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US abortion rights under threat: The spectre of a post-Roe America

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The recent leak of a confidential US Supreme Court document has confirmed the conservative-majority court’s intention to overturn Roe v. Wade, the decision that has guaranteed access to abortion in the United States for nearly 50 years. Such a decision would have an unprecedented impact on 75 million women of childbearing age. But at the instigation of the Republican Party, some parts of the US, such as Texas and Oklahoma, are already turning into a medical desert for women seeking termination. Our correspondents Valérie Defert and Pierrick Leurent report on “post-Roe America”.

Every morning in front of the Tulsa Women’s Clinic in Oklahoma, the same scene repeats: Patients arrive to park in front of one of the few clinics currently performing abortions in this largely conservative state. Their cars are immediately sandwiched between anti-abortion protesters trying to stop them from terminating their pregnancy and volunteers from the clinic, such as Susan Braselton. Wearing a rainbow vest, she comes out to welcome, protect, and reassure the women.

Susan Braselton is an escort and volunteer at the Tulsa Women's Clinic in Oklahoma.
Susan Braselton is an escort and volunteer at the Tulsa Women’s Clinic in Oklahoma. © FRANCE 24 / Valérie Defert

Such a scene is not uncommon in an America where the right to abortion, guaranteed since 1973 by the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling, has been severely eroded in about half of the states. Oklahoma’s governor has already taken inspiration from a law passed last year in neighboring Texas that bans abortion as soon as a heartbeat is detected — usually around six weeks. He is now expected to sign a new law, passed by Oklahoma lawmakers on May 19, banning all abortions with few exceptions.

Six weeks into their pregnancy, many women are still unaware that they are pregnant and the recent restrictions make for difficult situations. For wealthier women, or those who find a solution at the last minute, it is still possible to travel to another state. But for the less privileged, who cannot travel, their only choice is between carrying the fetus to term or resorting to illegal and risky abortion methods.

The influence of evangelicals

This state of affairs, well ahead of the Supreme Court’s final ruling on the matter, is the culmination of decades of political and religious struggle. The fight for a total abortion ban, led mainly by evangelicals, has gained ground, supported by the Republican Party, which often relies on evangelical votes for victory in local and state elections.

An anti-abortion protester on the sidewalk outside the Tulsa Women's Clinic in Oklahoma.
An anti-abortion protester on the sidewalk outside the Tulsa Women’s Clinic in Oklahoma. © FRANCE 24 / Valérie Defert

At the same time, Roe v. Wade has never stopped local activists like Reverend Mark Lee Dickson from reaching their goal, at least not on a local level. This ardent defender of the “pro-life” cause travels through Texas and other states to pass ordinances, city by city, banning abortion completely. His trick? As with the law in force in Texas, it is citizens – not authorities – who are responsible for enforcing it. This legal loophole makes it possible to circumvent the legal system.

For nearly half a century, Democrats and pro-choice activists believed that abortion rights were a given that could not be reversed. Many did not realize that there was a reversal of fortune over time, one conservative state after another. On the Democratic side, the recent mobilization in the wake of the threat to abortion rights seems a little late. But it could act as a catalyst for the frustrations of progressive voters ahead of November’s midterm elections. President Joe Biden has called on his fellow citizens to support candidates who support the right to abortion in the fall vote.

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