During U.S. mid-term elections earlier this week, Alabama and West Virginia voted in favour of constitutional amendments that restrict women’s access to abortion. Alabama’s second amendment now declares that “this state does not protect the right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” It passed with an approving vote of 61%. West Virginia secured the constitutional amendments with an approving vote of 51%. The state has decided that “nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.” Alabama’s new laws don’t make exceptions for women that seek an abortion due to cases of incest, rape, or concerns for her own life. West Virginia’s amendments mean that women no longer have the right to abortions with Medicaid funding, even where those abortions are considered a medical necessity.
The approval of these two amendments has been received divisively. As the vote became clear, anti-abortion and pro-life activists spoke out on the changes to the law. According to CNN, Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of the national anti-abortion group, has said that the vote is the proof that “West Virginians value life and reject abortion on demand.” She has also stated that “Amendment 1 could spare the lives of 1,500 unborn West Virginians every year.” Dannenfelser’s triumph; however, is not shared by all across the political spectrum. CNN reports that Dr. Brandi Shah, a family physician in Alabama, has commented that the approval of the two amendments has left her “heartbroken for my patients and the people of Alabama and West Virginia.”
It is important to note that these amendments will not have a significant immediate impact on America’s abortion laws in general. However, there is a fear among pro-abortion activists that the two amendments have cleared the way for the beginning of the process that would eventually criminalize abortions altogether. Much of this fear rests upon whether or not “Roe v. Wade” will be overturned. If so, Alabama and West Virginia would act as a “trigger” legislation that would automatically outlaw abortions in these states. Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, and South Dakota currently have similar “trigger” laws that would automatically criminalize abortions in the event of “Roe v. Wade” being overturned.
Despite the fact that the result of Tuesday’s vote seems to signify the loss for pro-abortion campaigners, some have remained optimistic. Although Alabama and West Virginia took on an anti-abortion position, a similar proposed amendment was rejected in the state of Oregon. The proposed anti-abortion measures in Oregon would have withdrawn public funding for abortion, with exceptions in cases of rape, incest or threats to the mother’s health. For the fourth time in recent decades, citizens of Oregon rejected such restrictions on abortion rights. For this reason, Deirdre Schiefeling, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes, has stated that the mid-term election was a “major victory [for] anyone in this country who cares about access to reproductive healthcare.”
In many ways, America’s mid-term elections represent a victory for women. An unprecedented number of women ran and succeeded in the election. Congress now has its first two Muslim women and its first Native American woman. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is also the youngest woman to have ever been elected to Congress. The adoption of anti-abortion amendments in Alabama and West Virginia doesn’t undermine these achievements. It does; however, represents the U.S. that is sharply divided under President Trump’s administration. It is true that movements such as MeToo have raised an awareness of women’s rights and issues, but no without a conservative backlash. Although of little practical threat to women seeking abortions today, Alabama’s and West Virginia’s amendments pose a certain danger to women’s future abortion rights. In one of the statements, the organization VoteProChoice has voiced a concern that the Supreme Court “will likely overturn Roe v. Wade” next year. As such, despite the gains for women during America’s mid-term election, the new abortion laws in Alabama and West Virginia have made the possibility of criminalizing abortions seem plausible.
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