By Rachael Wong
The magnitude of what has just happened in the US is still setting in, and while many of us view it with hope, there are many others who see it as a tragedy. There will be more to say in the days and weeks to come, but these are my initial thoughts on the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade and its implications for women and children.
From a pure legal standpoint, the decision was a long time coming. Roe was an ideologically motivated decision that interpreted a right to abortion in the US Constitution where one doesn’t exist, distorted the Court’s constitutional jurisprudence, and led to the US having some of the most permissive abortion laws in the world. Indeed, even pro-choice legal scholars who support Roe’s practical outcome, agree that it’s legal reasoning was deeply flawed.
The reversal of Roe does not mean that abortion is now illegal in the US. What it means is that the issue of abortion will be returned to the states and their elective representatives. Some will choose to continue to radically allow abortion through all nine months of pregnancy and others will choose to restrict it. None of the states that currently limit abortion criminalise women and all allow exceptions where the pregnant woman’s life is in danger (although abortion is arguably never medically necessary to save a woman’s life).
So, what are the wider implications of the decision? Without a ‘right to abortion’ entrenched in law, over time we will hopefully start to see a different culture emerge when it comes to the treatment of pregnant women and their unborn children. And just like Roe (which has undeniably had a cultural impact outside the US) and other aspects of American culture, hopefully this will trickle down to Australia and other parts of the world too.
There is no doubt that Roe – a decision which effectively legitimised abortion on demand – has had devastating consequences for women and their unborn children. Millions of women have had the trauma of abortion piled upon often already difficult and painful circumstances, and millions more children have had their humanity denied and their lives ended. Furthermore, the decision has stalled decades of progress for women’s rights and welfare.
Ready access to the Band-Aid solution of abortion has removed the incentive for governments, employers and men to properly support women who are facing an unintended pregnancy, and to provide a humane response to the underlying issues that drive women to seek abortion in the first place – a lack of financial, practical or emotional support, inflexible study/work arrangements, unaffordable housing and childcare, domestic violence and so on (most women who abort in the US do so due to a lack of financial resources and the majority are poor or very poor).
As a result, women still have to contend with outdated, male-oriented systems that are not designed to adequately accommodate and support them or their children during pregnancy and motherhood. This in turn has fed the lie that abortion is necessary for women’s equal participation in society and that children are an obstacle to women’s success and flourishing.
In this sense, I can understand why many women are scared and angry at the court’s decision. It will take time to undo these falsehoods in our culture. And while access to abortion may become more restrictive on the one hand, access to the support vulnerable women may one day need to continue a pregnancy and raise a child, is still not guaranteed on the other. That being said, I cannot understand the violent attacks on pregnancy support centres carried out since the decision was leaked, which are the very ones currently working to provide such support.
A lot of work needs to be done in order to counter the omissions of the past 49 years to make our society a truly welcoming one for women and their children. And not just at the grassroots level – where so much is already being done – but at the level of public policy, workplaces and individuals. However, if we get this right, our world will be so much better than any world Roe could have ever offered.
The reality is, that abortion is not, and has never been in the best interests of women. It is counter-productive to women’s health and welfare and betrays the basic feminist principles of non-discrimination, non-violence and justice for all.
Indeed, the early feminists opposed abortion, because they saw it for what it is – the failure of society to address the real needs of women (particularly poorer women) who are often driven by desperation to seek abortion, a tool of oppression that frees men from responsibility, the perversion and denigration of motherhood, and the violent advancement of women’s so-called rights and freedoms at the expense of their children’s. Instead, they “focused their efforts on those educational, cultural, and legal means that would so improve women’s lives that they would not feel the need to seek abortions.”
So, at Women’s Forum Australia, we celebrate with those who have worked – some for decades – to overturn this unjust decision, including pro-lifers, women’s advocates, post-abortive women and abortion survivors. We commiserate with those who have been let down and fear they will continue to be let down – not by this decision – but by the failure of our society to offer adequate care and support to women struggling with an unplanned pregnancy. And we commit to continuing to work and advocate for a world that loves and supports women and their children so well, that abortion is both unnecessary and unthinkable.
Rachael Wong is the CEO of Women’s Forum Australia
Women’s Forum Australia is an independent think tank that undertakes research, education and public policy advocacy on issues affecting women and girls, with a particular focus on addressing behaviours and practices that are harmful and abusive to them. We are a non-partisan, non-religious, tax-deductible charity. We do not receive any government funding and rely solely on donations to make an impact. Support our work today.
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