A couple weeks ago, the US supreme court overturned the Roe V Wade case, which up until now has granted women and other people who can become pregnant the right to terminate their pregnancy. This unprecedented move has given states across the US the power to ban abortion, meaning many of those who wish to seek a termination will either be forced to travel hundreds of miles to reach an abortion centre, or self-manage abortion at home.
While other nations have recently restricted abortion rights – such as Poland and El Salvador – the US is debatably the wealthiest and most influential country to do so. The decision also continues to emphasise the civil unrest the country is experiencing as a result of strongly opposing views on both sides of the political spectrum.
This is obviously a monumental decision in the US. As an outlet for the voices of young people, we thought it appropriate to collect and share some of the views being expressed by them in the immediate aftermath of the decision. Given the enormity of this ruling, there are countless perspectives, each worth exploring, and while we can only cover a fraction of these, we hope to provide a fair assessment of the discussions being had by young people in the wake of the ruling. We also wanted to touch on one of the less publicly debated topics: the issue surrounding data protection and how sensitive data might be collected, transferred and potentially be used in an investigation.
Reactions to the ruling
Huge complexities attributed to factors such as religion and politics have resulted in a variety of reactions across the globe. For the purpose of this piece, we have chosen to focus on the viewpoints from young people located in the UK and the US. For two closely linked, yet largely contrasting countries with distinctive cultures and attitudes, we felt they would provide an extensive glimpse into how young people are responding to the news.
The consensus across the UK appears to be far more straightforward than in the US. The young people that we spoke to expressed pro-choice views – and conflicting factors such as religion didn’t enter the conversation. Some felt as though the media they consumed had the same perspective, with no murky grey area or conservative bias. But it was acknowledged that this could be the result of their choice of coverage, and that other social media platforms and news outlets may tell a different story.
“I follow pro-choice and liberal feminism accounts on Instagram, so I’ve only seen coverage against the ruling. I don’t have Facebook, but I expect it might be a slightly different story over there due to different demographics… – a young person from the UK
“All the British news coverage I’ve read – mostly on the BBC and The Guardian – is pro-choice. While the writing isn’t openly opinionated, there is an obvious personal stance written into otherwise informative pieces” - a young person from the UK
The political climate in the UK was also noted, with a keen perception that the current lack of confidence in British politics paired with waves of parliament resignations has diluted and distracted from the ruling across the pond.
“British politics is an absolute mess at the moment. Our Prime Minister has just resigned, and he is a notoriously controversial figure, who sometimes expressed sexist views. Due to about a million dubious – and at times illegal – conducts from the UK government currently under scrutiny, it doesn’t seem as though politicians have had much time or capacity to speak on Roe V Wade. I expect most would protest the movement publicly, but I’m sure there are some pro-lifers present as well …” – a young person from the UK
“In the UK, it feels as though the ruling has been heavily scrutinised by pretty much everyone on both sides of the political spectrum. The pro-choice argument is definetely favoured, although there was that one MP who did a speech on how we should follow suit” – a young person from the UK
Reactions from the US were less straightforward. While the young people we spoke to were inclined towards pro-choice, many expressed how the decision simply wasn’t as “black and white” as it is in the UK. Religion was frequently raised as a coinciding factor, with an acknowledgment that the country’s largely Christian outlook has resulted in polarising views from both the public and the media.
“In the US this is very much not a black and white issue. While there are many people who believe the reversal of Roe v Wade is a complete violation of women’s rights, you have other people on the other side who believe that life begins at conception so for them they are standing up for the voices of those babies who don’t have a voice. It is a pretty Christian nation so it is understandable that it would be such a polarizing debate. It’s causing a debate which pins women’s rights up against some people’s core religious/moral beliefs so it’s pretty intense as you can imagine.” - a young person from the US
“It’s a pretty chaotic situation over here right now, I’ve seen family members and lifelong friends cussing each other out in the comments of Facebook posts over this issue. There’s such strong opinions on either side that it ends up leading to a lot of really heated arguments.” - a young person from the US
“In the US most of the coverage I’ve seen has been against the ruling but I know there are other more conservative news outlets that are calling it a win for the “right to life” so it is a bit of a mix.” - a young person from the US
There were also some young people who expressed that despite being pro-choice, they thought the ruling was the right decision because they felt the federal government held too much power.
“There’s been sort of a third side of the argument that I’ve seen popping up lately that even some individuals who are pro-choice think that Roe v Wade still should’ve been overturned because it is returning the power of that issue back over to the state governments. Some people think that the federal government has too much power especially in a country that is made up of so many different cultures depending on the region you’re in.” - a young person from the US
Others blamed Congress for not acting sooner, remarking on the decades that federal government has had to cement abortion rights, rights which were instead dismissed and swept aside for later.
“I know everyone here is going at the throats of the Supreme Court Justices, but I’m disappointed in Congress. Congress has had 50 years to make a law that solidified a woman’s right to an abortion. Over that 50 years, both Democrat and Republican majorities have had the opportunity to make abortion related laws at the federal level. 50 years.
Instead the politicians played politics and kicked the issue down the road for someone else to deal with until today where the issue was decided by nine people.
I don’t blame the Supreme Court, they were just acting from a legal standpoint. The issue was caused by the elected representatives' inaction for half a century.” - a young person from the US
The issue of privacy
With such controversy during a time where the gap between liberal and conservatism continues to grow comes a lot of noise from the public, media and state – all fighting to have a say on this complex and extraordinary decision. And through that noise is an unforeseen development that many were not prepared for: online privacy laws.
The overturning of Roe v Wade has raised questions around digital footprint, as state law enforcement can use data to survey and and target those who have had an abortion in the past, or are trying to get an abortion. Data such as search history, payments and locations are not hard to obtain, and many are concerned for the safety of women who use the internet to search for help.
“I honestly hadn’t seen anything about the data privacy concerns until a friend from America brought it up. The news coverage and social media chat that I’ve been reading haven’t mentioned such concerns at all. I’m not sure why, it seems ever so important! – a young person from the UK
People are being advised to delete their period trackers and use VPN’s when looking up information about things pertaining to abortion clinics, abortion pills, information about late periods – anything that would point to the fact that they were looking into getting an abortion if they live in a state where it is banned or heavily restricted.
Fear has also been raised for women who naturally miscarried, as experts warn that they could be at risk of investigation should prosecutors believe they secretly terminated the pregnancy. This of course adds to the trauma of grieving parents, and there is now potential for legally innocent people to be wrongfully convicted.
“Someone I went to high school with got pregnant unexpectantly, said on social media that she decided to have an abortion, but later stated that she changed her mind and decided to move forward with the pregnancy, a few weeks later she, unfortunately, had a miscarriage and was very upset about it. If something like that happened now there is a chance she could be investigated for that and who knows what the outcome would be.” - a young person from the US
Action is already being taken in this matter. Pressure from employees and women’s rights activists has geared tech giant Google into swift operation, announcing privacy changes to certain data. In the coming weeks, the firm will implement a policy that deletes abortion clinic visits from the location history of its users, as well as fertility clinics, domestic violence shelters, addiction treatment facilities and “other sensitive locations”.
Due to the unexpected and immediate nature of the Roe v Wade ruling, a lot of companies who process health data will simply not be prepared for the criminalisation of abortion and the impact that their work– regardless of how innocent – could have on many people. They must follow suit of Google to protect women and other people who are able to get pregnant by implementing new privacy measures.
Regardless of your views on this issue, it is now more important than ever to vote in your state elections if you live in the US and this is an issue you are passionate about. Your elected officials are the ones who are going to be making the decisions about the abortion laws for your state. You can visit vote.gov to register and get info about elections.