The Escalation of Policy and Tension Surrounding Roe v. Wade

by Nicole Mattea

Winter 2021 Issue

New administration, new change. Maybe. The seemingly endless reign of Donald Trump has ceased. Many of us are looking to this new administration perhaps not with hope, but expectation. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris promised a lot of big change. One area to which much attention will be directed is how the Biden-Harris administration approaches abortion and pro-choice policies, as recent focus shifted to the Supreme Court following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the national rise in anti-abortion sentiment. 

Roe v. Wade has been a point of contention since its very inception. The struggle to maintain the right to a legal and protected abortion for those able to give birth is a fight we never seem to escape. The struggle has only escalated with the Trump administration — more forthcoming about their pro-life views and intentions than other administrations before them. Trump’s campaign was partly built on these ideas, as he publicly stated his presidency would be focused on pro-life politics and laws, going as far as to create a ‘Pro-Life Coalition.’ Written in a letter to pro-life leaders, he committed to 

Nominating pro-life justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, signing into law the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would end painful late-term abortions nationwide, defunding Planned Parenthood as long as they continue to perform abortions […] and making the Hyde Amendment permanent law to protect taxpayers from having to pay for abortions […]

Recent years have demonstrated just how pervasive pro-life politics have become, as more and more states have implemented heavily restrictive laws and pushed to implement state-wide bans, with the hope that any one of these laws will escalate to the Supreme Court and result in the overturn of Roe. Between 2011-2017 alone, 394 new restrictions were passed and implemented in 32 states. And with Trump’s appointment of known pro-life advocate Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, such legal proceedings appear closer than ever. 

The struggle to maintain the right to a legal and protected abortion for those able to give birth is a fight we never seem to escape.

While Trump did not succeed in overturning Roe during his time as president, he did oversee restrictions that limited an individual’s ability to get an abortion. In 2017 he reinstated the Mexico City Policy or the “Global Gag Rule”, which prohibits non-government organizations from receiving funding if they are in any way involved in the process of providing abortions, providing counseling regarding abortions, or advocating for the safety of abortions. He added even further restrictions in 2019. The majority of Trump’s other actions as president were more discreet by comparison, as much of his explicit pro-life policies were blocked in court. He spent much of his presidency appointing Supreme Court justices with known pro-life viewpoints, with the intention of having a pro-life and anti-abortion majority, should a court case come to fruition. Further, there is much to be said about Trump simply being open about his anti-abortion agenda. From his publicized words and actions — like speaking at the 2020 March for Life — he has opened and encouraged active pro-life discourse in a way that less forthcoming presidents did not, particularly on social media and other platforms. This discourse builds off of growing anti-abortion sentiment and policy, as demonstrated in the growth of abortion restrictions in the last decade, and will survive and flourish far past Trump’s presidency. 

Though Biden and Harris are open in their support of abortion and pro-life politics, we will have to see how much of their policy is aimed at making substantive change and how public they will make their viewpoints in the years to come. Already President Joe Biden has rescinded the global gag rule, which is as good of a start as any, and stated that he will be further nominating pro-choice federal judges to the Supreme Court. In a joint statement issued on January 22nd, President Biden and Vice President Harris declared that they would be working to codify Roe v. Wade, meaning that even if the Supreme court overturns the ruling, abortion protection will have been implemented into federal law. However, his presidency, potential future policies and actions, do not detract from the conservative federal judges already appointed in the Supreme Court as well as the growing anti-abortion sentiment nation-wide. It is difficult to predict if the Biden-Harris administration and their potential policies will be enough to diminish a decade’s worth of building tension and upheaval, only exacerbated by the last four or so years of legislation and media attention. We, unfortunately, will just have to wait and see.

Nicole Mattea is a recent graduate of DePaul University where she studied Writing and Rhetoric, Political Science, and Women and Gender Studies. She is based in Chicago.