Monday, October 16, 2006

Abortion and You
By Tim Nohr

Droves of women dying after botched back alley procedures. Doctors and patients sent to jail. Poor women forced to miss work and travel out of state to get care these are some of the doomsday visions of a post Roe v. Wade America. But a reversal of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court may not prove so dire. The repeal of the federally protected right to terminate a pregnancy would likely have relatively little impact on abortion in America. Such a rever­sal could, however, have a huge, largely unan­ticipated effect on other areas of our lives.

Roe has not made abortion universally accessible. Despite theoretical protec­tions enshrined in the contentious 1973 ruling, 87 percent of U.S. counties have no abortion providers. Various state laws permitted under Roe have introduced waiting periods, gag orders on doctors and other barriers to abortion. For women who live in these areas the situation is already grim, and the need to travel for an abortion is already a reality. But the states where women now go - Maryland, for instance, from the southeast-would continue to support abortion rights even if Roe were overturned.

A reversal of Roe would open two other fronts to attack. The first is the legal defini­tion of life. The second is the privacy doctrine the Roe decision helped solidify as implicit in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. Attempts to change the definition of life are already under way-both the recently passed South Dakota antiabortion bill and a potential ballot measure in Michigan define life as begin­ning at conception. Success on this front could have far-reaching implications. As Ramesh Ponnuru writes in his book The Party of Death, "If abortion had not become the law of the land, we might not now be debating euthanasia or the killing of human embryos for research pur­poses. The same might work in reverse. The more we reject abortion, the more we might come to reject other choices for death too." In other words, meddling in cases such as Tern Schiavo's could be back on the menu, and stem-cell research could become a felony.

Attacks on privacy may immediately target contraceptives, as hinted at during debate prior to the passage in May of a draconian antiabortion bill by Louisiana's House of Rep­resentatives. But the scope of attacks would be much broader than that: In 2003 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Texas's anti-sodomy laws in John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner v. Texas, Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent­ing opinion specifically compared the case to Roe. He also wrote that the 14th Amend­ment "expressly allows states to deprive their citizens of 'liberty,' so long as 'due process of law' is provided." Unfortunately, in this interpretation the right to experiment in the bedroom, the right to use contracep­tion and the right to read the magazine in your hands - among many other "liberties" we take for granted today - would no lon­ger be protected once the landmark Roe had fallen. In summing up, Scalia stated, "The Court has taken sides in the culture war, departing from its role of assuring, as neutral observer, that the dem­ocratic rules of engagement are observed." Under those rules of engagement, criminal­izing homosexuality was, he said, "well within the range of traditional democratic action."

If Roe were reversed, the Supreme Court would open the door to banning almost any­thing conservatives dislike. And, as conser­vatives themselves acknowledge, that list of dislikes extends into our most intimate spaces. It is not only a woman's womb protected by Roe; it is the library, laboratory and hospital, and the body and bedroom of every member of our society. Those areas would be vulnera­ble to even bolder attacks than we already see in conservative legislatures should the Court reverse Roe v. Wade. But you would still be able to go to Baltimore for an abortion.

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