The Frightening Fade of Roe v. Wade
Photo Credit: Sebastian Kaczoroski
Texas. Ground Zero. Back to where we started almost fifty years ago. It took three years for Roe v. Wade to work its way to the supreme court. The Wade in that case was Henry Wade, the Dallas County district attorney. At the time, Texas law read that abortion was a crime, unless the woman’s life was in danger or in the instance of rape or incest. The exception component of the law, however, was to be determined by government officials. That a woman’s reproductive healthcare choice becomes a public affair, not to be addressed by her, but by government officials, makes women less than free and equal in the eyes of the law and society.
In its 1972 ruling on Roe, the supreme court recognized that the constitutional right to privacy was “broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision as to whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” (Roe v. Wade) In other words, terminating a pregnancy for whatever reason was a personal and private decision to be made between a woman and her doctor.
If we rewind just a little bit further back, before the Roe v. Wade case, it’s easy to see the foundation that was laid for the 1972 SCOTUS decision. In that case, Griswald v. Connecticut, the executive director of Planned Parenthood-Connecticut, was charged with the crime of giving contraceptives to married couples. The court found in favor of Griswold, stating that married couples had a constitutional right to privacy. Seven years later, SCOTUS decided that this same right applied to single people as well. (Eisnstadt v. Baird, 1972)
In the Roe v. Wade ruling , Justice Harry Blackmun called the court’s decision “a step that had to be taken as we go down the road toward the full emancipation of women.” (Greenhouse, 1994). Yet, nearly fifty years later, here we are once again and the topics of full emancipation and the constitutional right to privacy are being called into question with regard to women.
Emancipation is defined as being free from restrain, control or the power of another. That means that I, and I alone have control over my body and my health care choices. It means that religions, no matter how sincere or fervent have no jurisdiction over my body and neither does the government. Freedom is freedom, period.
Anti-vaxers have appropriated the phrase, “my body, my choice,” and used it as a rallying cry to support their decision not to be vaccinated. The hypocrisy is that the anti-vaxers have a right to make a private medical choice which has far broader ramifications than a woman’s right to an abortion. By law, the anti-vaxers are protected. In fact they're more than protected, they're supported by a Texas governor who believes that people should be left alone to make their own decisions. That is, of course, unless you’re a woman who wants to terminate a pregnancy – then it’s not your body and it’s not your choice. But it is hypocrisy at its best.
My fear is that governors from other states will rally round the Texas law for political reasons. In doing so, the message is that women cannot be trusted to make their own decisions. What’s next? Will women lose access to birth control? Or how about women not being able to get credit without the signature of a husband on her application? If you can’t trust her to make her own health care decisions, why trust her with finance? The full emancipation that Justice Blackmun wrote about risks slipping away, and women once again become second class citizens, frail, unintelligent beings who are seen as needing government intervention in their personal and private health care choices. Hand Maid’s Tale, anyone?
And as if it couldn’t be worse, the new Texas law not only prohibits abortion from being legal after only six weeks, it allows vigilantes to enforce the law by incentivizing them with large sums of money to bring suit against anyone who they think might have aided in the abortion process – including Uber drivers, friends who offer counsel, or a private conversation between a woman and a health care practitioner. This puts women in the state of Texas under surveillance by the citizens around them. Many of those people will be searching for infractions against the new law, thus lining their pockets and wrecking misery on women who used to have the constitutional right to privacy.
For me, abortion means the right of free individuals to make personal health and well-being choices with their doctor. That “life begins at conception” is a theological argument only. At least for the time being, this country is not a theocracy, but a representative democracy. Our government is elected by citizens and those elected are in theory, supposed to represent the citizens' concerns. For the time being, the government of Texas hasn’t come close to representing the ideas and concerns of most of the women who live here.
The new Texas law flies in the face of HIPPA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), whose first rule of protecting patient health information is privacy. By its actions, the state government of Texas does not believe that a woman should be afforded the constitutional right of personal privacy. Nor does it believe that women are entitled to make their own health choices – just as the anti-vaxers are doing. Texas has found a way to work around the law of the land which is, at least for the moment, Roe v. Wade. And it has no qualms about utilizing vigilantes to do so. This law, made at ground zero should scare all of the freedom loving people of this country. It sets dangerous precedents in its enforcement method and moreover its over arching attitudes about the equality, the “full emancipation” of 50% of it’s citizens, i.e. women.
You can make your voices be heard by joining the national march on October 2nd. Let our leaders know that we believe in the constitutional right to privacy, and that we believe in the right for all people to make the personal health and well being choices that are right for them. Reach out to: https://womensmarch.com/mobilize This is the time to stand up and speak up.
1. Einstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 (1972)
2. Greenhouse, Linda. (1994, April 7) “The Supreme Court: The Legacy: Justice Blackmun’s Journey: From Moderate to a Liberal.” The New York Times, A1
3. Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S.479 (1965)
4. Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)