Is It Time to Overturn Roe v Wade?

February 16, 2006


On January 22, 1973, the nine justices of the Supreme Court – with only two dissenting opinions – ordained in the landmark Roe v Wade case that abortion-on-demand become the law of the land. The new law – which overturned all state laws outlawing or restricting the procedure – established that denying a woman an abortion violated her constitutional right to privacy.

The case was originally brought before a Texas court by Norma McCorvey (aka Jane Roe) who at the time was unmarried and claimed she had become pregnant by rape. Her lawsuit quickly turned into a class-action suit on behalf of all women aggrieved by the “burden” of pregancy. Since the court’s decision, decades of bitter controversy has ensued.

Those who supported the decision were then at the forefront of the fledgling feminist movement and believed that anything that violated a woman’s personal freedom was worthy of being dismantled or eliminated. These anti-life – oops, I mean pro-choice – advocates insisted that the embryo was just a “mass of tissue” – undifferientiated cells that didn’t warrant any legal protection.

But pro-life advocates have always argued that life begins at conception and therefore the unborn child should be entitled to all the legal protections afforded the rest of us, including the inalienable “right to life” established in the Declaration of Independence.They claimed that the Supreme Court’s decision was opposed to everything the founders of our country stood for.


History Matters

It’s important to remember how the decade of the ’60s influenced the Supreme Court’s decision.

In 1960, when “The Pill” developed by Dr. Gregory Pincus and Dr. John Rock was approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it was the first time in human history that women had almost certain control over reproduction.

In 1963, recently-deceased author Betty Friedan, known as the mother and founder of the American feminist movement, wrote “The Feminine Mystique,” which exhorted a generation of women to extricate themselves from boring and/or abusive marriages and pursue careers (that led to money that led to independence) rather than tolerate the tedium of raising children.

In 1972, Gloria Steinem was a founding member of Ms. Magazine. In fact, she coined the term “Ms.” so that a woman’s status – married, unmarried, divorced, single, widowed – would no longer be relevant in terms of gaining access to schools of higher education and jobs.

“Black Power” rose mightily in the 1960s, again asserting that color – rather than gender – should be no barrier to access.

And then there were the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy, and Malcolm X – all icons of that era.

All of these revolutionary societal changes and traumatic events had the same effect on the legislators and lawmakers of the day as similarly influential events had on officials of former ages – and, for that matter, on our own age. In short, they were listening to their constituencies and responding to their demands. When it came to women, it was for unbridled “freedom.”


Good Intentions Yield Mixed Results

It’s easy to judge in hindsight, but….

While “The Pill” helped millions of women avoid unwanted pregnancies, it also led to rampant promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases, and “freedom” that resulted in single parenthood and, by association, impoverishment.

While Mrs. Friedan’s message emancipated many women from abusive marriages, it also led to what is now a 50 percent divorce rate, with half of those who remain married saying they’re unhappy.

While Ms. Steinem’s “Ms.” designation led many women to career advancement, most modern women testify that there is still – almost 40 years later – a distinct disparity between their own pay scales and upward mobility and those of their (for the most part) male superiors.

While blacks now occupy major seats in government, industry, academia, and the media, “racism” is still a voluble battle cry.

And while assassination attempts on major American leaders have failed since the 1960s, our world has not gotten safer – quite the contrary.


The Rise of Baby Mania

The feminist movement – by way of the birth control pill and feminist philosophy – succeeded in allowing women to defer pregnancies and pursue their careers. Along the way, many of these women found themselves in their thirties and forties with their biological clocks ticking mercilessly forward and yearning for more than money, status, titles, perks and possessions.

What did they want? What do they want today? Not only love – but babies!

Many of these women – some single, others married – choose to adopt. But lo and behold, they find that in the United States of America, the land of endless bounty and good fortune, there are no adoptable babies. The abortion juggernaut has killed them all off – 45 million since Roe v Wade was enacted!

So they fly to China and Romania and Guatemala to get their babies and hope for the best.

Other women have it easier, if you can call the complicated and extremely expensive in-vitro process easy. And what does the in-vitro crowd – many who had abortions in the past – say when they view the three-or-four-week gestation sonograms of their child-to be?

“Look at my BABY!” Not at this “mass of tissue” or “undifferentiated cells,” but “my baby!” And they carry their sonogram pictures in their wallets, frame them on their desks, hang them on their refrigerators and e-mail them to friends and relatives.

For many, it is the first time they discover that the power they mistakenly thought resided exclusively in their intellects, physical fitness, and career accomplishments doesn’t – which leads them to “thank God” for their babies and refer to them as “miracles.”


What We Know Now (that we didn’t know then)

The reproductive technology that has developed over the past several decades has turned many infertile women into fertile women, or allowed them to find surrogates who can carry their own and/or their husband’s (or “partner’s”) genes to posterity.

But that progress pales in comparison to what we’ve learned over the past 40 years about embryological development. We now know that by the end of the first couple of weeks after conception, the embryo is already beginning to develop his or her respiratory, digestive, circulatory, nervous and excretory systems, muscles, internal organs, sexual organs and skin. By week five, the heart begins to beat regularly.

Most important, we know that this development is taking place in a real, live person!

As President Bush announced in his recent State of the Union message, the abortion rate is lower today than anytime in the past three decades. This is no surprise, given modern society’s knowledge and appreciation of embryological development, alternatives to abortion, and also the renewed value that women now place on having babies.

Should every woman be denied an abortion? I think not, given that, however rare, there are extraordinary circumstances under which delivering a baby physically threatens the life of a woman – a woman who may have other children to care for. As a former OB nurse, I have seen such cases. Certainly, the law can allow for these rare exceptions. In these dire cases, each state can establish their own guidelines.

But as the late advice-columnist Ann Landers used to exhort some of her advice seekers: “Wake up and smell the coffee!” This is exactly what American women have done and why overturning Roe v Wade is today – considering those rare exceptions – more than ever an idea whose time has come.

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