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Roe v/s Wade: Right To Abortion And The Ramifications Of Its Reversal

In this American legal matter, a Texas law that banned abortions, except when necessary to preserve the mother's life, was contested for infringing upon the constitutional guarantee of liberty under the Fourteenth Amendment and the right to privacy, as established in the 1965 Griswold v Connecticut case. The court sided with the challenge and confirmed that a woman's right to abortion is an aspect of personal privacy.

The case of Roe v. Wade is a critical United States Supreme Court decision that revolutionized the nation's legal abortion rights environment. The case was lawed in 1973, and it specifically dealt with the constitutional statutes of the law that outlaw abortion. Following this landmark verdict, Roe v. Wade fuelled the debate on abortion right to reproductive freedom for women and the legality of abortion for several years.

The case began when a Texas resident, a woman referred to the fictitious name Jane Roe for confidentiality, challenged the criminal abortion laws of the state. In those days, abortion bore a different label, and everywhere except when the mother's life threatened by it, it was banned. The plaintiff even claimed that these restrictions infringed on her constitutional right to privacy, which included the right to terminate a pregnancy.

The Roe v. Wade decision was delivered by the US Supreme Court on January 22, 1973. The Court ruled 7-2 that a woman's decision to have an abortion was covered by her right to privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. The Court acknowledged that in order to safeguard the health of expectant mothers and potential human life, this right must be weighed against the state's interest in restricting abortion.

Based on the pregnancy's trimester, the ruling created a framework for assessing state abortion laws. The Court ruled that a woman and her doctor should discuss whether to end a pregnancy in the first trimester as a private matter. States were therefore forbidden from placing major limitations on abortion during this time.

The state's interest in controlling abortion to safeguard the health of mothers became stronger in the second trimester. States could therefore create laws to guarantee the safety of abortion procedures, but they were not allowed to impose excessively onerous regulations that would prevent a woman from accessing an abortion.

The state's interest in safeguarding potential human life becomes paramount during the third trimester, when the foetus becomes viable outside the womb. Except in cases where it was essential to protect the mother's life or health, states were allowed to outlaw abortions.

In the Roe v. Wade ruling, which upheld a woman's constitutional right to choose an abortion within certain bounds, represented a major win for proponents of reproductive rights. It cleared the path for the growth of reproductive rights in the US and offered legal protection for access to abortion services.

Nevertheless, Roe v. Wade also provoked strong criticism and backlash from conservative and anti-abortion organizations. The ruling stoked the anti-abortion movement and sparked attempts to reverse Roe v. Wade via judicial, legislative, and political channels.

Later on in time, Roe v. Wade encountered several obstacles in Congress, state legislatures, and the legal system. Restrictions on access to abortion became more widespread, and state laws requiring waiting periods, mandatory counselling, parental consent, and outlawing specific abortion procedures were passed as a result.

Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) and Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt (2016) are Supreme Court cases that have affirmed the fundamental principles of Roe v. Wade. These cases have also established new legal criteria for assessing the validity of state abortion regulations.

Despite the legal ruling, the debate over abortion rights continues to create deep divisions in American culture. Although efforts to limit abortion rights continue, Roe v. Wade is still at the centre of controversy and law.

Recently, conservative judges and legislators have worked to weaken or reverse Roe v. Wade, raising questions regarding the future of abortion rights in the US. Concerns among supporters of reproductive rights have increased due to the Supreme Court's makeup, which includes justices who are thought to be more hostile to the right to an abortion.

The outcome of Roe v. Wade and the overall state of abortion rights in the United States are still in flux, as the direction of reproductive rights policy is being shaped by political conflicts, court cases, and public opinion. In light of the ongoing discussion, the guidelines set forth in Roe v. Wade is still at the centre of debates concerning women's access to reproductive healthcare, autonomy, and bodily integrity.

Roe v. Wade's critics argue that the decision goes beyond the proper scope of the court's power by creating a constitutional entitlement to abortion. They argue that the Court's trimester approach is arbitrary and unsupported by the Constitution's text or history. They also argue that Roe has polarized American politics and sparked ongoing debates about abortion's morality and lawfulness. Some argue that Roe should be overturned, leaving the decision to be decided by the states through the democratic process instead of by a court decision.

The revocation of the Roe v. Wade legislation is concerning as it could foster a regressive societal perspective and undermine India's reproductive health measures. The move poses a significant challenge to the movement safeguarding women's sexual and reproductive rights. Given the global influence of the United States, it has the potential to stigmatize reproductive health.

India's abortion laws are comparatively liberal in the global context. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2021, passed by the Rajya Sabha in March 2021, amended the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971. India's Abortion Act extended the maximum gestational period for pregnancy termination from 20 to 24 weeks for specific categories of women, including victims of rape, incest, and other vulnerable individuals (such as minors and women with disabilities). In India, there is no gestational limit for abortion if a medical board determines the presence of 'serious foetal abnormalities. Section 3B of the rules under the MTP Act lists seven categories of forced pregnancy, including statutory rape of a minor or sexual assault; women with disabilities; or when women's marital status changes during pregnancy.

Although Indian courts are not obligated to follow Roe v. Wade as a precedent, judges have taken into account the principles established in this case when delivering judgments. Gobind v. State of Madhya Pradesh marked the initial instance in India where a judge cited Roe v. Wade, while examining whether the right to privacy can be deduced from Articles 19(1)(a), (d), and 21 of the Constitution, and whether these rights are absolute. Following Gobind v. State of Madhya Pradesh, a series of cases further explored the constitutionality of the right to privacy. In the 2017 case of Justice (Retd) K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India, the judges referred to Roe v. Wade to establish the Right to Privacy as an aspect of the Right to Life under Article 21.

On October 13, 2023, the CJI-led Bench of the Supreme Court of India observed that both the rights of the woman "must prevail" when it comes to abortion and that there is a need to "balance the rights of the unborn child". The Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) D Y Chandrachud on 22 April 2024 allowed a 14-year-old sexual assault victim to terminate her nearly 30-week pregnancy, saying that this is a "very very exceptional case where we have to protect her (the girl)". The Bench noted that the case report submitted by the dean of the Mumbai city hospital "clearly states that continuation of pregnancy against the will of a minor may adversely affect the physical and mental well-being of a minor who is barely 14 years old".

The debate on abortion rights in American society persists despite legal rulings like Roe v. Wade. Roe v. Wade (1973) established women's privacy and choice rights regarding abortion, sparking intense discussions and attempts to overturn it. Conservative and anti-abortion factions have vehemently opposed Roe v. Wade. Subsequent Supreme Court cases like Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) and Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt (2016) reaffirmed Roe's foundational principles while setting new legal parameters for assessing state abortion regulations. Despite these legal clashes, the contention surrounding abortion rights continues to polarize American society.

On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court revoked Roe v. Wade, the constitutional right to abortion in its ruling. The Supreme Court's decision overturned nearly 50 years of precedent, allowing states to implement abortion bans. The ruling removed the constitutional protection for abortion, paving the way for states to restrict or prohibit the procedure. The Supreme Court's decision reversed decades of established legal principles, granting states the authority to regulate abortion as they see fit. By removing the constitutional right to abortion, the Supreme Court's ruling empowered states to implement policies that severely restrict or eliminate access to reproductive healthcare.

The 2022 Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization (No. 19-1392) ruled that the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee the right to abortion. The Dobbs decision overturned the previous rulings of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, giving states the authority to regulate all aspects of abortion that are not protected by federal law.

The former US President Donald Trump extolled his influence in abolishing the constitutional right to abortion, labelling it 'a divine intervention,' while cautioning fellow Republicans to exercise restraint in discussing the matter. Three of the five Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case that protected abortion rights, were nominated by the former President Trump: Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.

According to the current US President, Joe Biden, Roe v. Wade was a sound constitutional decision that upheld the fundamental rights to privacy and liberty in matters of family and personal autonomy.

The Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision has a profound impact on society and women's lives. By declaring that the Constitution does not protect abortion rights, the ruling empowers states to implement stricter abortion restrictions. This could result in reduced availability of safe and legal abortion services, particularly for marginalized communities and women. The ruling reignites debates about bodily autonomy, healthcare accessibility, and the government's role in regulating personal choices. Ultimately, the decision has wide-ranging implications for women's reproductive health, autonomy, and societal equality, potentially shaping abortion rights for the foreseeable future.

Written By: Md.Imran Wahab, IPS, IGP, Provisioning, West Bengal
Email: [email protected], Ph no: 9836576565

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