ON THE BRINK: A Troubling Anniversary for Roe v. Wade

Thirty years ago, the scope of our Constitution was redefined. On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in the matter of Roe v. Wade that “the right to privacy…is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” The Court’s majority opinion continued, asserting that no state has the right to infringe upon a woman’s decision through her first trimester of pregnancy. Thirty years ago, the laws in forty-six states were changed to afford all women their inherent right to choose; to choose how to live, to choose how to manage their own bodies, to choose when to have a child, and to choose whether or not she wants to bring a pregnancy to term. Thirty years later, that right is in jeopardy. President Bush has recently – though extremely quietly – appointed Dr. W. David Hager to head an influential women’s rights panel in the Food and Drug Administration. Dr. Hager, who is a practicing gynecologist and obstetrician, is not only a rabid opponent of almost all abortions, but also a confused man. He recommends that women who are having premenstrual pains ought to read the word of Christ to ease their woes. Congress, which is now overwhelmingly Republican, seems geared to push President Bush’s pro-life agenda, especially at the prospects of the retirements of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Although the Supreme Court docket is clear of any cases concerning a woman’s right to choose, many fear that the issue could soon arise, and if the precarious 5-4 balance between liberal and conservatives Justices were to be tilted, Roe v. Wade could be easily overturned within the next few years. In the thirty years since the right to an abortion has been upheld, numerous state laws have impeded women’s access to abortions across the country. More than thirty states have laws that require some form of parental consent before an abortion can take place, and many states also require a waiting and evaluation period, stalling out many women’s options. Many states, including Massachusetts, will allow minors to get consent from a judge, but the process can be arduous and time consuming. As if the abortion itself isn’t trying enough. Local courts continue to usurp and ignore the Supreme Court’s guarantee that a woman’s body is her own turf under the Constitution. And now, in 2002, though abortion rates are at a stunning all-time low – only 1.31 million in the past year – only thirty-eight percent of Americans support abortion in most cases, while forty-two percent only support the procedure under specific circumstances. Thirty years later, little has changed. I am not a woman. A woman’s right to choose, though ingrained in my psyche, is not a personal right; it is one that I support for my mother and my sister, my friends and my peers. I continue to remind myself that being pro-choice is a far cry from being pro-abortion. Abortion is psychologically painful. Abortion is physically trying. Abortion is not trivial. However, this is no reason for such a right to be withheld from women. Currently, the anti-choice movement continues to gain steam, while pro-choice organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL lose money and support. More than ever, anti-choice voters are headed to the polls, while pro-choice advocates remain divided and weak. Perhaps you think that this doesn’t really apply to our friends within our community. We live in Massachusetts, and we go to Andover. How liberal can you get? Perhaps you ought to think again. In this state, parental consent is mandatory, and if it can’t be secured, consent must be obtained from a judge, a process that can take weeks. Thankfully, residents of Massachusetts can have some abortion procedures covered by the State’s insurance, but most of us would have to pay for the procedure out-of-pocket. Additionally, although condoms and reproductive counseling are available at Isham, the topic of abortion is taboo around campus, and condoms are rarely given out with instructions, which can be vital to pregnancy prevention. It’s surprising how many guys don’t know how to use a condom properly. However, President Bush would never do something as audacious as banning abortions across the board, right? That’s probably not true either. Almost all of the President’s federal court appointments are anti-choice to the fullest extent, and party-hardliners continue to encourage Bush to appease the right-wing contingent by satisfying their demand for a curtailing of women’s rights. Maybe being anti-choice isn’t in vogue, but just because we don’t see it on TV doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist in full force. This thirtieth anniversary is a poignant one. Never before have women been so content with their rights. Never before has that right been more delicate. The status of legal abortion in America is dire, and while we continue to withhold funds to organizations that provide abortions worldwide, we are setting the standard for a world in which misogynist politicians and bureaucratic fat cats control your rights, your sister’s rights, your friends’ rights, your mother’s rights – their rights to lead healthy, productive lives. You are eleven times more likely to die giving birth than undergoing an abortion. Though many people claim that there are plenty of foster and adoptive parents who are available, they fail to recognize that some of the highest sexual and violent abuse rates are in adoptive homes. State family organizations aren’t too conscientious or considerate. In most states, if you’re a minor and your parents don’t approve of abortion, you must bring your pregnancy to term, no matter how dangerous or how horrifying it could be. Roe v. Wade has saved lives and made women’s lives better. And that could all be swept away very quickly. It’s a right, and it’s a right that we can’t afford to lose, as men or women. So happy birthday, Roe v. Wade; we wish you many more birthdays to come.