21 October 2018
Abortion has been a divisive issue in the US with pro-life and pro-choice groups holding polarized views. Photo:
Abortion has been a divisive issue in the US with pro-life and pro-choice groups holding polarized views. Photo:

Why US abortion is a never-ending saga

Perhaps only Americans or expats who have spent a substantial amount of time in the US would understand why abortion has been such a divisive and polarizing issue in the US.

During an interview with CBS News, President-elect Donald Trump once again asserted his tough, long-standing stance on this sensitive issue. He said that he is pro-life rather than pro-choice and is firmly against abortion and that he will appoint Supreme Court judges to overturn the landmark court decision known as Roe v. Wade.

His words have raised a great deal of concern among women’s rights groups, which fear that American women’s right to get an abortion will be quickly eroded, if not taken away, by the incoming Trump administration.

The Roe v. Wade case that took place in 1973 is a historic event that set the tone for US federal policy toward abortion in the ensuing 43 years and remains just as controversial and polarizing to this day.

In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the right to privacy under the 14th Amendment should extend to a woman’s decision to have an abortion.

That said, state laws that banned abortion were held unconstitutional.

Despite the fact that the Supreme Court had delivered the ultimate verdict on the issue of abortion, the controversies surrounding the court decision have never stopped.

Over the years, there have been numerous attempts by pro-life groups, the religious right and Republican conservatives to seek to overturn the 1973 decision. They believe allowing a woman to have an abortion anytime and anywhere she wants amounts to granting them a license to legally murder her child.

However, overturning Roe v. Wade won’t be easy.

There are now eight permanent justices on the Supreme Court, with four appointed by Republican presidents and the other four by Democratic Presidents. There is a vacancy waiting to be filled.

With half of the incumbent justices being liberals and some supposedly conservative justices refraining from taking a stand on this sensitive issue, it would be almost impossible to get a 5 to 3 vote in the Supreme Court.

The situation will change if Trump appoints a justice who is against abortion. But there won’t be a real chance to overturn Roe v. Wade unless a pro-abortion Supreme Court justice dies during Trump’s administration and is replaced by a pro-life justice.

If Roe v. Wade is finally overturned, the power to decide whether abortion is legal automatically goes back to the states.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 9

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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