The Editorials of E. Desiderius

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Friday, May 05, 2006

A Progressive Against Roe v. Wade

The position that this author has taken on reproductive rights would not score him high with Planned Parenthood. A few weeks ago, I argued that, logically, Plan B should not be sold over-the-counter. And now a bold new thesis: Roe v. Wade was established on shaky legal grounds, and should be overturned.

This author’s position on abortion is a murky centrist one: Humanity is something that develops slowly, and any line we draw is arbitrary. Conception does not make a human being. Birth does not make one either. First and second trimester abortions should be always legal, in this author’s view. Voluntary third trimester abortions, though rarely, if ever performed, should not be. In the case of a danger to the mother’s life, a third trimester of course should be available.

Which brings us to Roe V. Wade, which used the 1st, 4th, 5th, 9th and 14th amendments and the idea of a right to privacy to grant women control over their own bodies. The right to privacy is controversial enough, since it was nowhere explicitly stated in the constitution. But the real issue at the center of Roe was life, not privacy: If a fetus is entitled to full legal protect as a human life, it is well within the recognized power of the state to regulate such matters. The constitution is practically bending at this suggestion. Granted, these amendments do imply a right to privacy. But it is one of the largest stretches in history of American constitutional law to say that the idea of abortion is planted in the text of the constitution itself, and beyond legislative control. The constitution does not prohibit abortion. But the right to it does not exist in the text: therefore states and the national government should be able to regulate it through legislation.

When Roe was handed down, it destroyed the legislative process in the United States, which was generally headed towards a smaller, incremental acceptance of abortion rights. To cultural conservatives, “Activist Judges” become a rallying cry, and Democrats become synonymous with defending the slaughter of human life. It ignited and inflamed the culture war like never before. The Republicans have exploited the issue mercilessly, and the New Republic rightly points out: “instead of seeking to overturn Roe, Republican leaders have used it in exactly the same way that the Party used Emmanual Goldstein in Orwell's 1984--as an all-purpose object of hatred and fear, a symbol of the threat to all that is moral and good, an occasion for the Two Minutes Hate, offered on television every day.” [1]

Overturning Roe V. Wade would not be the end all and be all of women’s reproductive rights: Just a handful of states would enact abortion bans, and yes, poor women in those states who could not afford travel would indeed by in a perilous situation. However, women’s groups would not let such blatant social injustice stand. Travel funds to help poor women in abortion-free states would spring up, as would movements to get local and state legislators to liberalize abortion policy. The fight over abortion would play out over the next 20 years in state capitals and state courtrooms instead of the Capitol Floor during every judicial nomination and on the Presidential campaign trail. Justices would not be subject to the absurd litmus test that is Abortion, and Presidential candidates would not have to duck and cover for the middle ground.

Let us build a consensus for Roe that goes beyond court rulings that are largely seen as undemocratic and out-of-touch, and allow Republicans to paint the Democrats as baby-killing utilitarians. The states that would outright ban abortion are limited to a handful of Bible-Belt states, and the removal of abortion from national politics and judicial confirmations would be more than a welcome trade-off. Making sure women have safe access to abortion goes beyond simply legalizing it. Forcing the pro-choice camp to build a legislative coalition and consensus in all the states would help end this devise culture war over abortion once and for all. No longer would Republicans be able to smear the courts and use the phrase activist judges. Instead, it would be through the will of the people.

-E. Desiderius

[1] The New Republic – How Republicans Use Roe

Posted by George Gordon | Friday, May 05, 2006 | E-mail this post

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