United States: the right to abortion under threat

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In the United States, the leak of a confidential working document has confirmed the desire of the Supreme Court, with a conservative majority, to annul the Roe v. Wade case law which, for fifty years, has guaranteed access to abortion in all the countries. A decision that would have an unprecedented impact on the 75 million women of childbearing age. But already, under the impetus of the Republicans, the United States is gradually turning into a medical desert for women who want to have an abortion. This is particularly the case in Texas and Oklahoma, where our correspondents, Valérie Defert and Pierrick Leurent, went to meet the actors of this “post-Roe America”.

Every morning, in front of the Women’s clinic in Tulsa, a medium-sized city in Oklahoma, the same scene is repeated: patients arrive to park in front of one of the few clinics that still perform abortions in this predominantly conservative state. Their cars are immediately caught between anti-abortion demonstrators who try to stop them to dissuade them from having recourse to this medical procedure, and volunteers from the clinic, like Susan Braselton, in a rainbow chasuble, who come to welcome these women, protect them and reassure them.

Susan Braselton, escort and volunteer at the Women’s Clinic in Tulsa, Oklahoma © France 24 / Valérie Defert

A scene that is not extraordinary, in an America where the right to abortion, guaranteed since 1973 by the “Roe vs Wade” decree of the Supreme Court, is however seriously undermined in half of the States . The governor of Oklahoma has just taken inspiration from a law passed last year in Texas, by prohibiting abortion around six weeks, more precisely as soon as a beating of the heart is perceptible. It is now up to him to sign the total ban on abortion passed on May 19 by the Parliament of this State.

At this stage of their pregnancy, many women are still unaware that they are pregnant, and these restrictions create, in fact, complex situations. For the most privileged, or those who find a last minute solution, it is still possible to travel to other States. But for the most disadvantaged, who cannot move, there is no choice but to go to term, or to resort to illegal and risky methods.

The weight of the evangelists

These situations, taken well before the final decision of the Supreme Court of the United States on this subject, are the fruit of decades of political and religious battle. Led primarily by evangelicals, the fight to ban abortion altogether has gained ground, supported by the Republican Party, which often depends on evangelical voices to ensure victory in local and national elections.

Anti-abortion activist Mark Lee Dickson, in Marquez, Texas
Anti-abortion activist Mark Lee Dickson, in Marquez, Texas © France 24 / Valérie Defert

And the 1973 Roe vs. Wade case has never stopped grassroots activists like Pastor Mark Lee Dickson from achieving their goal, at least at the grassroots level. This fervent defender of the “pro-life” cause [pro-vie en français] travels across Texas and other states to pass city-by-city ordinances that completely ban abortion. His trick? As with the SB8 law in force in Texas, it is the citizens – not the authorities – who are responsible for enforcing the law. A subtlety that makes it possible to circumvent case law, which is only valid at the governmental level.

For nearly half a century, Democrats believed that the right to abortion was something that could not be reversed. Many did not realize the reversal of the situation that was taking shape over the years, one conservative state after another. On the Democratic side, the mobilization born of the awareness of the threat to the right to abortion seems very late. But it could serve as a catalyst for the frustrations of the progressive electorate, in view of the midterm elections next November. President Joe Biden has called on his compatriots to “choose candidates” in favor of the right to abortion during the legislative elections in the fall.

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