On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court issued the historic Roe v. Wade decision. In making its decision, the court overturned a Texas interpretation of abortion law and, as a result, made pregnancy termination legal in the United States. In a vote of 7–2 the Supreme Court held that a set of Texas statutes that criminalised abortion violated a woman’s constitutional right of privacy. Using the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court found that the Texas law was unduly restrictive and, therefore, the state regulation of abortion was determined to be unconstitutional. The decision held that without legal restriction, a woman could opt to have an abortion during the early months of her pregnancy and, under certain circumstances, based on the right to privacy the same would hold in later months of the pregnancy.
That was 40 years ago and, using the old Virginia Slims’ television commercial’s signature statement, since then “[we've] come a long way, baby.”
The subsequent four decades have brought one challenge after another as to the validity of the law; there have been countless efforts to overturn the Court’s decision. As the mood of our society ebbs and flows, periods of our nation’s history reflect a push toward social conservatism, and that includes a forceful ‘pro-life’ movement that is pushing for Constitutional rights for the ‘unborn’. Some of the efforts to overturn the law have been through more subtle alterations on a state by state level, while the actions on the federal level have been through the appointment of more conservative Supreme Court justices.
The question now is whether or not Roe v. Wade will be overturned. Despite repeated challenges, the law has generally withstood the test of time and shifts in cultural norms even though the breadth and scope of the law has somewhat narrowed. The issue took front and center during the most recent presidential campaign generating media attention as the so-called Republican “War on Women.”
Women in this country have seen, up close, what can happen when legislators hold positions of power and make decisions about what happens to them. In the last several years, numerous bills have been introduced that redefine rape; give rapists visitation privileges in the event a child results from that rape; and even redefines when life begins in so-called “personhood” bills. Even access to birth control has been threatened depending upon where a woman is employed and the wishes of her employer. In other words birth control is not an acceptable option for some, but in the event of pregnancy results in the woman should not be allowed to terminate it because it violates the sanctity of personhood. Women lose at every turn if laws such as those are placed on the books.
Whether this law is repealed or not is an issue that may never affect many of us personally – but the reason advocates will continue to fight for safe and legal abortions is because it speaks to an issue of control: a woman’s right to have a say in what happens to her own body without interference from either a male-dominated society or the government that rules over us all. If the government truly is of the people and for the people, we must keep in mind that at least half of those people are women, and those women should have the ultimate say over what effects their own bodies.