one of their most contentious rulings.

Since then we’ve seen a bunch of US states, especially conservative ones, adopt laws that make it harder for women to get abortions without technically making it illegal. This includes cutting funding to abortion providers, mandating counselling sessions, and the infamous TX SB8 law, AKA the Texas Heartbeat Act, where citizens were given the power to sue anyone involved in the process at all, including doctors and even Uber drivers.

Why This Is Shocking But Sadly Not Surprising

This headline from October 2016 quoting Trump’s plea to overturn Roe V Wade, came out just a few weeks before Trump won the 2016 US Presidential Election. Since then the possibility of Roe v Wade and the precedent it has set since 1973 being overturned has been on a lot of people’s minds. But many people were also told that they were overreacting when they linked Trump’s election to this potential outcome.

And well here we are.

Julie Rikelman, a litigation director in the US, was quoted back in 2016 saying she “did not believe that it is likely that Roe v Wade would be overturned.” Her reasons were the power of precedent, how the Supreme Court was politically aligned, and how rare it is to get the Court to consider it in the first place.

And all of those things came into play after Trump’s election.

How the Supreme Court was politically aligned shifted in 2020 when Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett, a devout Catholic conservative. The rare case that got to the Supreme Court is called Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health Organisation, a case between the state of Mississippi and its last remaining abortion clinic. In May last year the Supreme Court announced it would be hearing the case, which is why Roe v Wade is being reconsidered.

Finally the sheer power of the almost 50-year precedent of Roe v Wade was the last hope that it wouldn’t be overturned. And as the leaked draft shows it’s not looking good.

Why This Might Just Be The Beginning

The original Roe v Wade ruling has been used as a precedent in a lot of cases since then, and it hinges on a constitutional right to privacy. The draft specifically mentions it calling it a “remarkably loose treatment of the constitutional text”.

So the problem here is that if Roe v Wade is overturned on the basis that this right to privacy isn’t sound it puts other important rulings at risk. Like Obergefell v Hodges, which legalised same sex marriage using this right to privacy in 2015, or Lawrence v Texas used the right to privacy to decriminalise homosexuality in 2003. Further back in 1965, Griswold v Connecticut made it legal to buy contraceptives.

Roe v Wade is a critical case for legalising abortions but overturning it also has potential repercussions in other areas like same-sex marriage and contraception. Which is what makes this leaked draft such huge news.

And if these decisions by the Supreme Court don’t change it’ll be official in about two months.