How have the two parties’ positions in the US on abortion rights changed over time?
The story so far: Roe v. Wade was a landmark judgment handed down in 1973 by the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) that guaranteed the federal constitutional protection of the right to abortion. In light of the quashing of this landmark verdict, here’s a look at how abortion rights became such a polarizing issue in the US
How have the two parties from the US viewed abortion rights historically?
Before political leaders, it was mainly the various religious factions strongly against abortion. The Roman Catholic Church has always viewed abortion as equating to killing. The Catholic Church and even the Eastern Orthodox and Evangelical Protestants are against abortion because these denominations believe that life begins at conception. Therefore, abortion equals murder.
However, just before the famous Roe v. Wade judgment, abortion became a political issue. The year before, Roe was an election year in which Richard Nixon won the presidency. Time magazine ran an article titled “How Nixon Will Win,” stating that the Democratic candidate would be attacked for his views on legalizing marijuana, leniency to conscription evaders, and liberalism on abortion.
Then, the Republican Party took a morally high stance on abortion, propagating that legalizing abortions would collapse traditional family roles and values. The Republican Party initially supported the Equal Rights and Women’s Reproductive Rights Amendment. It cultivated their current pro-life stance to snatch the Northern Democratic Party’s urban Catholic voters. For example, in 1967, Ronald Reagan (former US president of the Republican Party) signed a bill as governor of California that decriminalized abortions. This shows the conservatives’ political indifference to abortion.
How did the pro-life versus pro-choice story come about?
After the Roe v. Wade judgment, the issue of abortion became the paradigmatic center of mainstream American reproductive politics. The choice-oriented discourse interpreted judgment as a woman’s right to choose. Post-Roe, the US gave women access to reproductive health care, learned about self-administered abortion care, and prevented monitoring of their bodies. An abortion industry emerged, and in the 1980 elections, an unfettered right to an abortion appeared on the Democratic Party platform.
President Reagan’s campaign was a form of conservative response that campaigned around banning abortions, despite his signing a bill legalizing abortion. In contrast, the same year, the Republican Party banned abortions through a constitutional amendment. Later, President Reagan would clarify his position in an essay published in the Human Life Review that abortion involved two lives: the life of the mother and the unborn child.
It should be noted that opposition to abortion as a movement is a distinct aspect of American society. Conservatives worldwide agree on things like limited government, respect for traditional values, low taxes, and robust implementation of laws. However, protecting an unborn child is unique to American conservatism. Proponents of racial reproductive justice, rooted in black feminism and intersectionality, argue for moving beyond the polarization of the pro-choice/pro-life debate. They advocate for a woman’s right to have and not to have children. They also emphasize raising children in safe and sustainable communities.
What are the implications of overturning the Roe v. Wade judgment?
Roe’s overthrow has robbed women of the freedom to choose what to do with their bodies. This will further lead to an increase in illegal, unsafe abortions and ultimately endanger women’s lives. The most vulnerable groups of the sentence are black, Hispanic, and minority women in the US. They will have to travel long distances to those states where they could have an abortion. In addition, according to the statement by conservative judge Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court is all set to “reconsider” its previous rulings on the right to contraception and same-sex marriage. This statement raises serious questions about the rights that the US considers constitutional.
Does banning abortion help women?
According to the health statistics released by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which takes into account the health system reports of 37 high-income countries such as Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the UK, etc., the year 2020 has the US has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries. This can be attributed to the over-representation of obstetricians-gynecologists (ob-gyms) compared to obstetricians. There is an acute shortage of maternity nurses (obstetricians and midwives), and primary care is lacking. There is also a lack of comprehensive postpartum support. The report stated that women in the US are more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth complications. A relatively large proportion of pregnancy-related deaths in the US occur after birth compared to other developed countries.
Banning abortions will not stop the practice; it just makes it unsafe and illegal.
Priyanka is a research scientist at the Center for Canadian, United States, and Latin American Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.