FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Trouble With Roe

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. 

More articles by:

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

Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Daniel Wolff
The Aretha Dialogue
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump and the Rise of Patriotism 
Joseph Natoli
First Amendment Rights and the Court of Popular Opinion
Andrew Levine
Midterms 2018: What’s There to Hope For?
Robert Hunziker
Hothouse Earth
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Running Out of Fools
Ajamu Baraka
Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class
Paul Street
Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People
David Macaray
Trump and the Sex Tape
CJ Hopkins
Where Have All the Nazis Gone?
Daniel Falcone
The Future of NATO: an Interview With Richard Falk
Cesar Chelala
The Historic Responsibility of the Catholic Church
Ron Jacobs
The Barbarism of US Immigration Policy
Kenneth Surin
In Shanghai
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
The Military Option Against Venezuela in the “Year of the Americas”
Nancy Kurshan
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
Robert Fantina
Yemeni and Palestinian Children
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Orcas and Other-Than-Human Grief
Shoshana Fine – Thomas Lindemann
Migrants Deaths: European Democracies and the Right to Not Protect?
Paul Edwards
Totally Irrusianal
Thomas Knapp
Murphy’s Law: Big Tech Must Serve as Censorship Subcontractors
Mark Ashwill
More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells
Ralph Nader
Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives
Hans-Armin Ohlmann
My Longest Day: How World War II Ended for My Family
Matthew Funke
The Nordic Countries Aren’t Socialist
Daniel Warner
Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Crime and Punishment
Dave Lindorff
Mainstream Media Hypocrisy on Display
Jeff Cohen
Democrats Gather in Chicago: Elite Party or Party of the People?
Victor Grossman
Stand Up With New Hope in Germany?
Christopher Brauchli
A Family Affair
Jill Richardson
Profiting From Poison
Patrick Bobilin
Moving the Margins
Alison Barros
Dear White American
Celia Bottger
If Ireland Can Reject Fossil Fuels, Your Town Can Too
Ian Scott Horst
Less Voting, More Revolution
Peter Certo
Trump Snubbed McCain, Then the Media Snubbed the Rest of Us
Dan Ritzman
Drilling ANWR: One of Our Last Links to the Wild World is in Danger
Brandon Do
The World and Palestine, Palestine and the World
Chris Wright
An Updated and Improved Marxism
Daryan Rezazad
Iran and the Doomsday Machine
Patrick Bond
Africa’s Pioneering Marxist Political Economist, Samir Amin (1931-2018)
Louis Proyect
Memoir From the Underground
Binoy Kampmark
Meaningless Titles and Liveable Cities: Melbourne Loses to Vienna
Andrew Stewart
Blackkklansman: Spike Lee Delivers a Masterpiece
Elizabeth Lennard
Alan Chadwick in the Budding Grove: Story Summary for a Documentary Film
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail