[Marxism] My Right to Roe By Judith Warner

Bonnie Weinstein giobon at sbcglobal.net
Mon Jan 23 12:29:09 MST 2006

My Right to Roe
By Judith Warner
Categories: Health, Feminism
January 20, 2006

With the confirmation of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court all but
certain, it¹s becoming accepted wisdom that Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973
decision granting women the right to abortion, is likely soon to be

I¹m not sure, though, that Roe really will be overturned by an Alito (and
John Roberts) court. I¹m not sure that it really is in the interest of the
Republican Party to usher in a court that overturns Roe.

I¹m also not sure, at this point, that Roe really matters.

I¹m exaggerating ‹ somewhat ‹ but let me explain what I mean.

Decades of abortion-rights restrictions pushed through Congress and the
statehouses by wily abortion opponents with the acquiescence ‹ indeed, the
encouragement ‹ of the public have made the right to choose granted by Roe
an empty promise for large numbers of American women.

This has been an unqualified triumph for abortion opponents and has put
Republican leaders in an enviable position; even with a majority of the
American public still solidly ³pro-choice² (in the abstract), they can rest
easy in the knowledge that, at this time, Roe is, in certain parts of the
country, close to meaningless.

The restrictions on Roe include such things as forcing women to endure
misleading state-mandated lectures when they seek abortions; making them
spend time and money they don¹t have driving back and forth to faraway
clinics as they sit out state-mandated ³waiting periods²; making doctors
deal with labyrinthine regulations intended to make it all but impossible
for them to provide abortions; making young women seek their parents¹ or a
judge¹s permission for an abortion ‹ no matter how fraught, dysfunctional or
downright dangerous their relationship with their parents might be. (And
show me the teenager who¹s going to hunt down a judge to discuss the most
intimate aspects of her personal life.)

Ever since Sandra Day O¹Connor ‹ hailed now generally as the swing vote who
saved Roe ‹ paved the way for the decision¹s eventual evisceration by
writing an opinion, in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey case, that
permitted states to regulate abortion if those regulations didn¹t place an
³undue burden² on women, more than 400 new restrictions have been placed on
a woman¹s right to choose.

These restrictions seem right and common-sensical to most people. Wouldn¹t
most parents want to know if their daughter was to have an abortion? Should
taxpayers be forced to pay for procedures they morally abhor? Isn¹t it an
abomination to violently maim and murder a viable infant in the womb?

I myself, a committed abortion-rights supporter, permitted myself to grow
complacent about these restrictions in recent years. Like many other former
donors to NOW and Naral Pro-Choice America, I let the abortion-rights issue
slip to the very far back burner of my political thinking during the ³safe,
legal and rare² years of the pro-choice Clinton administration.

I became a mother during those years as well, and, I¹m ashamed to admit,
issues relating to motherhood and family life loomed much larger in my
personal and professional mind than did bodily integrity and family
planning. I, like just about everyone else in the country, was nauseated by
the picture of late-term ³partial birth² abortion painted by its opponents:
images of scissors gashing through the heads of infants in utero, images of
babies getting their brains removed by suction tube.

Intellectually, I knew that these depictions were a political manipulation
by people whose true goal was to ban abortion outright. But emotionally, I
played right along with their game.

I didn¹t even get all that worked up about Roberts and Alito ‹ until last
month, when I read Kate Michelman¹s new book, ³With Liberty and Justice for
All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose.¹¹

Michelman is the former president of Naral, and that her book would argue
for abortion rights is no surprise. But it does offer something else that is
vital, which is why I¹m writing about it today. It draws on stories,
testimonials, letters and phone calls from Michelman¹s years at Naral, and
as a result, it gives a human face ‹ many faces ‹ to the impact of the
aforementioned restrictions. And those faces ‹ those voices ‹ just can¹t be

Take the testimony of Coreen Costello, a mother of two, who was seven months
pregnant when she learned her fetus had a fatal neurological defect and had
become rigid in the birthing position. She wanted to carry her to term and
deliver her normally, but her doctors argued that doing so would put her own
life in danger. After great soul-searching, she decided she was unwilling to
take the risk of leaving her children motherless and allowed the fetus to be
aborted through the kind of procedure long vilified by the opponents of
³partial birth¹¹ abortion.

In 1995, when the Senate Judiciary Committee was debating an earlier version
of the ban that went into effect in 2003, she pleaded with them to remember
the humanity of the families put in the position of having to choose to end
a wanted pregnancy. ³We are the families that ache to hold our babies, to
tame them, to love and nurture them,² she said. ³We are the families who
will forever have a hole in our hearts.² She survived the potentially fatal
pregnancy and went on to have another child.

Another testimonial from Michelman¹s book: The voice of Becky Bell, a high
school junior who died of an illegal abortion in 1998 because she didn¹t
want to have to tell her parents that she was pregnant ‹ and her state,
Indiana, required parental notification or judicial bypass. As she lay dying
on a hospital gurney, Becky pulled off her oxygen mask to speak to her
parents. ³Forgive me,² she said.

If these stories don¹t shame us into greater vigilance about the effects of
laws that we ‹ the lucky, the privileged, the protected ‹ allow to come into
being because they don¹t affect us, then nothing will.

If they don¹t make us stop and ask ourselves what kind of society we have
allowed ourselves to become, then truly we are lost.

If they don¹t shake us from our tight-hearted complacency, temper our
judgments about those less deserving and with-it and ³responsible,² and
inspire in us greater empathy for those who face desperate decisions, often
alone, then we are irredeemable.

And to those who repeat, without cease, that abortion rights amount to
state-sanctioned murder, I would say: remember Becky Bell.

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