For at last, the conservative legal project for the past 50 years is complete – the reproductive right to abortion guaranteed by Roe v. Wade is overturned, in a ruling released on Friday, June 24.
In a vote of 5-4 divided along ideological lines (Chief Justice John Roberts concurred only on judgment ), the United States Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, with Justice Samuel Alito writing for the majority, said that: “The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.”
Senior Associate Justice Clarence Thomas even went so far as to say, in his concurring opinion, that this case could also pave the way for other legal cases he deems as wrongly decided – Griswold v. Connecticut, Lawrence v. Texas, Obergefell v. Hodges – to be brought up to the court and overturned as well.
The dissenting opinion of the three liberal justices in the court reads: “With sorrow – for this court, and for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional guarantee – we dissent.”
Meanwhile, for a country with very little to no access to safe abortion like the Philippines, and which still criminalizes anyone who undergoes this procedure, the light is now definitely dimmer for any hope about providing women options and protect their right to choose what to do with their own body.
Abortion as an election issue
For a country whose 80 percent of the population identifies as Catholic, abortion rights, or at the very least access to contraception or any form of birth control, is not something that’s usually talked about in a public forum.
Due to the church’s vehement objection and effective obstruction, it took the country more than three decades to pass the Reproductive Health Law, and it was only implemented in full in 2017, or five years after it passed, because it was repeatedly challenged in the Supreme Court.
Even during election debates, these topics do not usually get asked, until a senatorial aspirant, Atty. Luke Espiritu, spoke at length about his open support for abortion rights, and why it should be decriminalized.
“We have controlled women’s bodies for too long … telling women when to reproduce, telling women what to think, what to wear. Telling women their limitations. Women should decide,” he said in an interview in ANC.
It was a welcome development, of course, especially for groups that have been fighting for this right for decades. And the irony is not lost on everyone that the person who initiated this conversation is a man himself.
But presidential candidates wouldn’t give in. In an interview with Boy Abunda, then a presidential candidate, President-Elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. said that he is in favor of providing safe and accessible abortion to women who are victims of sexual crimes, but only for very severe cases.
Meanwhile, Vice President Leni Robredo said that as a Catholic, she’s conflicted about the issue, but she’s open for decriminalization. While Senator Ping Lacson said that he needed further studies, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno and Sen. Manny Pacquiao are vehemently against it.
What abortion really looks like in the Philippines
The numbers don’t lie – despite being illegal in the country, this hasn’t stopped women, most especially poor women, from getting it, albeit in unsanitary and unsafe places.
In a study conducted by Guttmacher Institute in 2013, about 25 million Filipinas who are of reproductive age are experiencing unintended pregnancies and don’t have easy access to contraceptives, which lead them to avail it at great risk.
Despite being highly stigmatized and punishable both by law and by the church, recent studies have found that the national abortion incidence estimates a rate of 27 abortion per 1,000 women of reproductive age in 2000, higher than the estimate of unsafe abortion in Southeast Asia as a whole.
And the most common reason why women avail of it is due to economic reasons – they feel that since they don’t have the means to give their unborn child a good life, it’s better for them to be terminated than experience the hardship that they’re facing.
According to a 2004 National Survey of Women of Reproductive Age, nearly three in four women abort their child due to their inability to shoulder the cost of child-rearing, while some have already more than enough on their plate. Almost two-thirds of women who had an abortion were poor, and a whopping 13 percent cited pregnancy as a result of rape or other forms of harassment as justification for getting an abortion.
Although it has been a systemic problem for so long, politicians who cower to the churches’ demands in exchange for their support prevent them from making any headway on this issue. They would rather keep Filipinas tied to an endless cycle of violence and control over their body than squander their capital in a political loser.
Societies are supposed to keep up with the times, not regress with it. And now that Roe is overturned, religious groups and others vehemently against women making decisions for their own bodies will realize that nothing is ever really finally decided, if one has the right people in the right positions.
It is not an understatement to say that this ruling will not just affect American women; it could also have dire consequences for countries with no safe abortion access like the Philippines. If the most powerful country in the world could do this, there’s no stopping other governments to not just remain indifferent about it, but even more restrict women’s choice on what to do with their own body.
“The news coming out of the United States is horrific. My heart goes out to the millions of American women who are now set to lose their legal right to an abortion. I can’t imagine the fear and anger you are feeling right now,” said Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, and then went on to say that they will welcome anyone in their country who wants to avail this safely.
And with the midterm elections fast approaching, this issue will definitely be one of the deciding factors on who will control Congress in the next two years. There is no better time than now for Democrats to show that they are the majority, and codify Roe at the soonest possible time. Singing “God Bless America” in front of Capitol steps or using this issue to gather campaign funds isn’t just gonna cut it. Decisive action needs now, not after the midterms.
Otherwise, if they still remain feeble, Roe might not be the only thing that will be overturned.
UPDATE: This story was originally published on May 26, and has been updated throughout to reflect the United States Supreme Court's decision of June 24 to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Marvin Joseph Ang is a news and creative writer who follows developments in politics, democracy, and popular culture. He advocates for a free press and national democracy. The views expressed are his own.