Roe v. Wade 40th Anniversary: The State of Women's Rights


January 24 marks the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision. In 1973 the court ruled that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects Americans' right to privacy, including the right to end a pregnancy. 

Currently, a majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal, but only under certain circumstances, such as cases of rape or incest, or if the mother’s health is at risk. 

Abortion played an important role in shaping the 2012 election, where the ill-conceived comments by two Republican candidates cost them election. Shortly thereafter, we heard of the story of Savita Halappanavar in Ireland, who died suffering a miscarriage, despite repeated pleas to doctors for an abortion. Picked up by mainstream media outlets, the story highlighted the issue of abortion rights in other countries.

According to a 2011 report issued by the UN, between 1996 and 2009, abortion laws were liberalized in Australia, Italy, Mexico, Nepal and Portugal, among others. Few countries restricted access to abortion including: Iraq, Japan, and the Dominican Republic. 

With conservative David Cameron at the helm, Great Britain has seen repeated attempts in Parliament to modify the time limits for legal abortions from 24 weeks down to 12. Wishing to avoid a split Parliament and lengthy battle, Cameron has publicly stated the government had no desire to legislate on the issue.

American women did not fair so well in 2012. The Guttmacher Institute, which promotes reproductive and sexual health rights worldwide, reports that "2012 saw the second highest number of abortion restrictions ever." Arguably, the most alarming was the introduction of a mandatory ultrasound prior to obtaining the procedure, which is now on the books in eight states

In each of the eight states where ultrasounds are a requirement there are Republican governors. With the exception of Virginia and Wisconsin, Republicans are also in control both chambers of these state legislatures. This makes enacting laws that restrict access to abortion services possible with little resistance. The past election cemented Republican majorities in 27 states which diminishes any hope for overturning anti-abortion legislation.

There have been concerted efforts to make the phrasing of informed consent legislation more intimate to help illicit an emotional response by all parties involved. 

The problem is that even supporters of Roe v. Wade use problematic language when speaking about abortion.

“Now, I would never have one, but...”

This kind of language demonizes individuals who have had an abortion while professing a false sense of support. The use of distancing language allows an individual to discuss the issue of abortion while maintaining an ethical superiority. This in turn allows the manipulation of the argument from one based in sound legal reasoning to one easily swayed by emotional appeals. 

It’s not for me to judge...”

These phrases chip away at the humanity of individuals who have made the choice to have an abortion. It is a away to apologize for the abortion on their behalf. 

In 1973 the Supreme Court decided that during a first trimester, a woman has the right to decide what she does with her body during pregnancy. Where the court erred is when it allowed for state interests to be taken into consideration during a woman’s second and third trimester, thus placing her body into hands of the state. The argument of compelling state interest is one used to re-legislate the issue of abortion.

Abortion is an issue many of us have trouble discussing even in the most intimate of relationships. As such, even supporters of a woman's right to choose find themselves battling for the moral and ethical high ground prior to making an argument. This plays into the hands of anti-abortion legislators who wish to re-frame the issue. Unless this changes, we will continue to witness the careful and methodical erosion of privacy protections granted to us by Roe v. Wade