Reversing Roe and Why We Must Take Note

The brilliant Netflix documentary reveals the battle for reproductive rights in America, and is a reminder why in the UK we should stay vigilant too.


Reversing Roe is the latest stunning documentary from Netflix. It’s as chilling as Icarus and even more powerful. Reversing Roe documents the attempts to overturn Roe v Wade in America which legalised abortion, and how even if that ruling is never overturned, abortion laws have still been gutted in many states making access to safe healthcare increasingly difficult.

History is examined so that there is a thorough understanding of the anti-choice lobby. As the anti-choice lobby gained more traction, they were not even largely supported by the American public. In fact, most Americans (including most Republicans) believed that abortion should be a matter purely between a doctor and their patient. But it is lobbying, money and influence that bring change far quicker than public opinion. The mission wasn’t for the public to convince legislators that abortion was wrong, the task that was undertaken were for fringe groups to influence legislators which would then in turn gain public sympathy. It’s not an unusual tactic. UKIP was a fringe vote and yet now their politics are embedded within the UK political discourse. The alt-right was a fringe movement, but they knew who to target and now they are the biggest political threat the Western world faces.

“But it is lobbying, money and influence that bring change far quicker than public opinion”

American’s battle to retain accessible healthcare has largely gone unreported in the UK. Perhaps it’s because our US focus is so concentrated upon Hollywood, DC and New York whereas the most powerful attacks on abortion rights have come from the southern states. Yet, there is a war raging when one doctor has to travel hundreds of miles to be able to treat patients because all the other clinics around have been shut down.

Abortion is not under that threat in the UK and nor is it likely to be. However, there has been a change in our own discourse. Some UK feminists actually took anti-choice stances during the referendum in Ireland even though they had absolutely no right to interfere in Ireland’s choice. This has stemmed from a hatred of trans people. Some feminists are committed to ensuring the silencing of trans people and the erasure of trans rights – including at the expense of cis women’s rights. They believe that trans women threaten the ideals of womanhood. They believe trans people make women less distinct, less special. They believe their femininity is under threat. They argue that ‘if anyone can choose their gender’ then that erases what it means to be a woman and what women have faced, and so now with no trace of irony, they support defining women by biology, by celebrating biological difference and duties – including supporting restrictions upon abortion.

Labour too have recently muddied the conversation on abortion, apparently in the name of equality. Labour has called for a ban on early sex testing of babies due to fears that babies assigned as female are more likely to be aborted. They want to challenge and stop this sexism and protect young girls. It is anti-choice, it is misogyny, it is controlling people’s right to access abortion. Labour could have rightly said that there is no way to accurately determine someone’s gender until they themselves announce what that is. They could have supported education campaigns to stop the ridiculous falsehood that genitals determine someone’s gender. They could have supported better and more trans inclusive conversations around gender. They could have proposed greater legislation to protect intersex babies and children. They did not. Instead, they decided to tie this restriction to abortion. It is an absurd thing to test for at such an early stage. A gender test is ridiculous. But they deliberately tied this decision to trying to prevent abortions.

This is key terminology because that is how it starts, out of concern. The anti-choice lobby rarely come out and say let’s ban abortion right now. That’s not the bills they put forward. They put forward restrictions which they think they could sway reasonable people on. They put forward how they are concerned for little girls, and they want to protect pregnancies terminated because of fears about disabilities. The anti-choice lobby co-opt language of social justice movements to hide what they are really doing: restricting people’s right to choose for themselves what they want to do with their own bodies. Labour ultimately made this about abortion, and not about protecting girls.

It takes a long time to get into America’s mess. It takes a lot of time, money and influence from people with entirely selfish agendas. The UK is not heading that way, but that doesn’t mean we should be complacent. We should oppose anyone who tries to campaign against the right to choose. We should support accessible abortions and that includes trans inclusive healthcare. It’s not just women who need abortions, after all. But the abortion debate in America is not just about abortions; it was part of a wider movement of values. Those who oppose the right to choose also hate queer people and they want an end to migration. Abortion is about what we stand for. Do we stand for democracy where everyone can define their own lives or are we supporting totalitarianism? Pay attention to America right now and remember that every day we must work to protect the laws we have.

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