What is Roe v Wade? And what does this mean for UK abortion rights?

If you’ve heard the recent news of the abortion ban in the USA, you might be wondering what this actually means and working out how you feel about it, and we're here to help you with all the latest information. In this article we’ll look at what the ban means for Americans and whether this affects our UK abortion rights.

Three young people are standing under a banner that reads, "why abortion rights are important to so many people." The background is purple.

T/W: Includes references to rape.

Roe v Wade summary

In June 2022, millions of women across the US lost their abortion rights when Roe v Wade was overturned. Roe v Wade was a huge step for women’s rights in the US when it was passed, as it took powers away from individual states to regulate abortion under state law, making abortions available across the country. 

Now Roe v Wade has been overturned, laws which ban women and pregnant people from terminating an unwanted pregnancy are already in motion in numerous Republican-run states across America. 

Why was Roe v Wade overturned?

This a is a complicated one. There is a vocal ‘Pro-Life’ movement in the USA, who argue that terminating a pregnancy is morally wrong; they see this as ending a human life and believe that abortion should be illegal. Many members of this movement are Republican voters and have campaigned and put pressure on the Republican Party to support them and have pushed for Roe v Wade to be overturned. This movement is also influenced and supported by some Christian communities, who believe that abortion is wrong due to their interpretation of when life begins, although not all Christians hold this belief. 

The ultimate decision to overturn Roe v Wade was made by the Supreme Court, the members of which are nominated by the president. The Supreme Court’s decisions can therefore be influenced when the president selects judges who have a particular belief system which supports their political agenda. In the current make up of the Supreme Court, six of the judges were selected by Republican presidents and three were selected by Democrat presidents, so many argue that the decision to overturn Roe v Wade was in the making for a long period of time.

What does this mean for women and pregnant people?

This essentially means that many women, girls and pregnant people can’t get abortions and may face court prosecution, as well as huge health risks if they try to get an abortion illegally. 

Lots of people have expressed their worry about the danger this puts women and girls in. Not only does it take away their right to choose the direction of their life, it also means the number of illegal and self-induced abortions will increase. These are often very dangerous and can even be life threatening.

Huge protests have taken place across the US as well as in the UK, where people of all genders are demonstrating their outrage at the court’s decision. Some people worry this is just the first step towards further restrictions on rights such as gay marriage and access to contraception. 

Why is it so important to protect abortion rights? 

Legalising abortion was such an important step in the women’s rights movement. It meant women, girls and pregnant people had freedom to do what was best for themselves and their bodies at that particular time in their lives. It meant they could decide the course of their life and that other people couldn’t have an opinion on what is fundamentally a very private decision. It was a huge step forwards for gender equality and that is now being threatened. It’s important to remember that abortion rights also affect trans and non-binary people.

Abortion rights also affect those for whom it may be dangerous to have a baby due to health reasons, and those who are pregnant at a really young age, sometimes after being raped. Without the right to abortion, these people are forced to carry their pregnancy to term, risking their physical and mental health and sometimes their lives.

What does the overturning of Roe v Wade mean for UK abortion rights?

What’s happening in the US does not affect our right to abortion here in the UK. Currently in the UK, any woman can get an abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. 

They are sometimes carried out after 24 weeks if, for example, the woman’s life is at risk or if the foetus has a serious abnormality. If you need to get an abortion or are considering having one, try to see your GP as soon as possible, or get in touch with a sexual health expert, such as those at Brook. You can find more info on UK abortion laws here and can find out more about the abortion procedure here.

In Northern Ireland abortion was decriminalised in 2019 and it now follows the same abortion laws as the rest of the UK. You can find more information about abortion in Northern Ireland here

Although what’s happening in the USA does not affect our UK abortion rights, it does show that laws are not set in stone and that they can change.

What can I do to protect abortion rights? 

The most powerful thing people in the UK can do to protect abortion rights is to be outspoken and proudly ‘Pro-Choice’. If you’re new to the term ‘Pro-Choice’, it basically means you believe women should have the choice to decide what they do with their bodies and that no one should be able to take that away. If you feel strongly about this, let the world know. Head to peaceful protests, talk to your friends and family, and make your voice heard. 

I don’t know how to feel about all this 

Lydia from The Mix’s helpline team has shared some wise words to help if the news from US has left you feeling shocked, angry, sad or perplexed:

“What you see on the news/social media may bring up a range of different emotions for you and each and every one of those is valid. Allow yourself to feel those feels! If there are some that are a bit more confusing than others, take some time to explore those feelings and thoughts. You could talk it through with a friend or express yourself in another way, such as through a creative outlet or exercise. You are not alone in how you’re feeling and if it seems like there is no one immediately around you can talk to, then you can reach out to The Mix to speak to someone on the helpline, or join our community to chat with some of your peers.”

If you need some more support, you can get in touch with our team here for a free and confidential chat about any issue.

Next Steps

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Updated on 03-Aug-2022

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