Friday, January 25, 2013

The Right to Choose

One of the most important figures of the 70s feminist movement may be unrecognizable by her real name.  More commonly known as “Jane Roe,” Norma McCorvey shook up the social climate of the 70s when she agreed to be a plaintiff in the landmark case Roe v. Wade.  In 1972, McCorvey filed a lawsuit claiming that Texas law criminalizing most abortions violated her constitutional rights. Setting a foundation for abortion mandates in the 30 years since the case was settled in 1973, Roe v. Wade not only argued for a woman’s right to privacy in regards to abortion, but also established a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy until the period of viability (the period when a fetus is potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, usually around 24-27 weeks).  

After having given her first two children up for adoption, McCorvey, 21, was pregnant with her third when she decided she wanted to have an abortion rather than part with another of her children.  McCorvey, according to an interview with independent news network, was then swept up into a whirlwind of litigations after she was put into contact with two pro-abortion lawyers, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, who were looking for a pregnant mother to help them plead their case.

One of the most contentious decisions made by the court, Roe v. Wade sparked a national debate that continues today, about issues including whether and to what extent abortion should be legal, who should decide the legality of abortion, what methods the Supreme Court should use in deciding the legality of abortion, and what the role religious/moral views should take in the political sphere. The case restructured national politics, dividing the country along pro-life and pro-choice lines, and formed grassroots movements on both sides.

In the decades since the case was settled, McCorvey has completely reversed her stance on abortion and joined the pro-life movement.  Although her opinion in the 70s was enough to dictate how much control any American woman could have over her body, her voice is now just one among a sea of activists in the tumultuous debates over women’s rights and abortion.

During this most recent election cycle, abortion joined topics like the economy and unemployment as one of the weightiest issues that affected voters’ choices.  As recently as October 2012, polls of female voters in swing states—a coveted demographic for both candidates—indicated that though women were equally concerned as men about broad-reaching issues like the economy and unemployment, they considered abortion the most important issue for women, by a wide margin.

A mid-2011 Gallup poll acted as a Litmus test for people’s reactions to various abortion restrictions, many that have become major issues closer to the election cycle. Of the abortion restrictions tested in the poll, informing women of certain risks of an abortion in advance was the most widely favored, at 87%. Seven out of ten Americans favored establishing a full-day waiting period for women seeking abortions, while nearly two-thirds favored making the specific procedure known as "partial birth abortion" illegal.

On the other hand, more extreme measures failed to receive broad public support. Almost 60% of people opposed eliminating funds to organizations who offer abortion services, which was particularly pertinent after Presidential candidate Mitt Romney proposed eliminating funding to Planned Parenthood and overturning Roe v. Wade.

The Romney campaign asserted its anti-abortion stance, though Romney also said he would be willing to compromise in circumstances of rape, incest, or danger to the mother.  Once early voting began, pro-choice activists became even more vocal on the dangers they foresee for women if Romney was elected. 

A recent New York Times editorial suggested that overturning the Roe v. Wade ruling would be relatively easy if a Republican won the presidency. Four of the justices are now over 70, and if one of them retired and was replaced by a more socially conservative justice, pro-choice options could be phased out completely.  Then, the article suggests, the nation’s abortion policy would revert to the pre-Roe v. Wade era, when abortion was illegal in many states. Some states that already held certain bans on abortion could then extend their rights and completely prohibit abortions.

The 2011 poll also indicates a divide on whether healthcare providers and pharmacists should be allowed to opt out of providing services/drugs that could result in an abortion. 46% of people polled said they would favor giving healthcare providers a choice, in contrast with 51% who said that health care providers should provide those services no matter what.  

This issue came to a head with Obama’s Affordable Care Act, whose “preventive services” mandate maintains that religious institutions must offer affordable healthcare services for their employees, even if these services cover reproductive rights—including birth control, abortion, and sterilization—that a religious organization opposes. The Affordable Care Act waged a war between the government and bishops/clergymen arguing that their religious freedom under the first amendment was under attack. The Catholic Church often formed the hub of debates on reigning social issues such as reproductive rights under the healthcare act and gay marriage.

Recently, pro-life supporters have formed a new argument to pledge to the Supreme Court.  Supporters have pushed a personhood clause, which would attribute “legal personhood” to a fetus, equating the life of a fetus to the life of any other child/person.  If the Supreme Court accepted this new definition of personhood, the ruling would affect any other abortion legislation, perhaps defining abortion as an act of manslaughter.

Do you think Norma McCorvey had any idea that the abortion debate would still be so highly debated more than thirty years after her case was filed?

Post by Lori Keong, student worker/blogger, Russell Library

1 comment:

jlevinso said...

NPR article recapping Supreme Court decisions on abortion: