It’s been 40 years since the Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision affirmed the right of women to decide the issue of abortion for themselves. By invalidating restrictive state laws, the Court held that reproductive rights — at least during the first trimester of pregnancy — were a given under the Constitution. Wholesale bans and unreasonable restrictions on the procedure by states were in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and a woman’s right to privacy.
The decision spawned a national debate about choice, government intrusion into personal lives, religion, ethics, and politics. It’s been a hot topic in every presidential race, many state and local contests, and has sharply divided this country into “pro-life” and “pro-choice” camps. The two movements are no closer to consensus in 2013 then they were in 1973.
If anything, the vitriol has become more intense and ugly. Medical professionals have been shot. Clinics bombed. Threats, violence, and vandalism common among some extremists. A few months ago, then-Rep.Todd Aiken’s ridiculous remarks about rape and pregnancy set off a firestorm in the state of Missouri, the nation, and unintentionally helped several Democratic candidates in their respective races.
Many in the Republican party vow to pass legislation repealing Roe v Wade. The issue of [mostly] Republican, white males, who never have and of course never will become pregnant, telling women what they can or can’t do with their bodies might be humorous, if there wasn’t so much at stake. Unfortunately, some of them are doing a two-step around the law.
Texas recently defunded Planned Parenthood, making it extremely difficult, if not impossible for mostly poor, minority, and rural women to obtain any kind of health care – including well-women checkups and preventive screenings – let alone make a choice about pregnancy. Other states are following suit. The Guttmacher Institute developed a state-by-state breakdown of abortion laws and their major provisions. None seem as invasive as the new Virginia law requiring a vaginal ultrasound for every woman undergoing an abortion prior to the procedure. It may be the ultimate invasion of privacy.
Affordable Care Act provisions requiring businesses to offer health insurance plans which include contraceptive coverage set off another intense round of debate – particularly from leaders in the Catholic Church. It should be noted that the law itself takes a neutral stance on abortion. However, both supporters and opponents continue to argue how far women’s health services should go under the ACA.
Abortion foes in several states are chipping away at Roe v. Wade by means that Justice Blackmun and his Court could never have foreseen. It is an issue that goes to the heart of women’s equality and rights as individuals under our Constitution. So how far have we really come? Good question.