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The Real Truth About Roe v Wade

A leaked draft US Supreme Court opinion has suggested that millions of people in the US could lose the constitutional 'right to choose' abortion. The ruling - which is anticipated to be made in June or July 2022 - would overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

If the ruling goes ahead, it is anticipated that around half of US states, mostly in the South and Midwest, would ban abortion.

Reproductive rights are a highly politicized issue in the US, with opposing ideologies even represented on the Supreme Court itself. Misinformation abounds around both Roe v. Wade and the facts around abortion itself. Here, we look at the real facts that inform key areas of the abortion debate in the US.

1. Abortion is not an invention of modern medicine

While sometimes characterized as an invention of modern medicine, we know from historical documentation that abortion has actually been practiced or at least the past four thousand years in cultures around the world.

Evidence in the art and history of empires as diverse as Ancient Egypt and China points to it being an acknowledged part of life.

Abortion was also a topic drawing comment in Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece, with philosophers debating not its permissibility per se, but rather the pivotal moment of 'life' question that triggers passionate arguments to this day.

"...when couples have children in excess, let abortion be procured before sense and life have begun; what may or may not be lawfully done in these cases depends on the question of life and sensation." - Aristotle

2. Roe V Wade didn't legalize abortion

Contrary to many reports, before Roe v Wade, abortion was actually legal in many US states.

What the judgment did was hold that within the 14th Amendment to the Constitution the implied right to privacy there was also a constitutional right to abortion and that, following the amendment, no state could abridge that right.

Therefore, a judgement that overturns Roe v. Wade would not mean abortion would be illegal all over the US. Instead, anti-abortion laws could be passed state by state, as people would no longer be afforded a constitutional 'right' to it.

3. Restricting access to abortion doesn't stop them happening

Research has shown that restricting access to abortion does not reduce the amount of abortions that take place. In fact, abortion rates are almost identical in countries where it is illegal: around 34-37 women in 1,000.

Instead, prohibiting abortion increases the rate of unsafe, illegal abortions - putting citizens at physical risk - and places them under greater emotional and financial stress.

4. The majority of abortion patients were using contraception in the month before they conceived

While its commonplace for Conservative campaigners to paint people who have abortions as 'irresponsible', in fact more than half of abortion patients say they had used a contraceptive method in the month they got pregnant.

Condoms and hormonal birth control methods like the pill are not infallible. And even where they are desired, many people in the areas that are most likely to make legal changes if the Supreme Court ruling goes ahead struggle to access robust reproductive health and contraceptive services. Abortion is much more common is poorer areas, where access to birth control is extremely limited.

5. Abortion rates are declining

Despite this, overall abortion rates in the US are declining.

Between 2006 and 2015 they dropped by 26%, although currently around a quarter of women will have an abortion by the time they’re 45 years old.

Availability to birth control is cited as a key factor in this decline.

6. More than half of the women who get abortions already have children.

Far from abortion being accessed only by young, unmarried teenagers, over half of people who access the procedure are older and have children.

The most common reason given for having an abortion is concerns about being able to provide for existing children, which may account for why there is also a higher rate of abortion in women who have two children already.

7. The key argument of the Supreme Court is not based on religion

While religion is often cited as a driver of legal changes around abortion by campaigners, this is actually not the basis of the draft opinion by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr..

Instead, in the draft he makes the argument that abortion is not rooted in the America's history and tradition - and mocks the original Roe v. Wade judgement as a 'stretch'.

8. The Church has not always banned abortion.

Despite the religious associations of the anti-abortion movement, the Catholic Church only started advocating against the procedure around the1800s.

Before modern times, Islam, too, typically permitted early trimester abortion.

9. Abortion is safer than childbirth

Researchers from Columbia University found that women were around 14 times more likely to die during or after giving birth to a live baby than to die from complications of an abortion.

And a survey found that up to a quarter of a million Texas women say they have tried to self-induce abortions at some point in their lives. This study was conducted even before the recent wave of clinic closures.

10. Most Americans are Pro Choice

Despite misinformation to the contrary, according to a Pew Research Center survey, the majority of American support the right to abortion.

Nearly 60% of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.


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