The overturning of Roe vs. Wade unsettles the Caribbean, most of which doesn't have progressive abortion laws

The United States Supreme Court. Photo by Glenn Beltz on Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

On June 24, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned Roe vs. Wade, a controversial 1973 case that resulted in abortion being deemed a constitutional right for women. Nearly 50 years ago, the victory meant that state abortion laws, like the ones in Texas where the case was brought, were struck down. However, the ruling polarised Americans according to their moral and religious beliefs, fuelling heated debate over the degree to which abortion should be legalised, if at all.

The reversal of this landmark ruling came about on the heels of Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a 2019 case that successfully challenged a Mississippi Act banning the termination of pregnancies after 15 weeks. This ruling was overturned by the conservative-majority Supreme Court last year, heralding the beginning of the end for the freedoms ensured by Roe vs. Wade.

Legislation governing abortion access now reverts to state level. In delivering the court's opinion, Justice Samuel Alito noted that it was time to “return the issue of abortion to the people's elected representatives.” The bent of the majority of U.S. states towards abortion is severely prohibitive.

Many, including Caribbean netizens and Caribbean-American legislators, view the overturning of Roe vs. Wade as the first step down a slippery slope where people's hard-won rights could become increasingly eroded. In a region whose own abortion laws are restrictive, social media users were outspoken about their displeasure.

Trinbagonian social media user Rhoda Bharath didn't mince words in her analysis of the situation:

In case you missed it, the USA yesterday finally came out of the closet and revealed itself as a full fledged theocracy. […]

What is troubling about Roe vs Wade is this, laws are meant to protect all members of a society, as far as is possible – not just a select few – and the overturning of the ruling opens the flood gates for all kinds of other rights and civil liberties to be tampered with or changed entirely. And it is a political faction that spouts and promotes Christian virtues that is at the heart of getting this ruling overturned.

The overturning of Roe vs Wade puts the state in a position where it is policing the bodies of women without giving them viable options and solutions for unwanted pregnancies. And it is promoting the change in the decision as good Christian values. […]

So the USA, a society of multiple cultures, has declared itself as a Christian state. But a selective Christian state, protecting the privileges of a particular group.

London-based Jason Jones, who in 2018 won a case against the Trinidad and Tobago government over the unconstitutionality of the country's Sexual Offences Act criminalising anal sex between consenting adults, was concerned about the potential ripple effects:

My Soul hurts tonight. […]
Whatever your beliefs, it is a Woman's FREE WILL to do what ever she CHOOSES with her body.
Today's @SCOTUS judgement is an enormous step backwards in human rights.
And as a claimant in an ongoing human rights legal challenge, I'm scared tonight for the future.
We are seeing a swing to Conservatism in our Courts and we in minority communities tonight are heartbroken and scared. 🥺

He wasn't the only one:

Journalist Kejan Haynes referred to Republican Senator Mike Braun's response to the question of whether interracial marriage should be left to individual states to decide — part of the racially charged discourse that surrounded the soon-to-be-installed Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings back in March — and was amused at the irony of Clarence Thomas, one of the judges who voted to overturn Roe vs. Wade, suggesting that other decisions, like gay marriage and birth control, should also be revisited:

Thomas’ wife Virginia is white.

While the Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago took the opportunity to remind people that reproductive rights are human rights, Facebook user Sherron Walker-Harford republished a widely shared tweet:

One member of the Caribbean diaspora, Sonya Sanchez-Arias, who lives in the United States and believes men shouldn't have the power to make laws governing women's bodies, noted:

I've said it once, and I'll say it a thousand times: The treatment for an ectopic pregnancy, a septic uterus, or a miscarriage that your body won't release is abortion. If you can't get those abortions, you die. You. Die.

Trinidadian comedian Simmy De Trini put her own spin on it:

*So women should give you sex freely with no marriage, they should either put chemicals in their bodies before or after sex so you can enjoy the pleasure of sex without the responsibility of children. But if they get pregnant and don't want to go through the pregnancy, they shouldn't be able to access safe healthcare and should revert to backyard methods to terminate the pregnancy… […]

Mankind: Yes! Put that in the law for them! And back it up with some religious quotes for the extra razzle dazzle.

*Have you asked them what they want?

Mankind: Why should they have a say over what they can and cannot do with their bodies?

Quite a few Caribbean social media users were struck by the incongruity of regional citizens feeling so despondent about the Supreme Court's decision:

Others suggested the decision would signal regression for any steps made thus far regarding reproductive rights in Jamaica:

The non-governmental organisation J-FLAG, which advocates for the social inclusion and protection of Jamaica's LGBTQ+ community and started an educational thread on Roe vs. Wade, added:

Barbados is a notable exception to the strict abortion laws of other Caribbean states. In 1983, the country's parliament passed the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, which decriminalised abortion — the first English-speaking Caribbean nation to so do — and this Barbadian Twitter user saw potential economic returns:

Seeing the writing on the wall with regard to Roe vs. Wade, Sir Ronald Sanders, Antigua and Barbuda's ambassador to the United States, argued that abortion should be legalised in the Caribbean, where women “rightly want the right to make a choice,” and where “anti-abortion laws have also worsened the economic condition for poorer women”:

In many CARICOM countries, abortion is not an option […] except to ‘save a woman's life’ as in Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica, or to ‘preserve health,’ which applies in the Bahamas, Grenada, St Kitts-Nevis, St Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago. Haiti, Jamaica and Suriname prohibit abortion altogether. Only three countries have a more progressive stance on this issue: Guyana allows abortions on request up to a gestational limit of 8 weeks, and Barbados and St Vincent and the Grenadines allow abortions for ‘broad social or economic grounds, rape, incest, and foetal impairment’.

Nevertheless, he says, it is “an open secret that abortions are performed, as a matter of practice, throughout the Caribbean,” and the existing status quo criminalises both the women who get them and the doctors who perform them:

Undoubtedly, apart from women deeply inculcated with religious dogma that oppose abortions, the time cannot be far off when women, throughout the Caribbean, like the women of the U.S., will use their voting power to demand the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

Adding that “men who share the responsibility for unwanted pregnancies […] should also join the fight to safeguard women's right to choose,” and that “Caribbean governments and legislators should open their ears to the position of women on this issue,” Sanders concluded:

It is their bodies, their health and their future that are at stake.

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