The End of Roe v. Wade, Chile’s Constitutional Reforms and More

The End of Roe v. Wade, Chile’s Constitutional Reforms and More
People protest the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Washington, June 24, 2022 (AP photo by Jacquelyn Martin).
In a bombshell decision, no less stunning for having been leaked in early May, the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday overturned the Roe v. Wade ruling that in 1973 guaranteed a woman’s constitutional right to choose to have an abortion. The 6-3 majority opinion marks the sudden culmination of what had been a gradual erosion in recent years of abortion rights and access in U.S. states governed by the Republican Party.  Some of those states already have laws to outlaw abortion on the books, but in abeyance, while others have similar laws prepared for legislative passage. As a result, the ruling will effectively recriminalize abortion in roughly half of the United States. The Roe v. Wade decision has for decades been a potent political symbol and a central feature of the culture wars that continue to trace the fault lines of U.S. domestic politics. For the progressive movement that has sought to defend it, the right to a legal abortion is one of the most tangible achievements of the early women’s rights struggle. For the religious and conservative coalition opposed to abortion, overturning Roe v. Wade has been a touchstone of political organizing at both the grassroots and elite levels. While often portrayed as a women’s issue, legalized abortion is universal in its societal impact and effect. It does, of course, protect the health, as well as the life opportunities, of the people—overwhelmingly women, but also trans men and nonbinary people—who seek to end their pregnancies safely. But often overlooked in this framing are the many ways legal abortion benefits the men who are confronted with the life-changing prospects that an unwanted pregnancy entails.

Subscribe to receive our Weekly Wrap-Up newsletter by email every Saturday. If you’re already a subscriber, adjust your newsletter settings to receive it directly to your email inbox.
For all its legal implications, yesterday’s ruling will neither end abortion in the U.S. nor end the political battle over it. As is known from experience, criminalizing abortion simply drives it underground, with little effect on those affluent enough to travel for legal access to it or pay for a safe, if clandestine procedure. For those without the resources to do so, however, criminalizing abortion turns one of the safest medical procedures into a dangerous and often deadly one. Moreover, if the reactions to yesterday’s ruling are any indication, the mobilization to legalize abortion through legislation at the federal level has now begun in earnest. As a result, the issue is very likely to dominate campaigns for the mid-term congressional elections in November, as well as state and national elections for years to come. The setback for abortion rights in the U.S. takes place against the backdrop of a countervailing trend in Latin America, where abortion rights activists have recently won victories in Argentina, Mexico and Colombia. Their success is in part due to a transnational movement known as the Green Tide that has helped organize local coalitions to advance abortion rights, but also other issues affecting women, such as femicide and socio-economic injustices.  How they achieved those victories takes on even greater significance in the aftermath of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling. The tactical and strategic insights they provide could be useful to U.S. activists who, long in the vanguard of global efforts to advance women’s rights, now find themselves in the position of having to win back lost ground. Here are some recent WPR articles for more context on the politics of abortion rights in Latin America:

This Week’s Highlights

Chile Shows How Constitutional Reform Should Be Done—and Why It’s Insufficient. In Monday’s briefing, James Bosworth explained why Chiles process for constitutional reform should be a model for similar efforts across the hemisphere, but also why political mobilization will be necessary to implement the promises made by the new constitution if it is approved in a September referendum.
  • The text of the new constitution is mostly finalized, after a messy and controversial drafting process that created resentment among many on the right, who feel they were excluded, and disappointment among many on the far left, who believe the proposed constitution does not go far enough in terms of economic and social reforms. Despite all these perceived shortcomings, the process that set in motion the drafting of a new constitution was a welcome change for the region. If the constitution is passed, however, its ultimate success will depend on whether advocates for the reforms it promises remain engaged and organized in politics over the long run.
  • In the typical model for constitutional reform in Latin America, a popular and populist president comes to power decrying the old system and almost immediately seeks to revise or redraft the existing constitution. The subsequent reforms inevitably expand the powers of the presidency, limit the checks on executive authority and reset or extend presidential term limits, allowing the reformer” to essentially remain in office indefinitely. Chile, in contrast, began its constitutional reform process due to protests in 2019 that forced then-President Sebastian Pinera, who didnt want to revise or redraft the constitution, to call a constitutional referendum anyway. 
  • The resulting Constitutional Assembly, elected in 2021, was full of independents and political novices, rather than representatives of the traditional political parties, reflecting the anti-establishment and anti-status quo energy that had engulfed the country by then. The assemblys profile was both good and bad. It created space for debating reforms that went well beyond what political elites would consider reasonable or realistic. At the same time, many of the assemblys members lacked the political instincts and savvy to understand how the broader public would react to some of their proposals, creating an ugly climate in which the public grew disgusted with how the new constitution was being hammered out.
  • As lengthy as the new constitution is, it will take thousands of pages of additional legislation, regulations, judicial rulings and executive orders to actually implement much of what it calls for. The challenges that led people to demand a new constitution in 2019 remain, and the choices that the government must make after the constitution passes will pit important issues and their respective constituencies against each other. For example, the new constitution promises the right to health care and free public education, but raising the revenue necessary to fund and administer those systems will be a battle decided in the political arena. While constitutions can be written with a level of idealism, the most vocal supporters of reforms will now need to remain organized, mobilized and pragmatic.
Despite Recent Attacks, Southern Thailand’s Peace Talks Are Making Progress. And in Tuesday’s briefing, Michael Hart discussed the impact of recent attacks by insurgents in southern Thailand on a peace process that had registered notable progress since the beginning of the year.  
  • After a two-year hiatus in talks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first half of 2022 has seen quantifiable progress in the peace dialogue between Thailand’s government and separatist rebels based in the country’s Muslim-majority south. Since the beginning of the year, two rounds of formal negotiations have been held in Kuala Lumpur, in a Malaysia-facilitated process between the government and the Barisan Revolusi Nasional, or BRN, the most powerful rebel group in southern Thailand. The latest meeting, which concluded on April 1, led to a 40-day truce that covered the holy month of Ramadan and the Thai New Year, or Songkran. The truce held, building momentum ahead of a third round of dialogue scheduled for July or August.
  • But there are signs that not everyone in the south is on board with the peace process. On April 15, the Patani United Liberation Organization, or PULO, an older rebel group whose remnants had been inactive for half a decade, disrupted the truce with a double bomb attack in Sai Buri, a district located in Pattani province. Then, less than two weeks after the truce ended on May 14, BRN fighters attacked a police station in Tak Bai, a district in Narathiwat province, with rifles and grenades, marking the first attack by the group in months. These incidents demonstrate that disunity on the rebel side could raise the stakes at the negotiating table, at a time when a breakthrough appears more likely than at any stage in the conflict’s six-decade history.
  • Identity politics as a source of conflict in the region have now become deeply rooted. The state’s promotion of Buddhism as the official religion has hardened attitudes among many Muslims, who account for 85 percent of the population in the south and reject forced assimilation. The pervasive militarization of the region also fuels tensions, while allegations of torture and mistreatment in custody have driven mistrust. This legacy has been compounded by economic marginalization: Narathiwat and Pattani are the poorest provinces in Thailand, with a poverty rate of 34 percent, compared to 6 percent nationwide, leaving young men vulnerable to rebel recruitment.
  • The Thai government maintains that the recent attacks will not impede dialogue, and according to the BRN’s chief negotiator, the Thai side appears for the first time to be serious about discussing a political solution that recognizes Malay identity and addresses governance issues in the south. While an independent state is firmly off the table, this could equate to an autonomous region, with Malay as the official language and an Islamic justice and education system. Yet even if Bangkok were to agree, winning over all insurgents and the wider population to back such an arrangement would be difficult in a region where public grievances toward the Thai state are deeply embedded and the desire for independence remains strong. 

This Week’s Most-Read Story

Berlin Is Having Second Thoughts About Its Trade Dependence on China. And in this week’s top story by pageviews, Aaron Allen explained how the war in Ukraine is serving as a wakeup call in Germany to reexamine its approach to bilateral ties with China, which under former Chancellor Angela Merkel prioritized the short-term economic benefits of trade over long-term strategic decision-making:
Merkel’s approach … was consistently met by a chorus of skeptics, with critics arguing that her China policy prioritized short-term economic gains over a long-term strategic vision. Some have even maintained that Germany’s growing trade dependency on China has allowed the authoritarian regime in Beijing to exercise undue influence over Berlin. Like Russia, China is an illiberal and revisionist state that aspires to reshape the rules-based international order in its favor. As a result, China’s growing leverage over Germany, and by extension the EU, represents a strategic challenge and even, according to some observers, a threat.

What’s On Tap

And coming up next week, we’ve got:
  • A column by James Bosworth on the challenges facing Latin America’s newly elected left-wing leaders in an anti-incumbent political environment.
  • An article by WPR’s Chris Ogunmodede on the implications of a corruption scandal engulfing South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
  • A briefing by Jonathan Gorvett on a controversial bill in the U.K. that could provide amnesty for perpetrators of atrocities during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
  • And an in-depth article by Samira Sawlani on the push to reform wildlife and wilderness conservation in Kenya as part of a reckoning with race, Indigeneity and the legacy of colonialism.

Judah Grunstein is the editor-in-chief of World Politics Review. You can follow him on Twitter at @Judah_Grunstein.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review