Why do Americans get so worked up about abortion?

Abortion rights and anti-abortion demonstrators hold signs outside the U.S. Supreme Court while the court holds a hearing on a Mississippi abortion ban, in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, December 1, 2021.

On Wednesday the Supreme Court began hearing arguments on an issue that has had Americans fighting — and in some cases killing — each other for 50 years: abortion.

The court must decide whether a recent Mississippi state law that prohibits abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy is legal and, more broadly, whether it runs counter to the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision of 1973.

That decision legalized abortion nationally up until fetal viability — which is now around 23 weeks of pregnancy — on the grounds that women enjoy a constitutional right to privacy.

Early indications on Wednesday were that the conservative-dominated court would uphold the Mississippi law, but we won’t know if a majority will move to explicitly overturn Roe v Wade until a final ruling is issued next summer.

If Roe is struck down, almost half of American states would immediately outlaw most abortions. Passions are, as ever, running high.

Why is this issue so intense in the US?

Viewed from abroad, the battles over abortion in the US can sometimes seem strange. While other countries have struggled with the issue, the ferocity and violence surrounding the question in the US stands out.

One big reason is that in addition to arguing about abortion itself, Americans are often arguing about the way the issue was decided.

Opponents of abortion often argue that a moral issue like this should be left to elected state legislatures, which reflect the preferences of their constituents better than the unelected justices of the Supreme Court in far-off Washington, DC.

Supporters of choice, meanwhile, say an issue this fundamental is precisely one in which universal rights have to be identified and then upheld by the highest court in the land. If we’d left Jim Crow up to local legislatures, they point out, that injustice might have persisted for decades longer.

This tug-of-war between states’ rights and national prerogatives has defined America from the earliest days. It once plunged the country into war. And it’s still an electric issue in the US on everything from healthcare, to guns, to voting rights, to vaccine mandates. Abortion is no exception.

A problem with Roe v Wade. Even some supporters of the right to abortion see faults in Roe v Wade that have left it open to attack.

The late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for example, felt the Court had perhaps moved too fast, issuing a sweeping decision before a broad majority of citizens and states were in line with it. She also argued that by focusing on privacy rather than the more universal concept of gender equality, the Supreme Court had left abortion on shakier ground legally.

When the Court enshrined a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in 2015, by contrast, it was already behind the popular curve — 30 states had already done so. At the time of Roe, only 20 states had legalized abortion.

Other countries have handled it differently, putting legislatures or popular referenda in the driver’s seat.

Majority-Catholic Italy, for example, legalized abortion in the late 1970s through a law backed by two referendums. Ireland also made the move in 2018 through a referendum, while Argentina did it last year through a legislative process.

Not everyone in these countries agrees with those moves, but supporters of the right to choose can still point to democratic and legislative legitimacy in a way that is harder to do in the United States.

So what do Americans actually think about abortion today? About 60 percent say it should be legal in most or all cases, according to a recent Pew poll.

But there’s a caveat: a recent AP/NORC poll showed that while 61 percent of Americans support that right within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, that figure falls by thirty points when it comes to the second trimester. The Mississippi law applies just two weeks into the beginning of the second trimester.

What happens next? This court’s view on Roe won’t come out until next summer — that is, just 2-3 months before midterm elections. No matter which way it goes, the decision will be a(nother) culture war bomb ahead of that vote.

People working at computers in a room labeled Malware Lab

Microsoft observed destructive malware in systems belonging to several Ukrainian government agencies and organizations that work closely with the Ukrainian government. The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) published a technical blog post detailing Microsoft’s ongoing investigation and how the security community can detect and defend against this malware. Microsoft shared this information over the weekend to help others in the cybersecurity community look out for and defend against these attacks. To read more visit Microsoft On the Issues.

President Vladimir Putin

No one knows whether Russian President Vladimir Putin plans on invading Ukraine. But the president of the United States sure seems to think this is a real possibility, saying Wednesday that Putin will likely "move in" in the near term. Biden, prone to political gaffes, was then forced to awkwardly walk back comments that Russia would face milder consequences from the West in the event of a "minor incursion."

The timing of this blunder is... not great. It comes just as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepares to meet his Russian counterpart on Friday in hopes of lowering the temperature after recent diplomatic efforts in Geneva were deemed a failure by Moscow.

Indeed, with the Kremlin having amassed at least 100,000 troops surrounding Ukraine on three sides, the growing threat is impossible to ignore. So what would a Russian military offensive into Ukraine actually look like, and how might the West respond?

More Show less

Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, discusses the Democrats voting bill.

What is the status on the Democrats voting bill?

The Democrats are pushing a bill that would largely nationalize voting rules, which today are largely determined at the state level. The bill would make Election Day a national holiday. It would attempt to end partisan gerrymandering. It would create a uniform number of early voting days and make other reforms that are designed to standardize voting rules and increase access to voting across the country. This matters to Democrats because they think they face an existential risk to their party's political prospects. They're very likely to lose at least the House and probably the Senate this year. And they see voting changes that are being pushed by Republicans at the state level that they say are designed to make it harder to vote, particularly for minorities, a key Democratic constituency.

More Show less

Omicron has arrived. It's more contagious, but less severe. Some parts of the world are even looking forward to the pandemic becoming endemic.

Not China. Xi Jinping's zero-COVID strategy has worked wonders until now, but it's unlikely to survive omicron, explains Ian Bremmer on GZERO World.

More Show less

Chilling at the beach, retired German Chancellor Angela Merkel is so over politics. Or is she?


Subscribe to GZERO Media's YouTube channel to get notifications when new videos are published.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Happy Tuesday after the long weekend for those of us that had a long weekend. I thought I would kick us off with the first major foreign policy crisis of the Biden administration. And that is of course, Russia-Ukraine. Afghanistan, of course, was a debacle, but not exactly a global crisis. This of course has the potential to really change the way we think about European security and about US relations with the other major nuclear power in the world. So, I would say that the level of concern is even higher and there are a lot of things we can say.
More Show less
What We’re Watching: Xinjiang at the Beijing Olympics, Boris in deep(er) trouble, Indonesia’s new capital

Selling Xinjiang. Xi Jinping — a man well known for both his grand vision of China’s future, and for his willingness to get large numbers of people to do things they might not otherwise do — said in 2018 that he wanted 300 million Chinese people to participate in winter sports. The Chinese government announced this week that this goal has been met in honor of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, which open in China’s capital on February 4. Multinational companies are consistently impressed by the commercial opportunities created when 300 million people decide to try new things. But it’s an inconvenient truth that most of China’s most abundant snow and best ski slopes are found in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, a place where Western governments and human rights organizations have accused Beijing of imprisoning more than one million minority Uyghurs in re-education camps. In these prisons, critics say inmates have experienced “torture, and inhumane and degrading treatment.” As China’s government opens new profit opportunities in Xinjiang, multinational corporations will face pressure from multiple directions not to invest there.

More Show less
Hard Numbers: Tongan emergency fundraising, EU docks Poland pay, new Colombian presidential hopeful, Turkey gets UAE lifeline

345,000: As of Wednesday afternoon ET, Tonga's Olympic flag-bearer has raised more than $345,000 online to help the victims of Saturday's volcanic eruption and tsunami. Pita Taufatofua, a taekwondo fighter and cross-country skier, has not yet heard from his father, governor of the main Tongan island of Haapai.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

China vs COVID in 2022

GZERO World Clips

COVID at the Beijing Winter Olympics

GZERO World Clips


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal