As Roe v Wade marks 50 years, what’s changed since the landmark abortion decision was overturned?
Today marks 50 years since Roe v Wade, America’s landmark Supreme Court decision that enshrined abortion as a constitutional right.
It triggered a wave of change. Abortion bans were brought in, court cases mounted, clinics closed. Here is what has happened in the seven months since US abortion rights were overturned.
First off, what is Roe v Wade?
Roe v Wade refers to the 1973 Supreme Court case that said the government could not prohibit abortions because the constitutional right to liberty includes the right to decide whether to continue a pregnancy.
Roe refers to Texan woman Norma McCorvey – known by the pseudonym Jane Roe – who challenged the state’s abortion laws after she couldn’t get a termination in 1969 because her life was not in danger. Wade is district attorney Henry Wade, who defended the anti-abortion laws.
The court decision meant every woman in the US had the right to an abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Another ruling – Planned Parenthood v Casey in 1982 – built on that by saying states could not have laws that create a “substantial obstacle” to a woman seeking an abortion up to 24 weeks.
States ban abortion
In 12 states, there are now near-total bans on abortion. In five of these states, the ban is being challenged in court but remains in effect.
The 12 states are: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.
Two further states – North Dakota and Wisconsin – do not have bans in place but abortions are unavailable because clinics have closed.
Georgia has banned abortions past six weeks of pregnancy, severely limiting access to terminations because so many women do not find out they are pregnant – and have time to organise the procedure – before the six-week mark.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, which specialises in reproductive health, these 15 states are home to almost 22 million women aged 15 to 49. That means almost a third of America’s women of reproductive age are living in states where abortion is either unavailable or severely restricted.
More states could follow
A further nine states have introduced restrictions to abortion that would have been unconstitutional under Roe v Wade, have bans currently blocked by the court or are likely to introduce bans in the near future.
Arizona and Florida do not allow abortions past 15 weeks, while Utah has an 18-week ban.
In three states – Indiana, Wyoming and Ohio – near-total or early-gestation bans have been blocked by state courts for now, but lawmakers have indicated they intend to fight them.
In Iowa, Montana and Nebraska, anti-abortion policymakers have indicated that they want to ban abortion soon, but abortion care remains available for now.
What’s happened to abortion clinics?
At least 66 abortion clinics have stopped offering abortion care in the 15 states where abortion is banned or severely restricted.
The loss of these clinics is felt nationwide, according to the Guttmacher Institute, as clinics in states where abortion remains legal are inundated with people travelling interstate.
As the institute explains: “These dramatic increases in caseloads mean clinic capacity and staff are stretched to their limits, resulting in longer wait times for appointments even for residents of states where abortion remains legal.”
A study from the Society of Family Planning estimated legal abortions nationwide fell by more than 10,000 in the two months following the overturning of Roe v Wade, although some women may have sought abortion pills privately.
Many of the states that have banned or restricted abortion have high proportions of black, Latina and indigenous women.
Research by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed how overturning Roe v Wade disproportionately impacts women of colour, as they are more likely to get abortions, have more limited access to health care, and face barriers to travelling out of state for an abortion.
The Guttmacher Institute notes in addition that “people living with low incomes… transmen and nonbinary people, immigrants, adolescents and people living with disabilities are all particularly likely to encounter compounding obstacles to abortion care and be harmed as a result”.
Some states have introduced protections
While the US has seen significant rolling back of abortion rights, there are pockets of good news for pro-choice activists.
Voters in Kansas protected abortion rights in the state’s constitution by rejecting an amendment that would have allowed lawmakers to restrict access to abortions.
New York will provide free abortion pills at four public clinics, making its health department the first in the nation to offer free medication abortion.
In the midterms, voters in five states chose to protect reproductive rights. Vermont, Michigan and California added protections to their state constitutions while voters in Kentucky rejected an amendment that would have removed any protection for abortion rights from the constitution.
In Montana, a bill that could have criminalised doctors for providing abortions was defeated.
Medical abortions account for the majority of abortions in the US – in 2020, the most recent year for which data is available, abortion pills were used in 53% of cases.
Early evidence suggests they have become even more popular since Roe v Wade was overturned – one study suggested the number of people seeking medical abortions has increased threefold.
At the beginning of January, the Food and Drug Administration changed its rules to allow retail pharmacies in the US to dispense abortion pills for the first time.
However, abortion pills are now seen as the next frontier in the fight by anti-abortion activists and they are pushing hard to curtail access.
Tyre Nichols’ mother says she’s ‘not going to stop’ until those responsible for her son’s death face justice
The mother of Tyre Nichols has said she is “not going to stop” until every person responsible for her son’s death “is prosecuted to the fullest of law”.
RowVaughn Wells was speaking to US news network MSNBC a day after Memphis Police released bodycam footage showing her son screaming “mom, mom” several times as he was attacked by officers.
Ms Wells said: “I believe in my heart that my son was on assignment from God. He finished his assignment and God took him back home.
“Even though this tragedy happened to my son, I truly believe that there is going to be a greater good that comes out of this.
“And that is what keeps me going to get this justice for my son, because I’m not going to stop until every person that had anything to do with my son’s death is prosecuted to the fullest of the law.”
Warning: This article contains violent images
Ms Wells went on to say that the officers she believes killed her son had “shamed their own families” and continued: “You shame your communities. You just brought a bad taste to everybody’s mouth.
“I hate the fact that it was five black men that actually did this to another black man. My son probably was their age.
“They just brought disgrace to themselves. I’m not an evil person, my son is not an evil person…. I pray for (the officers’) families, because their families didn’t deserve any of this either.”
Ms Wells and Mr Nichols’ stepfather also repeated their call for people to protest in a non-violent way.
Mr Nichol’s mother earlier said in the same interview: “Tyre was a beautiful person, he was full of life, as you can see he loved to skateboard, he loved to watch the sunsets. He was a great dad.
“He was just a good person. There’s no perfect person in this world, but he was close to it.”
Ms Wells has spoken after Memphis Police announced the SCORPION (Street Crimes Operations to Restore Peace in Our Neighbourhoods) unit, that the five officers charged with murder over the father-of-one’s death were members of, has been “permanently deactivated”.
Memphis Police said in a statement: “In the process of listening intently to the family of Tyre Nichols, community leaders, and the uninvolved officers who have done quality work in their assignments, it is in the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the SCORPION unit.
“The officers currently assigned to the unit agree unreservedly with this next step.
“While the heinous actions of a few casts a cloud of dishonour on the title SCORPION, it is imperative that we, the Memphis Police Department take proactive steps in the healing process for all impacted.”
The move comes after Memphis Police released bodycam footage showing Mr Nichols screaming for his mother while being beaten by officers.
The footage shows police attacked the 29-year-old for three minutes while shouting profanities at him.
Mr Nichols was 80 yards (73 metres) from his family home, according to his mother.
Police have released four separate videos cut into one hour-long clip, including police bodycam footage and footage from a CCTV camera.
Five officers have been charged with second-degree murder and other crimes, including assault, kidnapping, official misconduct and official oppression over Mr Nichols’ death.
In the footage of the attack, one camera shows the initial police stop at an intersection in Memphis, Tennessee.
“I’m going to baton the f*** out of you,” one officer can be heard saying. His body camera shows him raise his baton while at least one other officer holds Mr Nichols.
After the first officer roughly pulls Mr Nichols out of his car just after 8:20pm on 7 January this year, the FedEx worker can be heard saying “I didn’t do anything” as a group of officers begins to wrestle him to the ground.
“Get on the ground!,” one officer yells, as another is heard shouting: “Tase him! Tase him!”
The father-of-one calmly replied soon after being wrestled to the pavement: “OK, I’m on the ground.”
Moments later, as the officers continue to shout, Mr Nichols says: “Man, I am on the ground.”
An officer yells: “Put your hands behind your back before I break your (expletive).”
Moments later an officer shouts: “Put your hands behind your back before I break them.”
“You guys are really doing a lot right now,” Mr Nichols says loudly to the officers. “I’m just trying to go home.”
“Stop, I’m not doing anything,” he yells moments later.
The camera is briefly obscured and then Mr Nichols can be seen running as an officer fires a Taser at him. The officers then start chasing Mr Nichols.
He is then punched, kicked and hit with a baton. After the beating, officers mill about for several minutes while Mr Nichols lies propped up against the car, then slumps onto the street.
Emergency workers with what looks like medical equipment attend, but do not immediately intervene.
He died on 10 January, three days after the violent arrest.
The officers involved have been dismissed by Memphis Police Department’s Chief of Police, Cerelyn Davis.
Ms Davis, who became the force’s first black female boss in 2021, previously called for “sweeping changes and police reform” in the aftermath of the 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Meanwhile, influential civil rights campaigner Al Sharpton said the US has a “new clock” on police accountability following the quick arrest and firing of five officers charged over the death of Mr Nichols.
Speaking at a rally in Harlem, New York, Reverend Sharpton also rejected the idea that there was no race element to the fatal beating of Mr Nichols by the officers just because they themselves are black.
Making a speech at a weekly National Action Network rally, he said: “So there’s a new precedent set now ‘cos this black women police chief messed you up now – ‘cos she said I’m not waiting on nothing – arrest them, fire them.
“You now got a new clock on police accountability. We don’t want to hear no year investigation.”
Addressing the involvement of race, he said: “One person said to me well at least it ain’t about race.
“I said the race part of it is those black guys thought they could get away with doing it to a black guy.
“You know you couldn’t get away with doing that in Tennessee to a white guy – and you won’t get away with doing it to a black guy either.”
Meanwhile, at a news conference of city leaders held on Saturday, state representative Joe Towns Jr, echoed the comments of Reverend Sharpton on the force’s prompt investigation.
He also said police chief Ms Davis had his full support, praising her for taking “swift action”.
The comments came as a memorial fund set up in the aftermath of Mr Nichols topped $535,000 (£433,000).
The GoFundMe page, set up by Mr Nichols’ mother, is aimed at helping to pay for a memorial skate park in his honour, as well as to allow his family time off from their jobs to grieve and seek justice.
Protests are taking place in at least nine cities across the US – including Memphis – after the bodycam footage was released.
Mr Nichols’ mother had earlier warned supporters of the “horrific” nature of the video but pleaded for peace saying “tearing up the streets” is “not what my son stood for”.
US President Joe Biden said he was “outraged and deeply pained to see the horrific video of the beating that resulted in Tyre Nichols’ death”.
“It is yet another painful reminder of the profound fear and trauma, the pain, and the exhaustion that black and brown Americans experience every single day,” he added.
What is Scorpion, the now disbanded police unit at the centre of Tyre Nichols’ death?
When Memphis, a city in southwest Tennessee, had a record number of homicides in 2021 for the second year in a row, many were calling for action.
Attention turned to the Memphis Police Department to tackle the murder rate, which led to the creation of the Scorpion Unit in October 2021.
“MPD’s New SCORPION UNIT Launched!” read a post on the department’s Facebook page, along with a video clip showing a group of officers in tactical vests at a roll call.
The name stands for the Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace In Our Neighborhoods – yet officers from that same unit were responsible for the brutal assault of Tyre Nichols this month during a traffic stop for alleged reckless driving.
Warning: This article contains violent images
“The Scorpion unit was involved,” Steve Mulroy, the District Attorney for Shelby County, Tennessee, confirmed on Thursday when he announced the murder charges against five officers.
Police Chief Cerelyn Davis, who has called the attack “heinous, reckless and inhumane”, announced on Saturday that after “listening intently” to Nichols’ relatives, community leaders and uninvolved officers, she felt “it is in the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the Scorpion unit.”
A unit designed for ‘crime suppression’
The Scorpion unit was created in October 2021 under the police department’s Organised Crime Unit after a record 346 homicides were reported in 2021 – up from 332 the previous year.
Made up of 40 officers divided into four 10-member teams, the unit was tasked with addressing violent crime and investigating car thefts and gangs.
In January last year, Mayor Jim Strickland promoted the unit as part of the solution to the high homicide rate, stating that in its first three months, it had made hundreds of arrests and seized hundreds of cars and weapons.
Its operations were flaunted on the police department’s Facebook page: arrests that began with traffic stops, escalated into more serious confrontations and ended with arrests of people for drugs and guns.
‘Police do what they can to arrest people’
Mark LeSure, a former Memphis police sergeant who retired in 2021, said he had begun to see a large number of relatively inexperienced officers being put on specialised units as other members of the force quit.
Mr LeSure added that the units did not have enough senior staff members training the new officers.
“Rookies were getting put on specialised units where they had no business being,” he said.
Two of the five officers involved in the assault on Mr Nichols, who are aged between 24 and 32-years-old, had been on the job for a couple of years, and the others no more than six years.
Mr LeSure said some of his former colleagues who are still at the department have told him that the Scorpion unit, which launched after he retired, is known for having a “zero tolerance” policy on crime – which he said meant the officers “do what they can to arrest people”.
Police initially said Mr Nichols had been stopped for reckless driving on 7 January and that a “confrontation” occurred in an effort to detain him.
However, Ms Davis said a review of the incident could not “substantiate” the reckless driving claim.
He died three days after the assault.
‘Unit is an excuse to harass everyday residents’
E. Winslow Chapman, the director of the police department from 1976 to 1983, said that when he was leading the force officers were not considered for specialised units without at least seven years on the job.
Mr Chapman said: “You’re using officers to send a message that we’re here and we’re not going to tolerate criminal activity anymore… and it can very easily go overboard, which it obviously did in this case.”
Chelsea Glass, a community organiser in Memphis who is an advocate for criminal justice reform, called Scorpion a street crime-fighting team relying on traffic stops as excuses to find violent criminals and weapons.
“They harass everyday residents, and they’re calling this high-level policing,” he said.
“But it’s really just stop-and-frisk on wheels. It doesn’t matter what name you slap on it.”
What do we know about the officers?
The five officers have been charged with second-degree murder, official misconduct, aggravated kidnapping, official oppression and aggravated assault.
Here is what is known about each one.
Demetrius Haley, 30
Haley joined the Memphis Police Department in August 2020.
He previously worked as a corrections officer for the Shelby County Corrections Department and was accused of assaulting an inmate.
The lawsuit against him was dismissed as the inmate failed to complete all the paperwork.
Tadarrius Bean, 24
Bean was also hired in August 2020 having previously worked at a fast food restaurant and a telecoms company AT&T, according to his LinkedIn profile.
It says he studied criminal justice and law enforcement at the University of Mississippi from 2016 until 2020, and did an internship with the campus police department.
Emmitt Martin III, 30
Martin was hired by the Memphis Police Department in March 2018.
Joshua Harper, a pastor in Memphis, said he followed Martin on social media and that the man depicted in court papers “is not the person that I know”.
“I was shocked only for a second because I understood that he was a police officer and I know behind the badge that anything can happen when anyone has power and authority,” Harper said.
Desmond Mills Jr, 32
Mills was hired by the Memphis Police Department in March 2017.
He was nicknamed “Box” when he played American football for West Virginia State University.
One of his former coaches, Kip Shaw, said: “When I saw the news, I was just shocked. I’ve been coaching a long time and you just never know. I told my wife, ‘That man played for us at West Virginia State’.”
Justin Smith, 28
Smith was hired by the Memphis Police Department in March 2018.
Following his arrest, Smith posted his $250,000 bail and was released from custody Thursday night.
Punched, kicked and tasered: Timeline of violent arrest of Tyre Nichols
Tyre Nichols was punched, kicked and tasered, beaten with a baton and had pepper spray used on him during a violent arrest by police in Memphis, video footage shows.
The father-of-one died three days after the beating he received on 7 January and five officers have been charged with second-degree murder.
Police initially said Mr Nichols had been stopped for reckless driving and that a “confrontation” occurred in an effort to detain him.
However Memphis police chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis said a review of the incident could not “substantiate” the reckless driving claim.
Here is a timeline of the crucial moments from the footage – released by police – that recorded events from 8.24pm to 9pm.
This is the first sight of Mr Nichols’ car, already stopped at a junction where two officers order him to get out of his vehicle.
One of the officers opens the driver’s door and drags the 29-year-old out.
Mr Nichols can be heard telling them: “Damn, I didn’t do anything.”
As he is forced to the ground and sworn at, Mr Nicols can be heard trying to pacify the police saying: “All right, all right.”
One of the officers tells him: “I’m going to tase your ass.”
Mr Nichols says: “All right, I’m on the ground… Stop, stop… You guys are really doing a lot right now. I’m just trying to go home… Stop. I’m not doing anything.”
He then breaks free and runs away in the direction of his mother’s house.
An officer fires his Taser and police chase after him.
8.26pm to 8.31pm
There is no video of Mr Nichols during this time, when apparently two officers catch and detain Mr Nichols.
Mr Nichols is seen on the ground being subdued by two officers, less than half a mile from where the traffic stop happened.
A third officer arrives on the scene.
One of them says: “Do you want to get sprayed again?”
Two officers can then be seen punching and slapping Mr Nichols as he lies on the ground trying to protect his head from the blows and screaming: “Mom. Mom.”
The newly arrived officer tells his colleagues to “watch out” before spraying Mr Nichols, who again cried out: “Mom. Mom.”
His mother’s house is just a short distance away.
An officer then orders Mr Nichols to “give me your hands.”
A fourth policeman arrives on the scene.
Mr Nichols is then sprayed again which apparently also hits another officer, who can be heard swearing.
One of the officers kicks Mr Nichols in the face twice.
The officer who had stepped away returns and says, “I’m going to baton the f*** out of you” raising his stick.
The officer with the baton hits Mr Nichols with it three times as other officers begin to stand him up.
One officer punches Mr Nichols at least five times in the head while two others hold him up.
He falls to the ground and officers hold him down.
A fifth officer arrives on scene and kicks Mr Nichols, before another officer kicks him.
A sixth and seventh officer arrive who appear to observe the scene. One of them makes a call on his radio.
Officers step back with Mr Nichols now in handcuffs.
Mr Nichols is dragged across the ground and propped sitting up against a patrol car.
Officers stand around discussing the incident, laughing and joking.
One complains about having hurt his leg.
Mr Nichols slumps to his right to the ground.
“Hey, sit up, bro,” one officer says. Mr Nichols is grabbed by the arm and pulled back into a sitting position.
Two emergency medical staff arrive but is unclear what treatment if any is given.
8.41pm to 8.55pm
Mr Nichols remains on the ground as officers mill around.
One leans down and tells him: “You can’t go nowhere.”
8.55pm to 9pm
Emergency workers appear to begin tending to Mr Nichols again as he is propped up against the police car.
A stretcher is wheeled into the area and two minutes later an ambulance arrives.
Mr Nichols complains of difficulty breathing and is taken to hospital.
A post-mortem examination later reveals he “suffered excessive bleeding caused by a severe beating”.
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