Copyright © 2003 Henrietta W. Hay
January 24, 2003
This week marks the 30th anniversary of that landmark decision by the
Supreme Court -- Roe v. Wade -- which made first trimester abortion
legal for American women.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could celebrate this week with pride --
thirty years of the of safe, clean abortions for those women who, for
whatever personal, private reasons, choose to have them?
But no. In the thirty years abortion has ceased to be a matter of a
woman's privacy and her rights, and has become a bitter political issue
with Roe being fought chiefly by middle aged white men. The New York
Times calls it "The War Against Women."
Today, Roe is under the most serious threat yet, since we have the
Presidency and both Houses of Congress under the control of the
"compassionate conservatives," otherwise known as the Far Right.,! We
have an administration, one of whose main goals is obviously to reverse
Roe. The New York Times editorial says, "The lengthening string of
anti-choice executive orders, regulations, legal briefs, legislative
maneuvers and key appointments emanating from Bush's administration
suggests that undermining the reproductive freedom essential to a
woman's health, privacy and equality is a major preoccupation of his
administration, second only, perhaps, to war ...."
Roe did not give unlimited rights to abortion. During the half century
leading up to the decision, the Supreme Court decided a series of cases
in which it recognized the existence of a constitutionally protected
right to privacy that keeps fundamentally important and deeply personal
decisions concerning "bodily integrity, identity and destiny" largely
beyond the reach of government interference.
But in the Roe decision the Court recognized a state's valid interest in
potential life. So the compromise held that a woman has the right to
choose abortion until fetal viability, but that the state's interest
generally outweighs the woman's after that point.
But the opponents don' t accept the compromise. Clinics have been
bombed, doctors killed. On his first day in office Bush re-instated the
"Global Gag Rule," the first in a series of actions cutting financial
aid to family planning programs in developing countries. The
administration opposed the use of RU 486, which has been used as a
method of early abortion by women world-wide, and which was approved by
the F. D. A. The House, with approval of the Administration, declared
when life begins -- by law not by religious belief. Rep. Carolyn
Malony, N. Y said the bill's definition of a fetus is so broad that it
would cover three cells. The Administration has severely limited
scientific stem cell research. And they already have a list of
potential appointments to the Supreme Court when the first vacancy
occurs -- with one litmus test, opposition to abortion.
Even the language has gotten harsher. Bill Number 1 of the 2003 Georgia
General Assembly, the abortion bill, defines the words in a new way.
"Death warrant" means an order of a superior court providing that an
execution may proceed. "Execution" means an abortion. "No physician
shall perform an execution in this state without first obtaining a death
warrant." This involves filing a petition and holding a trial within 30
Abortion is not a new procedure. As the Grolier Encyclopedia points
out, "Induced abortion has been practiced in every culture since ancient
times." Laws cannot stop it. Men cannot stop it. They merely force
it underground and women die. So while the guys use the issue to win
elections, the serious problems of women and girls who are faced with
unplanned/unwanted pregnancies, and the welfare of the mothers and
babies which result from them are being ignored.
Young women today can hardly believe that only 30 years abortion was
illegal and could be again. It was a long, hard battle, and it is
obviously not over. But this week let's celebrate the 30th Anniversary
of Roe v. Wade.