Democrats are seeking ways to protect access to abortions across America as Republican-led states implement bans in the wake of the Supreme Court’s scrapping of the constitutional right to end a pregnancy.
The decision by America’s highest court on Friday to overturn Roe vs Wade, removing the federal safeguard for abortion that has existed for half a century, has placed states on the front lines of the fight for reproductive rights in the country.
While some states are emerging as havens for women seeking an abortion, the procedure is being prohibited and criminalised in others. This is deepening the political and social divides between conservative and liberal parts of the country, and putting battleground states even more in the spotlight ahead of November’s midterm elections.
“We’re pulling out all the stops. This is a fight-like-hell moment,” said Gretchen Whitmer, a Democratic governor in Michigan who governs alongside a Republican legislature. Whitmer is trying to prevent a 1931 law banning abortion in the state from taking effect as a result of the ruling.
“We are using every tool we have to fight for reproductive rights for Michigan women — and Ohio women and Indiana women — who come to Michigan for their healthcare,” she told CBS on Sunday.
Some Democrats have been pushing the Biden administration to be more forceful in defending abortion rights in light of the ruling. This includes protecting Americans’ ability to travel across state lines to receive abortions and their ability to access abortion pills approved by the FDA, even by distributing them on federal lands in conservative states.
They also want President Joe Biden to push Congress to codify abortion rights into federal law, even though in the Senate that would mean breaking the supermajority threshold for legislation to advance, and for him to drop his opposition to expanding the number of justices on the Supreme Court.
“What the president and the Democratic Party need to come to terms with is that this is not just a crisis of Roe; this is a crisis of our democracy. The Supreme Court has dramatically over-reached its authority,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic representative from New York, told NBC.
Democrats feel they have the American public on their side as they try to contain the impact of the Supreme Court ruling and gain some political advantage from it heading into the midterm elections. According to a CBS News poll released on Sunday, 59 per cent of Americans disapprove of the Supreme Court ruling, whereas 41 per cent approved. Among women, 67 per cent disapproved, while 31 per cent approved.
But Republicans are fiercely defensive of the court’s ruling. “This was wonderful news in the defence of life,” Kristi Noem, the governor of South Dakota, told ABC.
“Every life is precious. South Dakota had a statute on the book that said that abortion would be illegal except to save the life of a mother, should Roe vs Wade be overturned. And so that is how it stands here today.”
Asa Hutchison, the Republican governor of Arkansas, said he would have “preferred a different outcome” than the draconian law in his state that also banned abortions even in cases of rape and incest, but it was the reality for now.
“While you can debate whether there ought to be additional exceptions, every state’s going to make a different determination on that, under our constitution”, he told NBC.
As states adapted to the new bans on abortion spreading across the country, one concern is that it could not just exacerbate political divisions among states, but also social and racial splits, since abortions are disproportionately needed by minority women.
According to CDC data from 2019 revisited by the Pew Research Center last week, 23.8 abortions were carried out per 1,000 black women; 11.7 per 1,000 Hispanic women, and just 6.6 per 1,000 white women among Americans aged between 15 and 44.
“Black women in Georgia face the highest maternal mortality rate,” said Stacey Abrams, who is running for governor as a Democrat in Georgia, on Fox News Sunday.
“They are three times more likely to die. We know that black women are the most likely to be underserved by their medical care. And we know that sometimes the choice that they need to make medically, economically and personally is to have an abortion.”
Meanwhile, Kathy Hochul, the Democratic governor of New York, declared her state to be a “safe harbour” for those seeking abortions. “This is where we have the Statue of Liberty, welcoming people who are oppressed, women who cannot receive the fundamental right to control their body or receive an abortion,” she told MSNBC.