To what extent should abortion be regulated

The US Supreme Court is addressing one of the most controversial issues in American politics: abortion. The Washington court said Monday it would review a Mississippi state law that bans virtually all abortions after the 15th week. The Supreme Court ruling will have far-reaching implications for women in the United States. If the nine judges reject the Mississippi law, the right to an abortion would be cemented in the highest instance for decades to come. If they do, however, it could mean that millions of American women no longer have access to safe, legal abortion.

The legal situation regarding abortions in the USA has not yet been conclusively clarified: Depending on the state, abortions are more liberal or stricter. Especially in the conservative, republican-ruled states in the south there are laws and regulations in many places that make it difficult, sometimes practically impossible, for women to have an abortion. The extent to which these restrictions are legal is not always clear.

Because a woman's basic right to an abortion is not regulated by a clearly formulated law at the US federal level, but only by an earlier ruling by the Supreme Court. In 1973, in a ruling known as "Roe v. Wade", the latter ruled that the constitution gives all women in the United States, no matter where they live, the right to an abortion. The government must not restrict this free, personal choice, at least not in the first trimester of pregnancy. In the second trimester, only medically justifiable restrictions are allowed. Only in the third trimester does the ruling grant the state the right to severely restrict abortions to protect unborn life. "Roe v. Wade" made blanket abortion bans from the beginning of pregnancy, as existed in some states, illegal.

Since then, a large part of the right-wing political camp, led by Christian conservative organizations, has been fighting in the USA to overturn this judgment. The politically left camp, on the other hand, is bitterly defending it. Hardly any decision by the Supreme Court is as controversial as "Roe v. Wade" even after five decades. Hardly any other judgment has deepened the rift in politics as much. And hardly any other topic is used so ruthlessly by left and right-wing electoral strategists to mobilize voters, demonize political opponents and collect donations.

Abortion is a front line in the culture war

The result: The question of whether a person is "pro-life" (i.e. against abortions) or "pro-choice" (for the right of a woman to opt for an interruption of pregnancy) has now become one of the most important and most important hardest contested front lines in the "culture war" that has been tearing American society apart for years.

One strategy that right-wing organizations use specifically to overturn "Roe v. Wade" is to bring another case to the Supreme Court - in the hope that the court will decide differently today than it did in 1973 and revoke the nationwide abortion law. Then at least individual conservative states could return to largely prohibiting abortion. Millions of American women would be affected. There are already a number of states that have passed so-called "heartbeat laws". These declare abortions illegal as soon as the heartbeat of the fetus can be detected, i.e. from about the sixth week of pregnancy. So far, "Roe v. Wade" has prevented these "Heartbeat Bills" from being used in practice.

The anti-abortionists have now come closer to their goal of getting rid of "Roe v. Wade". The Mississippi law, which almost completely bans abortions after the 15th week, was essentially nothing more than a legal and political provocation: It was deliberately formulated in such a way that it contradicts the rules laid down in "Roe v. Wade". These allow abortions into the sixth month. For this reason, federal courts have so far prevented the Mississippi 15-week law and other, even stricter laws from coming into force. The Supreme Court could have left it with the decisions of these lower instances. But the judges decided to take the case.

After this first success, the abortion opponents are now hoping for another one - namely that the judges will pass a verdict that overturns "Roe v. Wade". They base this hope on the composition of the court: of the nine judges, six are considered politically conservative, three as more liberal.

A booster for the congressional election campaign

Since the court makes decisions by majority decision, there is at least in theory a significant chance that "Roe v. Wade" will be changed or withdrawn. Abortion opponents are counting on Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a staunch Catholic who replaced the late left-liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the Supreme Court last year. This expanded the majority of Conservatives from five to four to a more solid majority of six to three.

It will be a few more months before the Supreme Court renders the verdict. The negotiation is planned for the fall, the decision will be made in the spring or summer - just in time to heat up the congressional election campaign in the coming year with a controversial topic.