The US cancels right to abortion

Anat Shalem | 03.07.2022 | Photo: Unsplash

ארצות הברית מבטלת את הזכות להפסקת היריון

These are dark days for women in the US and all over the world.

On Friday, June 24, 2022, the US Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established women’s right to abortion as protected by the Constitution.

The overturning of that ruling means that each state can decide its own policy as to the legality of abortion. In Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma, Mississippi, and other states, laws are already being passed to ban abortion completely or almost completely. It appears that it will not be too long before the scenario of women being criminally charged for having an abortion is a reality.

True story: Last April, Lizelle Herrera, a 26-year-old woman from Texas, was arrested because according to local police she had committed murder: She had deliberately and consciously caused the death of an individual by deliberate abortion, the police said. The details are not clear, but according to some of the reports Herrera bought medical abortion pills in Mexico and used them in Texas. When she apparently had complications she went to the hospital, told the medical staff about the medication she had taken, and subsequently was arrested. Three days later the district attorney conceded that Texas law did not allow her to be charged with murder and the charges were dropped. Following the Supreme Court ruling the next woman may not be so lucky.


Advocate for the unborn

In an article in issue 52 of Theory and Criticism, Advocate for the Unborn,” Ma’ayan Goldman follows women’s groups who promoted legal bans on abortion in numerous ways when the Supreme Court still protected the right to abortion, with the goal of canceling that protection and reaching the present moment. Goldman calls all of that activity and social movement against abortion “advocacy for the unborn.” A reading of the recent ruling shows that the Supreme Court adopted the terminology of those movements: Throughout the ruling it refers to the fetus as the “unborn child.” In her article Goldman asks herself whether she is really different from the advocate for the unborn. The advocate, by means of her words, turns the fetus, a beating lump of cells, into an unborn person, and Goldman, who reads all of the advocate’s steps and intentions with suspicion, wonders whether she is being overly suspicious.

Today we see that the fear of the power of the anti-abortion activists was not exaggerated. The social networks are currently full of posts by women (and men) expressing rage and resentment against the decision. Beyond the rage, many women, in the US, around the world, and in Israel as well, are expressing fear and despair.


My right to my body: Where is this going?

In an online discussion at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute in May 2022, when the ruling was just a leaked rumor and not yet an absolute ruling, we tried to understand its significance and reasons and, furthermore, how changes that occur in the US will reverberate and impact us in Israel as well.

One of the insights, which also makes the discussion very important, is that this is not only about the right to end an unwanted pregnancy, and not even only about women’s right to autonomy over their bodies. The reversal of Roe v. Wade, a ruling that was a hard-earned landmark feminist achievement, signals the fragility of the achievements of the feminist revolution and the ease with which they can be canceled and rolled back, and that fragility is as relevant here as it is in the US.

The discussion included Prof. Noya Rimalt of Haifa University’s Faculty of Law, who gave an illuminating analysis of the ruling and its significance along with an incisive critique; Assaf Sagiv, an editor and essayist, who argued that the original Roe v. Wade ruling was itself excessively radical, a move that set off the conservative backlash that now led to its reversal; and Sharon Orshalimy, a PhD student in Health Systems Management at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, a researcher of fertility policy and reproductive rights, who explained how the right to abortion serves as a necessary correction for reproductive injustice and discussed the legal status of abortion in Israel and the struggle to change it.


On July 6 the event Feminism, Gender, and Medicine will take place at the VLJI, with diverse sessions on important subjects: ending unwanted pregnancies, obstetric violence, medical technologies for women, transparent illnesses, and more.

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