The leaked decision by the Supreme Court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade case has sent shockwaves throughout the international feminist community and the United States. The federally protected right to an abortion is due to be stripped, meaning that individual states can criminalise abortions. 

Roe v. Wade

Abortion laws have famously been a complex and controversial topic. Roe v. Wade is a recognisable name to anybody remotely familiar with contemporary feminism. It marked a huge step in progress that meant abortions could be safely accessed by women in the USA without excessive government restrictions. With it due to be overturned, the USA returns to dangerous territory that will almost certainly result in the loss of women’s lives, and the incarceration of many more. 

In 2019, there were a total of 630,000 legal abortions. Compared to the 1980s and 1990s, it’s a small number. What Roe v. Wade’s overturning means is the legislation and restriction of bodily autonomy and the inevitable rise in backdoor abortions. 

Northern Ireland’s Abortion Crisis

For decades, Northern Ireland has held itself separate from the rest of the United Kingdom when it comes to abortion rights. Undoubtedly the UK’s most religious country, NI has remained staunchly conservative on social justice up until recent years. When, in 1967, the UK created the 1967 Abortion Act, Northern Ireland rejected its extensions. This meant that for decades, women would travel from Northern Ireland to England to access legal abortions due to their lack in NI. The social stigma around abortions was stupefying. There was a huge disparity between pro-choice and anti-choice individuals whose opinions on the subject were never weak. In 2019, the number of Northern Irish women who went to England and Wales for safe abortions increased by 22 per cent from the previous year.

It was only in February of this year that a High Court judge ruled that the Secretary to Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis, had legal authority to direct abortion services. Despite this, anti-choice sentiment is still rife in Northern Ireland. Abortion access in Northern Ireland is still in a dismal state. Alyson Kilpatrick, the chief commissioner of Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, told The Guardian: ‘In Northern Ireland women and girls are still faced with deplorable options’.

With the options at hand, Northern-Irish women continue to seek safe abortions in England and Wales. The conservative opinion in Northern Ireland still has the issue firmly within its grip. Over the pond, regress happening in the USA signals that progress will be harder to achieve later in the future. The extremely aggressive measures taken by anti-choice conservatives against organisations like Planned Parenthood — such as the murder of George Tiller and the firebombing in Knoxville — indicate that violence is often seen as an acceptable means to an end. The American anti-choice movement, while basing itself on religion and morality, continuously perpetrates irreligious and immoral acts to show its disdain for abortions. 

What Can Be Learned? 

Pro and anti-choice activists can learn one thing respectively: When rights are taken away, it’s a different fight to rebuild even a fraction of the system there once was. And, women will get abortions no matter what. Women will continue to get abortions to maintain control of their lives. Women will get abortions. Women will get abortions. However, whether they do it safely is up to the legislators who maintain that they ‘won’t be bullied‘.

Roe v. Wade marks the demolishing of a national institution that has provided, for decades, a safe way for women to access abortions. What it won’t do is stop abortions. It will just prevent safe ones from taking place by allowing the criminalisation of a woman’s right to choose.

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