US Supreme Court Ends Abortion Rights; Biden Calls It ‘Tragic Error’, Says ‘Life of Women Now at Risk’

US President Joe Biden on Friday said the US Supreme Court committed a “tragic error” after it overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established the constitutional right to abortion a “sad day for the court and the country”. In an address, Biden said the abortion ruling “took away” Americans’ constitutional right and called the decision the result of “extreme ideology”.

“With Roe gone, let’s be very clear, the health and life of women in this nation are now at risk,” he said.

“The court has done what it has never done before, expressly take away a constitutional right that is so fundamental to so many Americans,” Biden said. “It’s a realization of an extreme ideology and a tragic error by the Supreme Court in my view.”

“My administration will use all of its appropriate lawful powers. But congress must act.” He further said, “with your vote, you can act.” Biden also said he has directed the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure that contraception is available to Americans, even as states seek to restrict it.

Biden also warned the abortion ruling may undermine contraception, gay marriage rights. “This is an extreme and dangerous path,” he said.

Huge Blow to Human Rights, Restricting Access More Deadly: UN

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the ruling is “a huge blow to women’s human rights and gender equality. “Access to safe, legal and effective abortion is firmly rooted in international human right law and is at the core of women and girls’ autonomy and ability to make their own choices about their bodies and lives,” Bachelet said in a statement.

“This decision strips such autonomy from millions of women in the US, in particular those with low incomes and those belonging to racial and ethnic minorities, to the detriment of their fundamental rights.”

Restricting abortion access does not stop people seeking the procedure “it only makes it more deadly,” a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “Sexual and reproductive health and rights are the foundation of a life of choice, empowerment and equality for the world’s women and girls,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters. “Restricting access to abortion does not prevent people from seeking abortion, it only makes it more deadly.”

In a major setback for reproductive health rights in the United States, the Supreme Court struck down the nearly 50-year-old Roe v. Wade verdict, allowing states to ban abortions.

The Supreme Court, dominated by the Conservatives, overturned the “Roe v. Wade” decision that gave constitutional right to abortion and had ended laws in many states that had banned the procedure. In its verdict, it said that individual states can now permit or restrict the procedure themselves. “The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion,” the court said. “The authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.”

The ruling comes months after a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion by Justice Samuel Alito revealed the top court was poised to overturn the 1973 case ruling to limit abortion access in the United States. US experts had said that the Supreme Court, with a 6-3 conservative majority including three justices – Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett- appointed by former Republican president Donald Trump, will act to end or cut back abortion rights.

In the majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said Roe v. Wade was “egregiously wrong.” Alito’s ruling which mirrored his draft opinion stated “abortion presents a profound moral issue on which Americans hold sharply conflicting views,” he said. “The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion.”

According to the Roe v. Wade, women had the right to abortion based on the constitutional right to privacy over their own bodies. As per the law, states could not ban abortions before fetal viability, the point at which the fetus can survive outside the womb.

The verdict comes nearly half a century after what is claimed, as per courts, a “Republican project” of installing conservative justices to upend abortion rights. The victory for the Conservatives is the fruition of 50 years of struggle against abortion triggering the campaigners to now focus on pushing for an outright nationwide ban.

US President Joe Biden eliminated his predecessor Donald Trump’s so-called “global gag” rule banning funds for aid groups that discuss abortion and had promised counter-measures should the US Supreme Court confirm the draft ruling.

Attack on “Essential Freedoms”

Shortly after the verdict was announced, former Democratic president Barack Obama denounced the ruling, saying “it relegated the most intensely personal decision someone can make to the whims of politicians and ideologues — attacking the essential freedoms of millions of Americans.”

Former first lady Michelle Obama in a tweet said, “I am heartbroken that we may now be destined to learn the painful lessons of a time before Roe was made law of the land — a time when women risked losing their lives getting illegal abortions.”

However, Republican vice president Mike Pence, a leading anti-abortion campaigner, welcomed it, saying the US right to abortion has been consigned to the “ash heap of history.”

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau termed the news as “horrific” and expressed solidarity with the millions of American women who are now set to lose their legal right to an abortion. “I can’t imagine the fear and anger you are feeling right now,” he said.

“No government, politician, or man should tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body. I want women in Canada to know that we will always stand up for your right to choose,” he said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the abortion ruling “a big step backwards”. Johnson said the court’s rulings have “massive impacts on people’s thinking around the world”. “I think it’s a big step backwards. I’ve always believed in a woman’s right to choose and I stick to that view, and that’s why the UK has the laws that it does,” he said in a tweet.

Donald Trump said “God made the decision” in an interview with Fox News shortly after the verdict. “This is following the Constitution, and giving rights back when they should have been given long ago,” Trump said. Asked if he felt he played a role after appointing three conservative justices to the court while in office, he said “God made the decision.”

French President Emmanuel Macron condemned verdict and said it was a challenge to women’s freedoms. “They must be protected. I express my solidarity with women whose freedoms are today challenged by the Supreme Court of the United States of America,” Macron tweeted.

Hundreds Gather Outside Supreme Court

Hundreds of people, some shedding tears of joy and others of grief, gathered outside the fenced-off Supreme Court, where security was tightened ahead of the ruling.

“It’s hard to imagine living in a country that does not respect women as human beings and their right to control their bodies,” said Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat, told AFP.

But Gwen Charles, a 21-year-old, said “This is the day that we have been waiting for. We get to usher in a new culture of life in the United States.”

What Vatican Said

The Vatican’s Academy for Life on Friday praised the decision and said the defence of human life could not be confined to individual rights because life is a matter of “broad social significance”. “The fact that a large country with a long democratic tradition has changed its position on this issue also challenges the whole world,” the Academy said in a statement.

WHO Reacts

The World Health Organization (WHO) in a tweet said, “Safe abortion care is essential to protect the health of women & girls everywhere. Removing access to #abortion care will put more women & girls at risk of illegal abortions and the consequent safety issues that would bring.”

What’s Next for Reproductive Health Rights

Women living in states with strict anti-abortion laws will either have to continue with their pregnancy, undergo a clandestine abortion or obtain abortion pills, or travel to another state where the procedure remains legal.

Planned Parenthood, the leading provider of abortion services in the United States, vowed following the ruling to “never stop fighting” for those in need. “We know you may be feeling a lot of things right now — hurt, anger, confusion. Whatever you feel is OK. We’re here with you — and we’ll never stop fighting for you,” the organization tweeted.

California, Oregon, Washington Pledge to Defend Abortion Rights

Meanwhile, three liberal West Coast states, California, Oregon and Washington, issued a joint pledge to defend abortion rights. “The governors of California, Oregon and Washington today issued a Multi-State Commitment to defend access to reproductive health care, including abortion and contraceptives, and committed to protecting patients and doctors against efforts by other states to export their abortion bans to our states,” a statement said.

According to the New York Times, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed an executive order to protect abortion service providers who serve patients from out of state. The order bars state agencies from assisting investigations into people receiving or performing abortions that are legal in Massachusetts or extraditing those patients or providers, the report said.

Companies including Starbucks, Tesla, Yelp, Airbnb, Netflix, Patagonia, Salesforce, DoorDash and OKCupid have committed to covering travel expenses for employees who need to get abortions.

Missouri’s attorney general tweeting a photo of himself signing off on the prohibition on abortions in the state.

“Missouri has just become the first in the country to effectively end abortion,” state Attorney General Eric Schmitt said on Twitter. “This is a monumental day for the sanctity of life.”

Meanwhile South Dakota and Indiana announced that they will take steps to do so. Planned Parenthood was reported to have turned away patients scheduled for abortions from waiting rooms, “as abortion is now illegal” in the state.

Experts say an overturning of Roe v Wade would lead to a domino effect in Africa, emboldening anti-abortionists and boosting their funding, much of which comes from American pockets. According to the WHO, there are around 73 million abortions globally per year, 45 per cent in unsafe conditions. Poor nations bear the brunt, with 220 women dying for every 100,000 unsafe abortions.

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