The choices we make are important. We each make choices about all kinds of things every day. Some are small things such as what to eat for breakfast. Some have longer range effects such as deciding on a career path or whether to accept a particular job offer. Others are even more life changing such as choosing if or when to have a child, or more immediately, whether to carry a given pregnancy to term based on one’s own circumstances. All are personal choices, yet that last one is currently under its greatest threat since the passage of Roe v. Wade.
The big question right now is whether the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) will overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal in all 50 states and has stood for almost half a century. Part of that decision and subsequent ones strengthening it was setting a threshold before which the right was inviolate – viability at about 24 weeks of pregnancy. Although I was young at the time, I am old enough to remember the days before Roe v. Wade when women of means had access to doctors and safe facilities when they had difficult decisions to make. Women without means resorted to potentially life-threatening procedures in some of the dirtiest or most dangerous places imaginable when they faced those same decisions. Things are different now should SCOTUS overturn that settled law. Many forward thinking states are enacting provisions to keep abortion legal, safe, and available, while numerous Republican controlled states have been working toward levying severe restrictions and potential outright bans on the procedure that disproportionately affect poor women and their families. Of note is that pregnancy poses a much higher risk to the woman than a safe, legal abortion would if that was her choice.
The press and individual discussions are mostly focused on the ramifications surrounding access to abortion in this country. At the forefront on each end of that spectrum are Vermont and Kansas. Vermont has a pending state constitutional amendment protecting reproductive health rights including abortion that will be up for vote in 2022. Kansas has a state constitutional amendment on the 2022 ballot ensuring that such rights are not protected by the state. Other states have various pending legislation in both directions as well if federal protection for choice ceases to exist. Still, the SCOTUS decision, expected sometime in 2022, will have far-reaching effects beyond whether a women wants to bring a pregnancy to term or not.
Beyond the choice to determine whether or not to procreate, taking this right away sets a very dangerous precedent legally. Normally when the court has gone counter to precedent, it’s been to expand a right not revoke it. Up until now, the only notable exception was expanding individual rights by revoking rights to discriminate against or enslave others. In this case, the court is considering removing federal protections given the individual in favor of allowing states to stifle an individual’s freedom with respect to their reproductive choices, but the potential consequences don’t stop there.
In the case of the anti-choice arguments being used, many are religious in nature which in essence results in the government imposing religious doctrine on the individual. This goes counter to the First Amendment protection against the state establishing religion and prohibiting the free exercise of religion by the individual which for some people means freedom from religion and religious doctrine if that’s their choice. If those rights aren’t protected, how can we count on others laid out in the Constitution not being revoked in the future based on the whims of a very partisan high court?
The reasons for wanting to terminate a pregnancy are many and should only be between a patient and her doctor, not her state of residence, and not the federal government. Pregnancy is dangerous and should only be undertaken with informed, affirmative consent, not forced upon anyone. If life were really the consideration, the pregnant woman’s life would be paramount. Justice Barrett’s assertion that the safe haven statutes eliminate the need for any abortions ignores the suffering and physical, psychological, and financial damages that pregnancy itself can cause even if the resulting child is removed after the fact.
Given the vast majority of Americans want abortion to be available, safe, and legal, their voices are already being silenced in Republican controlled states where numerous restrictions have been legislated and are currently being challenged in court. Prior to the extreme shifting of SCOTUS to its current unbalanced state, the Republican push had been to make abortion unavailable in large portions of the country. Changing the equation to actually making it illegal in Republican controlled states, or possibly nationwide, will create far more division across the nation.
No matter where one stands on the issue of choice, the fact that this decision could put every individual right under attack should be chilling. If the court throws this decision to the states, then states could individually institute legislation revoking any individual rights based on the whims of each state’s legislature, even for rights we all consider fundamental. It wouldn’t matter what the majority of voters in those states actually wanted. It would also create a vast disparity from state to state such that there would be no national standard, and the U.S. Constitution and the rights it guarantees could be rendered moot.
Imagine the uproar if some states, in an effort to enact more comprehensive gun control, outlawed all guns (although some gun control advocates would applaud such a development). Imagine the objections to some states outlawing the practice of any religion or declaring a state religion. Revoking a well-established individual right like overturning Roe v. Wade opens the door to revoking any established right under the right circumstances. Is that really what this country should strive for?
As the Supreme Court considers Roe v. Wade, a look at how abortion became legal | NPR
Supreme Court conservatives appear willing to gut abortion rights | Reuters
Roe v. Wade Being Overturned Will Harm Black Women the Most | Newsweek
Abortion and Gender Equality: Spotlight on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health: The reliance on the right to abortion has been essential to advancing women’s equality. | Reproductive Rights
A Case that Could Overturn Roe v. Wade Goes Before the Supreme Court | Time
Supreme Court seems poised to consider new limits on right to abortion | The Hill
‘Catastrophic implications’: UN health expert condemns US over threat to abortion rights | The Guardian
Analysis: U.S. abortion curbs: Fearing business impact, companies speak out | Reuters
The Supreme Court Looks Ready to Overturn Roe v. Wade | New Yorker
The Study That Debunks Most Anti-Abortion Arguments | New Yorker
Why abortion fight isn’t over if Roe is overturned | Christian Science Monitor
About six-in-ten Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases | Pew Research Center
The Mississippi Abortion Case and the Fragile Legitimacy of the Supreme Court | New Yorker