The anniversary of Roe v. Wade coincides this year with the impending confirmation of Samuel Alito LAW ’75 to the Supreme Court, drawing into question the future of the court decision that has protected a woman’s right to choose for the past 33 years. While those who predict Roe’s permanence are as numerous as those who predict its reversal, it is important to understand that Roe v. Wade stands for much more than the individual court decision.
Decided in 1973, Roe v. Wade is a cornerstone of the reproductive rights movement. Roe guarantees women the right to choose and access to safe and legal abortion based on a code of privacy between doctors and patients. Since its instatement Roe has saved the lives of thousands of women who would have otherwise died from unsafe or botched abortions. In addition, Roe has made it possible for women to take control of their own bodies and reproductive choices.
The Roe v. Wade decision embodies much more than the access to safe and legal abortion. Allowing women this right creates an overall healthier and safer reproductive environment for the nation. In a country where politicians trust women with their own reproductive decisions, women are much more likely to use birth control, have open discussions with their partners about healthy sexuality and feel empowered to make decisions to optimize their reproductive health. If we can trust individuals to make healthy reproductive decisions then we can work together as a nation to promote programs such as sex education that will eventually make abortion services less necessary.
While Roe and its supporters may be strong enough to weather the conservative Supreme Court, there are several ways in which the opposition can chip away at Roe without actually overturning it. Several states have already passed legislature imposing waiting periods, requiring parental or spousal notification, cutting public abortion funds and putting restrictions on clinicians. One of the most recent pieces of legislation, the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, even incriminates the individual who transports a minor over state lines to obtain abortion services. Ultimately, state legislatures are creating a situation in which abortion services are only available to wealthy women.
Further legislation prioritizing the life of the fetus above the safety of the mother pits pregnant women against their fetuses and paves the way for the state to place further restrictions on pregnant mothers. This sort of legislation deprives women of control over their own bodies and endangers their lives. Increased restrictions on abortion access could make it virtually impossible to obtain safe and legal abortion services, even if Roe is not reversed. This would not only restrict an individual’s right to choose, it would defeat Roe’s purpose.
The conservative nature of the courts places Roe v. Wade in danger of being overturned or undercut to the point of inefficacy, which would deprive women of their basic right of choice and undermine the years of advances in reproductive health that Roe represents. Ultimately, Roe is about trust. It’s about trusting a woman to manage her own body and to know when she is ready to start a family. It’s about trusting a woman to know when she can depend on the support of others and when the decision is one that she needs to make alone. It’s about trusting each individual to make her own decisions to benefit the greater society. Now, with Roe in such a precarious position, we need to be able to trust each other to fight for the freedom of choice for every individual.
Rachel Criswell is a junior in Branford College. She is a co-coordinator of RALY.