Copyright © 1998 Henrietta W. Hay
Happy Birthday, Roe vs. Wade
January 30, 1998
The Democrats watched with interest as the Republican party faced a
major dilemma last week. (Remember that far back? That was the week
before the crisis of the week at the White House and the Superbowl.) In
the words of a Sentinel editorial headline, the Republican National
Committee was about to commit hari kari. The committee rose to the
occasion, however, and solved the problem in political terms. It
rejected a proposal to deny money to GOP candidates who do not support a
ban on certain late term abortions. This was an issue of practical
politics, recognizing differences of opinion within their party.
I guess life would be pretty dull if we had nothing to argue about but
we don't need to worry. The death penalty, prayer in schools and
abortion involve moral and ethical issues which concern us all, and on
which we have varying opinions. And each of those issues has become a
political football. Labels have become weapons and issues have become
Twenty-five years ago this month the Supreme Court, in the case of Roe
vs. Wade, said that a constitutionally protected right of privacy is,
"broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to
terminate her pregnancy." Those words transformed abortion from a
criminal act to a medical procedure. Now, twenty-five years later it
has become a political weapon, and women's reproductive rights are being
trampled in the sound and fury.
Another part of that same decision which is less widely read shows the
wisdom and understanding of the court. "We forthwith acknowledge our
awareness of the sensitive and emotional nature of the abortion
controversy. . . and of the deep and seemingly absolute convictions that
the subject inspires. One's philosophy, one's experiences, one's
exposure to the raw edges of human experience, one's religious training,
one's attitudes toward life and family and their values, and the moral
standards one establishes and seeks to observe, are likely to influence
and to color one's thinking and conclusions about abortion. . . Our task
is to resolve the issue by constitutional measurement, free of emotion
and of predilection."
Abortion has been practiced in every culture since ancient times. Laws
will not cause it to go away. They will simply make criminals out of
women and doctors and revive the back-alley butchers. Here in America a
whole generation of women has grown up not knowing what it was like
before Roe vs. Wade. I fervently hope our daughters and granddaughters
will never need to learn.
There is one thing on which surely we would all agree. It would be an
ideal world if all babies were born wanted and loved and healthy and
cared for. But all too often children are not welcomed or cared for or
even fed. In our political climate, a world of wars and guns and gangs
our major social concern for children seems to end at birth.
It has always interested me that the people who protest most loudly
about the intrusiveness of government into our personal lives are the
ones who demand that the government intrude into the most personal of
all relationships, that between a woman and her family and her doctor.
Government has no right to tell a woman when or whether she should bear
Those women who believe that abortion is a moral wrong should never
consider having one under any circumstances, including rape or incest.
They should be respected and protected from any pressure. But those of
us who honestly believe that women have reproductive rights, which
include abortion as a medical procedure, are entitled to the same
consideration, protection and respect.
In such a diverse society as ours, people must have room to express
their own values, religious beliefs, and personal choices without
government interference. In the words of Mr. Justice Blackmun in Roe
vs. Wade twenty-five years ago, "The constitution is made for people of
fundamentally differing views." The Republican National Committee
obviously realized that last week.