The Roe v Wade decision: young South Africans share their thoughts

On June 24, the US Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v Wade which was a ruling passed in 1979 ensuring abortions were constitutionally protected. Overturning this ruling is not merely controversial. It is a dangerous decision that will put the lives of many people at risk especially those of lower-income backgrounds and in marginalised communities. We spoke to young people in South Africa to hear what they understand about the ruling, what they think about it and whether it could affect us in our own country. 


Explained: The Abortion legislation in South Africa

Leah Dennis, Student

I believe the case and the U.S. Constitution, from the 70s, protected a women’s bodily autonomy when it came to having an abortion, and that it was unconstitutional to deny a women’s access to an abortion within the first trimester. But now, with this overturning, individual states have to consider and decided whether abortion should be legal within their own borders.

I feel anger and fear for what this means for people in the U.S. I think about how people, who already have limited resources, are going to struggle even further in trying to access health care concerning abortions.

If it starts here, where will it end? Will more rights be taken away from women? What ripple effect might this have? It feels as if the U.S. has gone back a few decades, setting back gender equality which many have worked so hard to fortify in today’s society. What further angers me is that women have been given the responsibility for not getting pregnant, and now they have very limited choices on what to do if they get pregnant. Where in this are men held responsible? 

As someone who has not had to consider having an abortion, I would undoubtedly want to still have access to one if that was ever the case. I firmly believe that is a person’s choice on what to do with their body, and no one should have a governing force over it. 

This will certainly affect people in the US, there’s no doubt about that. This ruling means that young women have fewer rights than those who have come before them. It directly targets poor, disadvantaged, and people of colour who do not have access to the same resources as the rich. This is a direct attack on those people, and it is barbaric that they have to live with the consequences and a decision made by a handful. People will still get abortions, but what is concerning is that they might not be able to get it safely. People will die because of this ruling, people will be criminalised because of a choice a few politicians and people in the Supreme Court made for their bodies.

While people in South Africa have the constitutional right over their reproductive decisions, the ruling in the U.S. reminds us how things can change on a dime. While I believe that since South Africa has some of the most liberal laws in the world, thanks to our strong constitution, we do not have to be gravely concerned about how this ruling could affect South Africans. But, I do believe that since the U.S. is one of the strongest powers in the world, this does set an immense precedent that other countries, particularly in Africa, might follow. Decisions in the U.S. traditionally have had a strong authority in the democratic world, and this should be a cause of concern.

Shreya Dharmaligam, Student 

The ruling in 1973 gave women the right to seek abortion above situations where their lives were medically threatened by the birth of the child i.e. Unpreparedness, failure of contraception, conception owing to assault, etc. The current ruling was overturned. 

It’s completely shocking. It once again displays how the public and private sectors are not in fact separable and emphasises how well-entrenched male dominance is within their legal and bureaucratic sectors. It’s also another case of religion being the only motivator for discrimination despite claims otherwise . 

I think the biggest issue will be greater mortality rates for pregnant women owing to them needing to find other illegal and unsafe means of abortion. And obviously long term insecurity for children’s living standards and mental, physical and financial health

I think the most significant effect on South Africa could be economic . Whenever there is volatility in the west, unfortunately we’re adversely affected. I also don’t believe it would become a global trend .

Lilu-Bobbi Woods, Student

From my understanding the ruling will allow states to make their own verdicts on abortion rights. Which overturns the original constitutional right to an abortion. Which means that many states are already in the process of banning abortion rights and many more will begin the process. From what I understand the original ruling of Roe V Wade was passed on the grounds of privacy, with this undermined people have lost their rights to bodily autonomy. 

I am also very concerned of what this means moving forward because the right to privacy upholds other vital rights, such as birth control and same sex marriage. 

With only 16 states that protect the right to abortion this will mean that the large majority of Americans will not have access to abortions. Now, many people have been arguing that you don’t have to live within those states that don’t give you access, but millions of Americans, especially people of colour, do not have the opportunity to be able to move states. 

Though other countries have responded in disagreement with the ruling by strengthening their own rights to abortions. It has started the conversation all over again and has given conservatives ammunition to weaken existing laws around the world. 

I am disgusted and horrified by the ruling and am very grateful for our strong constitutional rights in South Africa. We must ensure that these remain upheld.

Mbali Mahlangu, Student

My understanding of the Supreme Court’s ruling about Roe v Wade is that it is basically banning abortion rights for pregnant women across the USA. This could affect several states and could be very dangerous for pregnant women across America.

My personal opinion about this ruling is that I am very much pro-choice. I feel like this ruling is basically taking us back 50 years in terms of women’s rights and in terms of abortion rights. No governing body should have a say with what goes on in a woman’s body and how she chooses to go about her pregnancy.

I feel like this ruling is going to affect people in the USA in such a negative way. I feel like the people who are really going to be affected are poor people or lower-middle class people who cannot afford health insurance or proper medical support from the government. This is historically black people or people of colour and immigrants in the USA. I feel like it will affect them the most. This will make it an even worse situation for them in terms of healthcare because already the laws in some states in America don’t allow them to access certain privileges that white people do. This ruling has made it harder for them to control their bodies.

I think this ruling has planted a very, very dangerous seed for governmental bodies all over the world in terms of how they are going to go about viewing women’s bodies and women’s rights in every aspect of society. Whether it be financially, whether it be in health, whether it be education – I feel like the ruling itself is governing the body of a woman and I don’t think healthcare is where it is going to stop. I feel like they’re gonna think about how women’s rights can be governed and controlled.

Just the thought of it scares me because in a country that is perceived and makes themselves known to the world to be very progressive is literally ruling back fifty years of change and progression within women’s rights – not only in the US but all over the world. I think in South Africa, we’ve seen the movement of GBV and femicide… and we’ve seen a spike to its highest level during the pandemic. This ruling has just solidified the fact that we are truly not protected… I don’t think women’s bodies will ever be safe. I think it’s a green ticket for scrutiny by white old men and rich old men about how a woman’s journey will be in the world. 

Rufaro Chiswo, Student

From what I understand about the Supreme Court’s decision about Roe v Wade is that they essentially reversed legislation which protects a person’s right to attain an abortion legally in the United States. I personally just think, quite plainly it’s bullsh*t. It’s very dangerous what they have done here because of just how important legal abortions are for so many reasons.  I think a lot of those reasons are usually glossed over by people who are pro-life. 

It’s not only about things like morality or religion or how you value an unborn baby’s life. But it is also about the safety of people going to get abortions, especially when it comes to medical conditions around them getting that abortion. It’s about safe procedures and also access is a very important thing especially for communities that are generally dealing with unwanted pregnancies at a higher rate because of things like sexual education in certain districts in America. There’s a lot of things that get affected by this and it makes me very worried for the kids and the women and the folks in America because there is no way that this ruling could help anyone at all. 

I was listening to a podcast this morning about The Janes, the women who started an illegal abortion service where they would help primarily college students who were women who wanted to get abortions but they didn’t know where to turn to. And a big part of that was the idea of getting an abortion with someone that you don’t necessarily know and potentially having them taking advantage of who because you’re in this vulnerable position. That was a very big concern where women would get sexually assaulted and raped when they thought they would be getting an abortion. When you have legal abortions in clinics and hospitals, this mitigates all of these things. So I’d imagine that the rates of that are also going to rise, there are so many ripple effects when it comes out of this. 

With this, you’re closing the door for so many other left leaning policies or legislation. I just don’t see this going well for them for a while. Apparently, they’re trying to reconsider same-sex marriage and the legislation that coincides with that. I think with the West, the whole thing is that when they do something the whole world takes notice. And they take notes. They essentially try and model themselves [off the US] as they’re a superpower at the end of the day. When it comes to something like abortion especially in an African state, there are things like conservatism that you have to think about at the same time, we are a continent that had to very much deal with the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, 90s and late 70s as well. So when it comes to protecting the sexual health of citizens, I think that’s something they take into consideration. I don;t really necessarily see changes in that way because of the history with something that relates to safe-sex practices and prevention. I think abortions are tied up in that world. 

The voxes have been edited for clarity and brevity.