December 2, 2022

…the ruling seems to be more disadvantageous to African women because statistics has it that 40% of  women who get abortions in the US are black/African women…

By John Augustina

On the 24th of June, 2022, Americans were stripped of their right to an abortion in a new ruling that stands as Roe v. Wade’s reversal. Roe’s law was enacted by the US Supreme Court in 1973 to give protection and liberty to women who want to have an abortion. The decision was made after a single, pregnant woman, Jane Roe, filed a lawsuit against the then district attorney of Ballas County, Texas, Henry Wade, appealing that she should be given the protection to terminate her pregnancy. Visiting Roe’s case, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment which protects against state action the right to privacy was considered. The court decided that the provision of this Amendment invariably meant that a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion was not an exemption, and any form of prohibition regarding abortion without giving cognizance to the stage of pregnancy violates the right of women. The Roe v. Wade law was finally enacted three years from when Jane for filed the case.

Since the reversal, there have been reactions from individuals, groups and organisations across the country. Following the announcement, many protests have been staged. Thousands of Americans took to the environment of the Supreme Court to demonstrate their displeasure. Social media platforms such as Twitter, experienced an uproar from people who took to their handles to voice their stance.

While some spoke in support of the ban, others took a stance of opposition against it, declaring that people do not deserve to be stripped of their rights in that manner. Showing dedication and commitment to those who think the ban is unfair, Lauren R. Hobart, president and CEO/member of Board of Directors at DICK’S Sporting Goods made a public statement where she noted that the company would sponsor abortion trips for interested persons to places where the procedure is legal. Acclimating to a new era where abortion is deemed illegal is almost a nightmare, and unbearable for many who are of the opinion that they have legal rights to do with their bodies as they please.

Americans and even Africans in Diaspora have raised their voices in an attempt to weave and overturn the new ruling, despite that there seems to be no hope of an overturn soon. The argument of some is that blocking access to abortion directly infringes upon people’s ability to exercise their reproductive rights, which may lead to women losing their lives in the hands of quacks in a bid to get illegal abortions. For others, their plight resides with the teenage girl who may not be able to complete her school due to her pregnancy.

Most African countries are known for their stringent rules as regards abortion. As a matter of fact, most Africans know that the mention of abortion is enough stigma to last a woman a life time. Countries such as Nigeria have repealed liberalisation laws in past years. In 2013, the then governor of Imo State in Southern Nigeria repealed a ruling that made allowances for abortions in unprecedented cases such as rape, incest, or health issues of a mother. Like birds who manage to escape their cages and are exercising their freedom in the air, many African women who reside in the United States, when Roe was functional, had the liberty to undergo such procedure without having to face the law. A liberty which they have now been robbed of.

Contrary to the Clauses of Roe v. Wade where pregnant women were entitled to an abortion during the first trimester of their pregnancy, while allowing for flexible legal restrictions in the second trimester, and rigid restrictions in the third trimester, the court has completely overturned that decision, clearly stating that states can ban abortions earlier than the first trimester, specifically 6 weeks, which is almost discovery stage for many women. This means, ultimately, that abortion is banned throughout pregnancy.

The ban covers all women, including African women living in America. However, the ruling seems to be more disadvantageous to African women because statistics has it that 40% of women who get abortions in the US are black/African women. This data leans on the high side for reasons such as maternal health issues which occur mostly due to low-quality maternal care, the likelihood of African women to become obese, which could lead to pregnancy complications, and stress from working several jobs to meet up with bills. There is also the predominant issue of negligence on the part of health workers when it involves African American or African women just like in the case of the tennis star, Serena Williams. In 2018, Serena Williams, in an interview with Vogue said that she was heavily neglected at the hospital after having her daughter, Alexis Olympia. Shortly after giving birth through a caesarean procedure, Serena had a severe shortage of breath. This experience heightened her fear due to her history of pulmonary embolisms. She drew the attention of a nurse and asked that an immediate CT scan and IV heparin be conducted. For a woman in such a condition, her request was surprisingly declined because the nurse assumed that her medications were merely toying with her mind. There are hundreds of such cases.

It would only be an act of negligence to underestimate the extent to which this ban would affect African women. For one, they may not be able to afford the expenses of travelling to a state where abortion is legal given the disparity in wages. This also may expose them to the decision of secret abortions in the hands of unqualified medical personnel. Beyond the women in Diaspora, African countries that look up to the US for financial assistance are likely to adopt this ban for the purpose of approval. Rather than liberalise and decriminalise abortion, some African countries will fall back on instituting the ban just like their funding country did.

While it is true that the intentions of these groups campaigning against this ruling sound convincing and thoughtful, it is however highly disturbing that what they are fighting for, primarily, is allowances, not for critical cases of unhealthy embryo or mother, but for women to be given the right to do what they wish with their bodies even if it involves terminating the lives of their unborn, healthy children. This is the reason their plea for an overturn begs more questions than answers. Some of these questions are: what are the offences of the children being aborted? Are they objects that can be disposed off at will? Do they not have rights to live like every other child? Are unborn children expendable? Why don’t they have rights? Are they concerned about health issues or they are vested in being given the right to kill? The questions are countless.

In 2019, data from the National Vital Statistics System shows that 754 women were recorded as having died from maternal issues in the United States. That same year, about 629,898 abortions were recorded from 2010-2019 nationally, slightly up from 619,591 in 2018. This means that in only 2019, about 10,307 abortions were recorded. The figures reported include only the legally-performed abortions conducted in clinics and hospitals by qualified doctors, and also those that make use of abortion pills issued in certified facilities such as clinics or hospitals. They do not include data for women who used abortion pills that were dispensed outside of the confines of the clinic or hospital. What this shows is that in just a year, about 10,307 children were killed intentionally by their mothers who only thought it convenient to kill them. About 60% of these women were recorded to be in their 20s and had no health issues that would stand as a reason for the procedure. This data proves that numerous children were aborted from 2019 till June when the legality of the process was removed.

Historically, both English common law and US law did not recognise the foetus as a person with full rights before or during Roe v. Wade. Rather, the foetus was considered to be part of the mother; hence, legal rights were centered on the mother. Under the terms of the fourteenth amendment to the US Constitution, however, the Supreme Court stated that, although a foetus is not an entity with rights, there is the interest in protecting the life of a foetus after it has developed to the point where it can live outside the womb. This explains why the states were permitted to outlaw abortion in the third trimester of pregnancy with exceptions to preserving the life of the mother.

As valid as the law which protects children only in the third trimester is, isn’t it worth considering that every child that made it to the third trimester went through the first trimester? Perhaps foetus rights were always in the background and were meant to resurface as far back as 1973 when ROE was enacted.

Before the Roe v. Wade law was overturned, many articles geared towards advocating for the rights of unborn children were written. One of those articles clearly demands that people, including unborn children deserve to live. It further states that the fact that human characteristics were yet to form at the first and second trimester of pregnancy did not justify their removal.

One fact remains, however, and it is that many have closed their minds and have refused to accept that the law does not totally rule out the removal of pregnancies in situations where the life of the mother is threatened. It only places a stringent ban on women who incessantly stroll into a hospital every now and then to dictate the right to existence of an unborn child.

It may be necessary that African women in the US and other such countries where abortion is criminalised to perceive this ban as a veiled gift, in that it only seeks to protect the rights of unborn children. It is only meant to send the clear message to people that actions have consequences, consequently awakening a sense of responsibility in them. African women in the US and in the larger Diaspora could attempt to view this law as, truthfully, what has always been a part of the traditional African culture which frowned on such abortive practices. The law may also go towards fostering sobriety that would dissuade men from considering women as quarry sites for sperm disposal.

 

John Augustina is a writer, a journalist, a singer, loves people and currently writes for Afrocritik.

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