Reversing Roe?

Staff Writer | May 29, 2019
New state laws restricting abortion rights in the United States (US) have reignited debate on the right of women to terminate a pregnancy.

Nearly half a century has passed since the seminal 1973 US Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade, establishing a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. 

But the number of states going in the other direction is growing. 

On 18 May, Alabama passed a law banning abortion in all cases, even if pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. The exception is for women whose lives are in danger. In Alabama, it is now a crime to perform an abortion at any time during a pregnancy, punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison. Missouri signed in a similar law on Friday, 24 May.

Ohio and Georgia have banned abortions (except for medical emergencies) from six weeks of pregnancy or after a foetal heartbeat is detected, which often occurs before a woman even realises she is pregnant.

In all, eight Republican states have passed laws restricting abortion rights this year so far. Some believe these actions could pressure the Supreme Court to reverse Roe v Wade.

More immediately, stricter abortion laws have reignited debate on what is probably the most divisive issue in America. 

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on 26 May found that 58% of US adults agree that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, up from 50% in a similar poll last year. 

Support for abortion was higher among registered Democrats, with 81% supporting legal abortion in most or all cases, compared to 55% of registered Republicans. About 80% of poll respondents support abortion in cases of rape or incest. 

No other medical procedure is as extensively legislated as abortion in the US. Among the concerns is that making abortion illegal may lead to an increase in illegal procedures.  

In South Africa, abortion on request, without giving reasons, is legal for any woman who is less than 13 weeks pregnant. If she is between 13 and 20 weeks pregnant, she can get the abortion only if her own physical or mental health is at stake, if the baby will have severe mental or physical abnormalities, if the pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, or if she is of the personal opinion that her economic or social situation is sufficient reason. If she is more than 20 weeks pregnant, she can only abort if her own or the foetus' life is in danger or there are likely to be serious birth defects.


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