Roe v Wade and Anti-Abortion Legislation: How the Ruling in America Affects Us Too

Lola Wylie addresses the recent devastating changes to abortion legalisation in the United States and how such changes will affect our country too, highlighting the importance of retaining a sense of personal bodily autonomy.

I remember we were stood waiting to get onto a bus to New York when the news broke that
Roe V. Wade had been overturned. I was travelling with a friend from the USA at the time and we both spent the following hours glued to our phones watching this news unfold.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was the beginning of another long fight for women’s rights. Later that night, we all joined a protest marching through Times Square and, in the midst of the surrealness of it all, I noticed that the chants being used were ones that came naturally to the crowd. These chants had been recycled; this wasn’t a new fight. It became clear to me that the fight for bodily autonomy was a daily reality for women and other gender minorities in America.

While the overturning of Roe v Wade initially took me and many others by surprise, the sad truth is that this ruling was part of an ongoing movement in America that has seen the enforcement of stricter restrictions on bodily autonomy.

I have since had many lengthy discussions about this change with my American friend,
as she is an active participant within American political spheres. She believes that the Supreme Court has failed to fulfil its role as an impartial body, as the action of overturning Roe V Wade was not an objective decision based on the will of the people they are supposed to represent. My friend is currently attending college in a state where her ability to access an abortion is no longer guaranteed, leaving her and many others vulnerable. In her opinion, while America clearly has a huge global influence, this essential ban on abortion and women’s reproductive rights will tarnish America’s global status, as people around the world will see this as a clear regression.

Despite what many may believe, nowhere is truly exempt from these challenges to bodily autonomy. I feel lucky to live in a country where, currently, you can be granted access to an abortion with relative ease should you need to. But it’s increasingly clear that rights like this, rights that we assume are a given, aren’t as secure as many may believe. Although the UK is widely considered to have abortion laws that allow women the ability to choose, you are still required to secure the agreement of two doctors before you can have an abortion, which might prevent many women from accessing them, due to anxiety and different women’s experiences of the healthcare system. Women in the UK are currently being prosecuted for having illegal abortions after having stillbirths and miscarriages, showing that already in the UK women are facing a threat to safe access to abortions and healthcare. It should also be noted that the newly appointed health sectary Thérèse Coffey has consistently voted against crucial abortion laws, including the legalization of abortion in Northern Ireland in 2019. It is disappointing to see that someone with this anti-choice stance now has the power to affect change to our already fragile abortion laws.

Another important issue of concern regarding women’s access to abortions within the UK is our lack of a codified constitution. This means that the constitution isn’t entrenched, and any government therefore sits above all laws and has the power to overturn them with a majority of just one Member of Parliament. The UK’s constitution has always been uncodified, meaning that there are no laws in the UK that are protected against the government. In the context of UK abortion laws this means that, while currently abortion is relatively accessible, this right could be revoked at any given moment. This suggests how weak reproductive rights truly are in the UK, and why abortion should not be seen as only a problem for America. Recent events in America will likely bring the issue of abortion back into conversation, as a legitimate topic for debate, in both political and non-political arenas in the UK.

Artwork by Grace Mason

While having an uncodified constitution has many advantages, such as allowing laws within the UK to be easily changed and modified to ensure they don’t become outdated, it does mean that laws and acts, including the Human Rights Act 1998, aren’t protected from the actions or decisions a single government chooses to make. The current government has made their desire to change the Human Rights Act clear, suggesting that replacing it is a real possibility now the UK is out of the European Union. They can now change and even revoke this critical piece of legislation, potentially disabling the public’s rights and freedoms, with just a singular vote.

There are currently no plans to change the nature of the UK constitution, meaning it will
continue to exist in its uncodified state. This leaves all laws, including those regarding
abortions and healthcare access, entirely vulnerable and subject to change,
without necessarily having a public mandate.

It should also be noted that while the overturning of Roe V Wade brought the issues of
abortion and women’s rights to the headlines, America isn’t the first country to impose
stricter abortion laws in recent years. In January 2021, the Polish government introduced a
near-absolute ban on abortion, with it only being deemed acceptable if the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life. Attitudes of those in power do not currently appear to support of the rights for women to have free and safe access to abortion. Instead, these law changes show that governments are focusing increasingly on their ability to control women’s bodies, which is a complete step back for women’s liberation.

The overturning of this bill leaves a question mark over the security of many other
rights held by minorities within society. The ruling has exposed the fragility of laws, and the powerlessness we have to change them. I am fearful that this ruling will not be the last of its kind. That this is just the first of many changes made by regressive governments all over the world.

And yet, while these recent events seem to paint a bleak picture for feminists, it’s important to note that this ban didn’t pass quietly. We need to remember the global pushback that has taken place, both through public protest in the streets and condemnation from the international community. While as individuals we may feel hopeless in the face of these regressive policies, we cannot forget the power we have in numbers. As long as we continue to collectively fight for reproductive rights, institutions and governments will have no choice but to listen.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s