US abortion rulings – ethical question or political point?

Adele Philippides is a pro-choice campaigner.

The United States Supreme Court has recently handed back abortion control to individual states. In effect, this means that states can decide for themselves whether terminating a pregnancy will be legal within their borders. Already, twenty-three states have decided to make abortion illegal or reduce the time frame for a woman to choose to end her pregnancy.

Adele Philippides lives in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. She has been campaigning for choice and legal abortions since the Supreme Court document was leaked earlier this year. She has kindly taken time out of campaigning, working and mothering to share her own views on the recent anti-abortion ruling.

Is banning abortion really what most Americans want?

I have not seen a single credible poll that indicates the majority of Americans wants Roe V. Wade overturned. Pew Research Center and Gallup polls indicate that the majority of Americans are upset with this decision, more Americans than ever before are identifying as “pro-choice” and confidence in the Supreme Court has dropped (although this could also be for other recent rulings as well). Of course, polls have been shown to be problematic in the past, but I believe with this rate of agreement between polls it is generally correct, as well as matching my personal experience. I am very vocal about my beliefs and have been consistently surprised at the amount of support for my endeavours lately.

What is the argument for banning it?

The argument the Supreme Court has given is that it is not a constitutional right, and so it should be decided at the State level. There are many people who can get behind each state having the power to create their own local rules about anything – Some are against “Big Government” on principle. But there have been many decisions – such as abolishment of slavery or a women’s right to vote, that have been deemed important enough to protect nationally regardless of a State’s individual Constitution, and we accept that these rights should be protected nationally.  The Founders even included the 9th amendment in our Bill of Rights that specifically allows for us, as a nation, to add on constitutional rights as we feel necessary.  The counter-argument to this is that the right to bodily autonomy was never codified as an amendment, but we count on many rights that have not been, such as the right to privacy or the right to a jury of our peers. Bodily autonomy is so basic it is ridiculous to think that it should have to be its own separate amendment.  Even the dead are not forced to give up their organs to save a life.

And at any rate, if we are going to make the argument for “small government,” we could advocate for the smallest unit of government that there is: self-government of our own bodies.


What do you think might be the consequences of banning abortion?

It will be so far-reaching – I don’t even know what all the implications might be or how to sum them up succinctly.  Already 13 states have trigger laws which put bans into effect immediately or soon after the ruling. Others will severely restrict abortion.  There is a tangle of new laws and rulings that purport to control women or those who assist them even if they leave that state and go where abortion is legal. There’s no telling how effective these might be or if they would fail in court, but they are do have the effect of narrowing support for those wishing to have an abortion as more people decide they cannot risk being associated with that choice.

Many pro-life people state that they are not unreasonable, and would support exceptions to abortion bans in cases of rape, incest, or when human health is at risk. But if you tear apart the network of those who can perform abortions, there will not be an easy way of getting one, even if you fit the description for which abortion is “permissible.”

There is also concern of what this means of our privacy and protection of health information – would a woman who miscarried be forced to hand over medical records and other information to have a judge and jury make a determination about her innocence?

And then there are the questions about the power of the Supreme Court. Up until now, the ethics of this court has not been questioned. But these recent events make us wonder how they got away with so much power for so long. They are a group of unelected individuals that are appointed for life and the only court that is not governed by an ethics code. And this incident raises other disturbing questions too.  Does precedent hold any power? Did the judges lie under oath when they said they would respect that precedent? Will there be any repercussions for them? Can we count on any of the rights that have been declared by the Supreme Court? Many are worried that same-sex marriage will be next on the chopping block.

Abortion has been legal in the USA since 1973. Why has this situation flared up now?

I don’t think it has just flared up now…I think this has been carefully timed.  Our lives are in the hands of political strategists. The ultra-conservative minority has been working towards this end and other rights for a long time; this just happens to be the time when they are at their most powerful on the Supreme Court.

I cannot even keep up with the number of attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade over the years, but this has been happening since at least the 80s. It only takes a small regulation to restrict abortion access. For instance, if you create a rule stating that abortion providers must have a 250-square-foot operating room, it doesn’t directly oppose Roe v. Wade, but it will close a lot of clinics that don’t meet that criteria. We have been fighting these kinds of tactics for years.

So we have been on the constant alert for a very long time, and it is frankly exhausting.  This has just been farther reaching than any other so far – on the national level.

How can the Supreme Court do this when President Biden’s position is pro-choice?

The US system of checks and balances was meant to ensure that each of our branches of government work separately from each other, so Biden is not able to directly influence the Supreme Court.  He has been able to appoint one judge to the Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson, but as she was not sworn in at the time of this ruling, she did not have a part to play. This decision was made by a 5-3 ruling, with three of the judges having been appointed by the Trump administration.  The appointment of Jackson would not have changed this.

There are moves Biden can take to combat this – he has recently issued an executive order to protect abortion access and ensure that state laws are waived in favor of a woman’s life in cases of emergency care.  He is already being sued by the State of Texas for this. Some people believe Biden should take it even further, declaring a “State of Health Emergency” to expand access.  The most secure action would be to have our legislative branch codify Roe V. Wade into a law that Biden can sign, but there are not quite enough votes to be able to manage it this year without abolishing the filibuster.

Do you think American leaders are in touch with their electorate, and do you think they have women’s best interests at heart?

Certainly not. The most basic, popular legislative moves have been stymied by our elected officials in a variety of ways. It seems like our representatives are more interested in gaming the system rather than appealing to the most people.  They make radical moves like this to hold their extremist base, and meanwhile the general public feels worn out and powerless and is less likely to be engaged politically.  It’s been proven that little to no thought has been put to women’s best interests – we are still tragically underrepresented, even on the very committees that determine what women’s interests are and how to prioritize them.

Do you think this mindset will spread, either geographically or in terms of women’s wider rights?

There was a time when I thought this would be a death-knell for the Republican Party, and that this move would either drive away voters who were pro-choice, or no longer make the Republican Party appealing for one-issue Pro-Life voters who would have no reason to turn up to vote any longer. However, history has proven that I’m terrible at these predictions. Apparently, our politicians are no longer trying to fulfil the needs of a popular majority, but instead are appealing to a tiny but devout base and using questionable political strategy to amplify this voice.

Taliban control of Afghanistan has stripped the country’s women of many of their rights. Is there a parallel with the overturning of the Roe v Wade precedent?

As concerning as this ruling is, I think we are a long way from Taliban-esque restrictions on women’s freedom. There do seem to be a number of traits that are shared with the Taliban and gaining popularity, not only in the US but globally, namely nationalism, repression, and abuse of power. But I feel that we cannot equate what is happening here with what the women of Afghanistan are going through today.  At the very least, I have my voice and I use it, and I am not in fear for my life while I do. This is the time for us to assert ourselves so that we do not have to live under even more oppression in the future.

What does the new ruling mean for you?

Pennsylvania will be holding governor elections in November. The ruling means that we have to put increased effort in retaining our Democrat governorship this year, so we can keep our state rights to abortion, as well as increasing effort to “flip a seat” in the Senate, which would help to codify Roe V. Wade into law nationally in the future.

If that were not enough, just last week there was an effort to add a state Constitutional Amendment to the ballot this November, inviting people to vote yes or no on banning abortion in Pennsylvania. In theory, this sounds like a great idea – Abortion has wide, grassroots support, and the people should make that determination directly with a democratic decision.  However, in practice, this has been shown to be disastrous. The way the question is phrased is meant to tease a “yes” vote from the public against the right to abortion, and so it will take a great deal of money, time, and door-to-door knocking to make our citizens show up for a mid-term election and understand what they are voting for.

As a state that still has abortion access, we are also preparing for a sharp increase in women seeking abortions at our clinics here.  We saw this when our neighbouring state Ohio passed a law restricting abortions ins 2018 and our clinics were overwhelmed with new cases. We will need to prepare for another increase as trigger laws go into effect.  More volunteers will be needed as patient escorts to protect women from anti-abortion activists showing up at clinics, who doubtless are galvanized by the recent ruling.  More funding will be needed, perhaps even to open up additional clinics.

I worry, of course, for myself and my own daughters, whom I hope will always be able to decide for themselves how to best govern their lives and their bodies. I feel incredibly lucky that my family are in a position to be able to handle the worst of what is thrown at us – we are financially comfortable, well-educated, and open to talking about many things ( I have endeavoured to try to create an atmosphere without judgement, although I don’t suppose there is any way to measure success in that).  I especially worry for the women and girls who have limited means and power, and who will now be forced to have even less.



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