THEhe American Supreme Court, with a conservative majority since the passage of Donald Trump, suggests that it could reverse the federal decision of Roe v. Wade, who has guaranteed the right to abortion in the United States since 1973. A new episode in the long list of debates on abortion which are still raging across the Atlantic. Proof that in the United States, unlike most European countries, the use of abortion is still not widely accepted, and retains many declared enemies. The legal framework and the public opinion on the matter illustrate quite well how the very religious American society remains an exception in the Western world.
With Beijing and Pyongyang
In the absence of federal law, it was the Supreme Court of the United States which guaranteed, in 1973, the right of American women to have an abortion. It exists until the “viability” of the fetus, that is to say its ability to survive outside the uterus, between 22 and 24 weeks of pregnancy. However, during a hearing on Wednesday, which could mark a historic turning point, the country’s highest court seemed to want to go back. Its leader, the conservative John Roberts, in particular said he was “worried” that “the United States shares with China and North Korea the limit of viability”, while the rest of the world is more restrictive.
Wielding the same argument, former vice-president Mike Pence, a Christian ultraconservative, had asked the Supreme Court the day before to “take America out of the radical margins and put it back in mainstream Western thought.” In fact, the United States is among the countries with the latest deadlines.
According to a study by the Center for Reproductive Rights, only 67 countries, mostly Western, allow voluntary terminations of pregnancy without justification. And the United States is among the ten countries with the latest limit, with China but also Great Britain (24 weeks), Canada (until the end) and parts of Australia. But these limits are misleading because, in several countries, there are broad exceptions “economic, social or medical” to abort until the end, according to the lawyer Julie Rinkelman, who defended Wednesday the status quo in the Supreme Court.
More importantly, the lawyer added in her response to Justice Roberts, “they don’t have the kind of barriers we have here.” Conservative states in the center and south of the country have indeed increased restrictive laws in recent years, forcing many clinics to shut down, so much so that, in six of them, only one remains. ‘only one. Since the 1er September, Texas also bans abortions as early as six weeks pregnant, and the Supreme Court has yet to say anything. Conversely, abortion is very accessible in progressive coastal states, such as California or New York. Few countries have such marked geographical differences.
Against a current
“We are an aberration in terms of the evolution of the right to abortion”, also believes Nancy Northup, who chairs the Center for Reproductive Rights: “The trend for twenty-five years has been towards relaxation, with recent advances in Mexico, Argentina and Benin. However, without even knowing the decision of the Supreme Court, which will probably not be rendered before June, “the United States is in a regressive phase with more than 100 restrictions adopted just this year”, she notes.
Compared to other Western democracies, America is also distinguished by the harshness of the debates on abortion. 75% of Swedes, 65% of Britons, 64% of French, 61% of Italians or Spaniards think that abortion should be authorized as soon as a woman wants it, while only 42% of Americans share this opinion, according to a 2021 Ipsos survey.
And in these countries, which sometimes experienced strong mobilisations when abortion was legalized, the debates have died down. In the United States, on the contrary, after the 1973 decision, the climate worsened, in particular because the Republican Party used the fight against abortion to mobilize voters on the religious right. Donald Trump embodies this strategy to the extreme: in 1999, the billionaire said he was in favor of women’s rights to “choose”, but he won the 2016 presidential election by promising to appoint judges opposed to abortion to the Supreme Court. . During his tenure, he succeeded in bringing three conservative magistrates into the temple of law, and this strategy seems close to bearing fruit.