From Alabama to Antrim: the Ongoing Fight for Abortion Rights
As we approach one year to the day of the Repeal the Eighth referendum in Ireland, abortion rights are very much back on the global stage, this time in the USA. With Georgia, Alabama, and Missouri passing prohibitive laws on abortion, and other states looking increasingly hostile towards it, there has been a clear shift in discourse on the issue in America. Whilst these new legal restrictions on abortion seem to have appeared all of a sudden, this is something which has been building for a while, and is linked with many other changes in politics in the US over the past few years. So what are the implications of the new abortion restrictions, and why is this happening across the South of the United States in such great numbers?
Of the three states in the past week who have introduced strict anti-abortion laws, Alabama is by far the most restrictive. Performing an abortion in all cases, except when there is a risk to the life of the mother, or there is a fatal foetal abnormality, will be punishable with a jail term of up to 99 years. People who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest are not exempt from this punishment. In Georgia, the emotively named ‘Heartbeat law’, whereby abortions are prohibited after 6 weeks (i.e., your period is two weeks late), would effectively prohibit all abortions, as very few people are even aware that they are pregnant at that early stage, and by the time they realised it would be too late. Missouri is no kinder, with eight weeks being the cut off point. These restrictions are in contravention of the landmark ruling of “Roe vs Wade” in 1973, which protects the right to have an abortion; this conflict between state and federal law is an ongoing battle. The anti-choice advocates are well aware that this will be challenged by pro-choice groups and individuals in the courts, and it is expected that each of these in turn will go to the Supreme court. And who waits for them there? The one and only Brett Kavanaugh, a staunch anti abortionist. The supreme court is the most conservative it has been in decades, which gives the Republicans and anti-choice groups the perfect opportunity to overturn Roe vs Wade. All of this is inextricably linked to the rise of far-right politics in the US, and to their attitudes towards women and black people. It is no coincidence that these states happen to be home to the majority of the black population in the US, who are likely to be most severely impacted by the restrictions.
This is an incredibly dangerous time for abortion rights in the USA. A country which has been for decades the pillar of liberty against which we measured our own abortion laws is quickly regressing to the Ireland of, well, one year ago. With these changes in law, have come an understandable amount of outrage from celebrities and the public alike. The online campaign #Youknowme is bidding to protect the right to have an abortion, and uses the arguments that only a year ago we were using here in the Republic of Ireland. Criminalising abortions does not stop them. It makes them more dangerous, as people resort to backstreet abortions, or risking their lives ordering pills over the internet. Celebrities such as Busy Phillips and Jameela Jamil have spoken out about their own abortions, to both applause and backlash. While the support of public figures is important, and the backlash across the world is positive, it is also crucial to remember that there are restrictive abortion laws much closer to home and that people in the UK are much more empowered to change them. Northern Ireland has had laws similar to Alabama since 1861, and while the DUP prop up Theresa May’s struggling government, this will not change. This is not to say that we should not be outraged by the new laws in America, and concerned by the shift in the political climate across the sea. However, we must be equally outraged by the plight of people who need an abortion in Northern Ireland, and canvass our local politicians to ensure they remember it is time #NowforNI.