With America facing deepening ideological divisions and an erosion of confidence in their institutions, last thing that anyone needs right now is the revival by one of those institutions of the highly controversial and divisive abortion debate that was settled half a century ago.
When something is taken away from a person, the reaction is typically much more violent than if the promise of acquiring something fails to be fulfilled. And taking a right away from women is exactly what the U.S. Supreme Court did last week in its decision to overturn the case of Roe v. Wade, which protected women’s right to abortion nationwide, effectively allowing each state to set its own rules. And there’s already a hint that the erosion of acquired rights may not end there. In the written decision, Justice Clarence Thomas referred to other precedent-setting cases, like that which establishes the basis of the right to contraception, as “demonstrably erroneous” and said that the court has a “duty to ‘correct the error’ established in those precedents.”
That the conservative justices of America’s highest court have used their powers to claw back highly personal, private medical freedoms of any kind for Americans is disturbing, particularly given that we’re now well into a new kind of dark age of state overreach into medical choices under the guise of security, with COVID-19-related jab mandates for access to basic freedom of movement and labor. During the COVID pandemic, the kind of decisions which used to be made strictly between a patient and their doctor based on a personalized risk-benefit assessment of a particular medical procedure — the anti-COVID jab, in this case — were instead dictated by the state and imposed under constraint or threat. Worse, to ensure compliance, the medical act was correlated with a dystopian, scannable QR-code.
Conservatives are supposed to be in favor of free markets and limited government, yet allowing the state to insert itself into the relationship between a woman and her doctor is a gross violation of one of the most basic principles of freedom: that of agency over one’s own body. Couching a violation of this principle in “states rights”, as the court did by downloading the debate onto each of the states, still results in a net erosion of rights as it’s unlikely that each state will choose to maintain the current status quo. Dressing up the judgment as the correction or rectification of the original Roe v. Wade ruling on the basis that it was technically weak trivializes the lives of women.
The judgment also raises questions about the viability of its application. The world has changed massively since the last time that abortion was illegal in the U.S., prior to 1973. Travel is easier and cheaper, while globalization has opened borders, including to medical tourism. Technology has facilitated global communication, activism, support, and access to information and research. The only way that a procedure conducted outside of a jurisdiction that prohibits it for those residing within it would be through some kind of digital ID, the likes of which exists to trace COVID jab mandate compliance and is associated with our individual health records. Is this the kind of surveillance state that conservative justices responsible for this 5-4 vote may have inadvertently unleashed?
As conservatives, one would think that the justices of the majority would have also understood the power of what’s still left of the free market. Companies like Microsoft, Disney, Uber, JPMorgan Chase, Alaska Airlines, Nike, Goldman Sachs, and various others will cover travel expenses for medical procedures, including abortion services, under their health plans, according to CNN. If the impetus behind the judgment was to block access, history has already shown that this has never proven effective in practice.
But perhaps the most widespread unintended impact of the decision will be on the already dire American political climate. Clashes between pro-choice and anti-choice movements will add yet another layer of division atop pre-existing and ever-growing ideological standoffs between Democrats and Republicans or between pro-establishment globalists and anti-establishment populists. This unrest will add to already skyrocketing inflation impacting everyday living costs, a protracted armed conflict in Ukraine costing taxpayers tens of billions of dollars in weapons, untamed globalization, and the fallout from the COVID pandemic.
The harm to America of reopening the abortion debate is unmeasurable as it contributes to a further breakdown of social cohesion whose losses aren’t easily quantifiable. What’s certain is that as elected officials split along party lines to defend their team in the abortion debate, each side risks alienating American voters even more than it already has. And now add to the mix the resentment from the female half of the population, whose rights neither party could bother to enshrine into law before they were once again dragged back out and treated like pawns on the political chessboard by a branch of the establishment.
Rachel Marsden is a columnist, political strategist and host of independently produced talk shows in French and English.
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