By Sofie Buckland
In 2003, the Republican-controlled Congress voted to outlaw “partial-birth abortion”, an entirely made-up anti-choice term for the dilation and extraction (D&X) abortion procedure. At the end of April the Supreme Court voted five to four to uphold the ban; it is the first time the Court has made a decision which intervenes into a doctor’s choice of abortion procedure, a decision which is not just about the general legality of abortion.
Dilation and extraction was previously only used after 12 weeks of pregnancy and only then for medical reason. Just 0.17% of abortions in the US in 2000 involved this procedure. Women cannot choose the procedure, so the ban limits a doctor’s ability to base their choice of procedure on their knowledge of a patient’s health and situation. Even when D&X is the best procedure for preserving the health of the woman, the ban does not make an exception. Only where a woman’s life can be shown to be at risk can the procedure be performed.
The decision confirms fears that anti-choice campaigners, strengthened by the Bush administration, are attacking abortion rights piecemeal rather than launch a high-profile challenge to the landmark Roe v. Wade (1973) decision (ruling that laws outlawing abortion were unconstitutional).
A similar case in 2000 was ruled the opposite way by the Court. But since then one judge, Sandra Day O’Connor, has been replaced by the more conservative Samuel Alito. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg provided the most vocal opposition, arguing that the ban “cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this court, and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women’s lives".
This ruling makes even more precarious a woman’s right to choose in the US. The ban on D&X is the latest in a long line of attacks since Bush came to power: last year some states outlawed abortion; it is increasingly difficult to get abortion (or even the morning-after pill) in most states. US abortion campaigners need to go on the offensive to get a right to abortion enshrined in law, and put pressure on the Democrat-controlled Congress and Senate to make stand for a women’s right to choose and try to reverse this decision.