FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Trouble With Roe

by LAURA FLANDERS

The Supreme Court Decision legalizing a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy turned forty years old this week. Protestors turned out at the court in support of the decision and also against. For opponents, the problem is the way Roe was decided. The problem for supporters is, in many ways, the same.

Roe vs. Wade was decided on privacy grounds. Eight years before, the Supreme Court heard arguments Griswold v. Connecticut, and ruled that a Connecticut law prohibiting the use of contraceptives violated the constitutionally protected “right to privacy.” In Roe, the court decided the abortion decision fell under that same rubrick.

The trouble is, privacy doesn’t get a mention in the Constitution.  At the basis of the Justices’ verdict was the idea that there’s an implied commitment to civil liberties. The First Amendment protects free speech, the fourth protects one’s private belongings and there’s protection for religious choice, etc. In deciding Roe, the Court wrapped the right to make healthcare decisions into individual rights, but it did not, for example, rule on women’s status as equal citizens deserving of equal freedoms and protections say, even when they happen to get pregnant.  And there’s the rub.

You’d think after the 2012 elections swept a record-breaking number of women into Congress; after eighteen congressional seats swopped from unreliable or anti- to pro-choice; after the GOP suffered and 18-point gender gap, the anti-choice Right would be cowed.  Far from it.  As soon as the new term started, failed presidential candidate Michele Bachmann introduced a bill to repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act (which required most employers to cover contraception in their insurance), and failed vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan co-sponsored the Sanctity of Human Life Act again, a bill that specifies that a “one-celled human embryo” should be granted “all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood.”

Not choice. Not privacy. Not individual rights but “personhood.” Paul Ryan knows what the battle over control of reproduction is really about.

Conservatives aren’t cowed because their cause has historic resonance and roots that run deep. For a bit of history, colonial America was ok with abortion. In 1800 abortion wasn’t even mentioned in the laws of any jurisdiction. One hundred years later, it was a criminal offense in every state. As historian James Mohr has written, criminalization of abortion took off at the same time that criminalization of free Blacks took off, after the Civil War. More than thirty anti-abortion laws were passed in just the years from 1866 to 1877.

Think about it: while Southern plantation owners were passing so called “Black codes” and “anti-vagrancy” laws that made it virtually impossible for freed slaves to work for themselves or make a go of it as free people; so-called social reformers and newly established professional doctors’ associations were pushing anti-abortion laws. By way of justification they talked about fetal rights and morality and the glories of “Victorian motherhood.” What were women actually doing at the time? Thousands of women who’d been working in paid jobs in factories and offices while their men fought the Civil War were hankering to limit their childbearing and stay in paid work.

“The question isn’t are you for or against abortion. It’s do you believe that upon becoming pregnant we put women in a new category or underclass?” reproductive justice attorney Lynn Paltrow said this month, when her group, National Advocates for Pregnant Women released a study of just how criminalized pregnant women have become in the US.

NAPW’s identified 413 criminal and civil cases across 44 states involving the arrest, detention and equivalent denial of women’s basic rights between 1973 and 2005 and another 250 or so since. Women of all races, but especially low-income women and women of color are “significantly more likely to be arrested, reported by hospital staff, and subjected to felony charges” reports NAPW.  In the majority of cases, the denial of fundamental rights to pregnant women was done in the name of protecting fetuses.

“Women are experiencing what amounts to regime of Jane Crow” says Paltrow. It’s a phrase that gives us a lot to think about.

In his Inauguration Address this week, Barack Obama made at least one important point. “Preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action,” he said. The comment reflects an idea about government that’s been debated throughout the history of the US.

Individual, personal, private rights: are they sufficient? Unions and mass movements exist because they’re not.  In our time, millions of dollars have gone into reversing the notion that government has any responsibility to act assertively to protect the vulnerable or make this country a fairer place. The New Deal, the War on Poverty, the right to bargain collectively, integration, civil rights… It’s not just that the drive to criminalize abortion is embraced by the same party that has all but destroyed those things. The attack on women’s autonomy and the attack on workers are part of the same attack. Deciding Roe on the grounds of privacy was a dodge. The Congress has never legislated women’s equality. The sooner we change that the better.  Forty years of privacy rights have brought some women some distance, but not enough women, far enough.

LAURA FLANDERS is the host of The Laura Flanders Show coming to public television stations later this year. She was the host and founder of GRITtv.org. Follow her on Twitter: @GRITlaura. 

Laura Flanders is the host of GRITtv now seen on the new, news channel TeleSUR English – for a new perspective. 

Weekend Edition
February 12-14, 2016
Andrew Levine
What Next in the War on Clintonism?
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Comedy of Terrors: When in Doubt, Bomb Syria
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh – Anthony A. Gabb
Financial Oligarchy vs. Feudal Aristocracy
Paul Street
When Plan A Meets Plan B: Talking Politics and Revolution with the Green Party’s Jill Stein
Rob Urie
The (Political) Season of Our Discontent
Pepe Escobar
It Takes a Greek to Save Europa
Gerald Sussman
Why Hillary Clinton Spells Democratic Party Defeat
Carol Norris
What Do Hillary’s Women Want? A Psychologist on the Clinton Campaign’s Women’s Club Strategy
Robert Fantina
The U.S. Election: Any Good News for Palestine?
Linda Pentz Gunter
Radioactive Handouts: the Nuclear Subsidies Buried Inside Obama’s “Clean” Energy Budget
Michael Welton
Lenin, Putin and Me
Manuel García, Jr.
Fire in the Hole: Bernie and the Cracks in the Neo-Liberal Lid
Thomas Stephens
The Flint River Lead Poisoning Catastrophe in Historical Perspective
David Rosen
When Trump Confronted a Transgender Beauty
Will Parrish
Cap and Clear-Cut
Victor Grossman
Coming Cutthroats and Parting Pirates
Ben Terrall
Raw Deals: Challenging the Sharing Economy
David Yearsley
Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Formation: Form-Fitting Uniforms of Revolution and Commerce
David Mattson
Divvying Up the Dead: Grizzly Bears in a Post-ESA World
Matthew Stevenson
Confessions of a Primary Insider
Jeff Mackler
Friedrichs v. U.S. Public Employee Unions
Franklin Lamb
Notes From Tehran: Trump, the Iranian Elections and the End of Sanctions
Pete Dolack
More Unemployment and Less Security
Christopher Brauchli
The Cruzifiction of Michael Wayne Haley
Bill Quigley
Law on the Margins: a Profile of Social Justice Lawyer Chaumtoli Huq
Uri Avnery
A Lady With a Smile
Katja Kipping
The Opposite of Transparency: What I Didn’t Read in the TIPP Reading Room
B. R. Gowani
Hellish Woman: ISIS’s Granny Endorses Hillary
Kent Paterson
The Futures of Whales and Humans in Mexico
James Heddle
Why the Current Nuclear Showdown in California Should Matter to You
Michael Howard
Hollywood’s Grotesque Animal Abuse
Steven Gorelick
Branding Tradition: a Bittersweet Tale of Capitalism at Work
Nozomi Hayase
Assange’s UN Victory and Redemption of the West
Patrick Bond
World Bank Punches South Africa’s Poor, by Ignoring the Rich
Mel Gurtov
Is US-Russia Engagement Still Possible?
Dan Bacher
Governor Jerry Brown Receives Cold, Dead Fish Award Four Years In A Row
Wolfgang Lieberknecht
Fighting and Protecting Refugees
Jennifer Matsui
Doglegs, An Unforgettable Film
Soud Sharabani
Israeli Myths: An Interview with Ramzy Baroud
Terry Simons
Bernie? Why Not?
Missy Comley Beattie
When Thoughtful People Think Illogically
Christy Rodgers
Everywhere is War: Luke Mogelson’s These Heroic, Happy Dead: Stories
Ron Jacobs
Springsteen: Rockin’ the House in Albany, NY
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“The Martian”: This Heroism is for Chinese Viewers Too
Charles R. Larson
No Brainers: When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail