January 22: Roe v. Wade (1973) is forty years old today.
From Justice Harry Blackmun’s opinion of the court:
This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. The detriment that the State would impose upon the pregnant woman by denying this choice altogether is apparent. Specific and direct harm medically diagnosable even in early pregnancy may be involved. Maternity, or additional offspring, may force upon the woman a distressful life and future. Psychological harm may be imminent. Mental and physical health may be taxed by child care. There is also the distress, for all concerned, associated with the unwanted child, and there is the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable, psychologically and otherwise, to care for it. In other cases, as in this one, the additional difficulties and continuing stigma of unwed motherhood may be involved. All these are factors the woman and her responsible physician necessarily will consider in consultation.
Here are a set of great infographics from the Guttmacher Institute on Roe at forty and abortion rights in 2013 America. (One is above, but there are four more.) There’s a lot to be worried about when it comes to women’s abortion rights and general rights to reproductive health in the US, but a positive note: seven in ten Americans believe Roe v Wade ought to stand according to an NBC/WSJ poll. This is the highest level of support for the decision since the poll began tracking it in 1989.
Also read: Jill Lepore’s New Yorker article: “This is Forty: The Anniversary of Roe v. Wade”
Photograph: A 1971 demonstration in Madison, WI to protest the closing of the Midwest Medical Center, which had provided abortions despite the state’s laws against it. AP via The New Yorker.
So, the right, as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court 40 years ago, is under fire more than at any time during my cognitive life. Specifically it was that states do not have the right to legislate against the woman in thissituation. If the 1 in 7 poll is accurate, we need to be keen and strong. How do the minority in power keep passing or establishing laws on women’s reproductive rights? There’s a real danger here. Go with me on this: The majority of the German population did not want to kill all the Jews. As the minority in power got louder, and laws were passed, dissenters fell quiet, then silent, lest they be thrown into the machine. We see where that went. Do I think we’re becoming Nazis? Of course not. However, there’s a new traction of reproductive health prohibition that goes against the alleged 1 in 7 Roe v. Wade support. We cannot fall quiet.