Overturning Roe is not
the way to secure rights
To the Editor:
(Re: “Roe backers shouldn’t focus on Constitution,” column, 2/1.) I don’t disagree with Roger Low’s dim view of the justifications offered by Justice Blackmun in his Roe v. Wade opinion. I would be thrilled if we had some explicit legal or judicial affirmation of a woman’s fundamental right to control what happens to her body, rather than this ambiguous “right to privacy” hedging. But if Low thinks the smartest thing for pro-choice activists to do right now is to aim to get Roe overturned, he’s not paying enough attention to the current political climate.
Yes, the majority of Americans are pro-choice, at least to some degree. But let’s not imagine the picture for reproductive rights to be rosier than it is. To take the favored example of a pro-choice win, the repeal of the South Dakota abortion ban actually had nothing to do with the principle that women should have control over their bodies. It was “rape, incest, life of the mother” (as in, no exceptions for) that won that campaign, which makes it all the more astonishing that the repeal didn’t win by a greater margin than 56 percent to 44 percent. Low writes, “Why are we so convinced that the American people don’t understand [that women have the right to self-determination]?” It’s not that this is the case, but that there’s little evidence that most people understand abortion rights in these terms. And the opportunities to talk about these rights in such a holistic way are rarest in the places where abortion rights are under most severe attack.
That said, this past election has indeed given reproductive rights advocates some much-needed traction. I do agree with Low that it is within the pro-choice movement’s reach to convince the majority that abortion rights are part of the basic right that women have to determine their futures. But there is still a lot of legwork to do, and consequently, it will be a long time before we can even consider actively urging that Roe be overturned.
A final note on the criticism of the inclusion of a manual vacuum aspiration workshop (sponsored by Medical Students for Choice) in the events of Roe v. Wade Week: as of 2000, 87 percent of American counties have no abortion provider, more than half of current providers are over age 50, and many physicians now graduate with a weak knowledge of reproductive procedures. A discussion about the legal justification for reproductive rights is pointless if in the meantime we run out of doctors capable of providing the services.
Christine Slaughter ’07
The writer is a member of the Reproductive Rights Action League at Yale.