The judgment established a benchmark for abortion laws across the world
Roe v. Wade ruling is a landmark judgment delivered by the US Supreme Court in 1973. It legalized abortion and made it a constitutional right.
As a result, the United States Supreme Court overturned laws that ruled abortion illegal in some States and held that abortion would be allowed up to 28 weeks (7 months).
Twenty-eight weeks is considered the point of fetal viability, that is, the time after which a fetus can survive outside the womb. Fetal viability is often seen as the point at which the woman’s rights can be separated from the rights of the unborn fetus. Experts now believe that medical improvements have lowered the threshold to 23 or 24 weeks (6 months or a little less).
Why in the News?
Recently, a leak by political journalism company Politico revealed that the US Supreme Court has decided to overturn Roe v. Wade 1973 ruling.
The overturning of the judgment would push the law on abortion rights to states, where each legislature will have the authority to decide whether to allow, regulate, or completely ban abortion.
It means that there would be several different laws across America for this. Conservative states might reinstate abortion restrictions that existed before the Supreme Court set the standard in 1973.
For decades, the issue of abortion has divided conservatives and liberals in the United States. Until recently, a challenge to Roe v. Wade would have been difficult to succeed, but changes in the makeup of the Supreme Court with the nominations of conservative Justices during Donald Trump’s administration have sparked a new wave of litigation on the issue.
What is the Debate Regarding Abortion?
- On the one hand, there are conservatives who argue that life begins at conception, and on the other side, you have Liberals who have maintained that this is about a woman’s right to choose.
- In many western countries, the sides involved in the debate are the self-described “pro-choice” and “pro-life” movements.
- Pro-choice emphasizes the woman’s choice of whether to terminate a pregnancy.
- On the contrary, the pro-life position argues that a fetus is a human person deserving of legal protection.
What has happened so far?
- It started with the Mississippi law on abortion.
- In 2018, the Republican-majority legislature of the State of Mississippi banned most abortions after 15 weeks — much before fetal viability and sooner than was allowed by Roe — throwing a direct challenge to the 1973 judgment. This law was later blocked.
- In 2019, the “heartbeat” abortion law was passed in Mississippi, an even more restrictive measure that banned most abortions once fetal cardiac activity could be detected — which is about six weeks.
- The heartbeat law said that physicians who performed an abortion after a fetal heartbeat was detected could have their medical licenses revoked.
- Pregnancies caused by rape or incest were not exempt from the legislation.
- This law, too, was blocked in February 2020.
What impact will the judgment have?
- The overturning of the Roe v. Wade Judgment would leave abortion laws entirely up to the states.
- America could witness a mass migration of younger people — who usually poll pro-abortion — away from states that bar abortion. Illegal, unsafe clinics could flourish.
- Abortion would still be available to women in Democratic-controlled states in America, as well as those who have the means to travel to a clinic. But poorer women would bear the brunt in most cases.
- The debate boils down to the right of women to choose for themselves. The right to safe abortion comes under health care.
- It will send ripples worldwide as a victory for conservative right-wing opinion.
In approximately 16 countries worldwide, abortion is entirely prohibited and even criminalized. But many Catholic majority nations, such as Ireland and Mexico, have decriminalized abortion in the last decade.