United States: 40 years after its legalisation, the right to abortion is increasingly contested

Publié le : 30 January 2013

 It is forty years today since the right to abortion was guaranteed by the American Constitution. While "pro-life" groups opposed to abortion will mark this "anniversary" by protesting in front of the Supreme Court on 25 January, the "pro-choice" partisans of the right to abortion will organise meetings, dinners and conferences at local level.

It was by the Roe versus Wade ruling of 22 January 1973 that "the Supreme Court of the United States decided […] that the right to abortion was a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution." At the origin of this decision was Jane Roe, "a single mother pregnant for the third time who contested the constitutionality of the Texan legislation making abortion a crime." The decision, taken by seven votes against two and which "set a judicial precedent in a majority of American States where similar laws were in force," also stated that "the right of privacy, […] founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty […] is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy." Although the highest court in the land found in favour of the plaintiff, she afterwards became a militant opponent of abortion.
Today, the "right to abortion" is increasingly contested. In May 2012, a Gallup poll “found that there have never been so few pro-choice people, with 41% (56% in 1995) in favour, compared to 50% stating they are pro-life (33% 18 years ago)." This can be seen notably in the number of laws relating to abortion passed at State level and put forward by the "pro-life" lobby: 92 laws were passed in 2011, and 43 in 2012. They concern the limitation of late abortions, the prohibition of the reimbursement of the operation via health insurance, the obligation to carry out an ultra-sound scan or the lengthening of the period for reflection. Jeanne Monahan, Chairwoman of the March For Life movement, explains that since they cannot "amend the Roe versus Wade decision in the immediate future," they are working "at State level to have laws promulgated that ensure informed consent." Only four doctors today still practice late abortions during the last three months of pregnancy. Chased from several States and now practising in Maryland, Colorado and New Mexico, they were filmed in a documentary, "After Tiller", well received at the Sundance festival. In it they denounce the "institutional barriers" to their work and their "highly stigmatised profession": "if you carry out abortions, it is very difficult to work in a hospital, because they don’t like doctors who terminate pregnancies, so nearly all abortions take place in private clinics," observes Dr Susan Robinson. At the moment, just one woman has come forward to be trained by them and take over from them; otherwise "there are no candidates."
Elsewhere on the American continent, Brazil firmly bans abortion except in the case of rape or when the mother’s life is in danger. A famous Portuguese singer, Maria Adelaide Mengas Matafome, "was charged in Brazil for having helped her fifteen-year-old daughter to have an abortion" when she was in Brazil. The boyfriend of this teenager was charged along with her mother by the Brazilian police. The girl had been hospitalised for severe haemorrhaging after taking medication imported into Brazil via a Dutch organisation to put an end to her pregnancy.

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