This month, forty years ago, the United States Supreme Court made a landmark decision in the case Roe v. Wade. Their decision, on January 22nd 1973, expanded the applicability of the 1st and 14th Constitutional amendments and developed what is commonly called “the right to privacy.” The Roe v. Wade ruling affirmed that the decision to abort an unborn child is that of the mothers alone, up until “the point of viability.” Being viable is defined in the ruling as being “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid.” Therefore, unless the mother’s life is in danger, the government cannot pass abortion legislation regarding an unviable fetus. The provision applies not just to the federal government, but to state and local governments as well because of the due process clause of the 14th amendment.
The Roe v. Wade decision split the country into primarily pro-life and pro-choice camps, with several smaller camps somewhere in between. Forty years later abortion is still hotly debated and many questions continue to be asked. At the heart of the conflict is the balancing act between the rights of the mother and the rights of the unborn fetus, the role of the government and other outside entities, and the role of science and technology.
Rights of the Mother v. Rights of the Fetus
The first amendment to the Constitution guarantees five explicit freedoms: the freedom of speech, the freedom of assembly, the freedom to petition, the freedom of religion, and the freedom of self-expression. Within those five written freedoms, there are other implied freedoms and rights, including the right to privacy. The basic logic behind the right to privacy and its connection to abortion is that if you have the right to say something or express yourself in a certain way, you also have the right to not say anything or to not express yourself in that way. Therefore, pro-choice advocates claim, if a woman has the right to be pregnant, she also has the right to not be pregnant if she chooses.
Opponents of this view are typically considered “pro-life.” They say that a woman should have to face the consequences of having sexual-intercourse and that the unborn child’s inalienable right to life outweighs the mother’s right to privacy. Some questions the pro-life side faces are: When does life begin? Does it start in the first trimester? Does it begin at conception? Is a clump of cells considered a life form? If even one cell was found on Mars we would consider it life, is a woman’s body any different?
Mixed Views and the Rights of the Father
Within the main pro-life and pro-choice arguments there are sub views that combine pieces of both. These stances include pro-life except in the case of rape, incest or endangering the life of the mother. Pro-choice including using abortion as a form of birth control or gender based abortions. Some pro-choice supporters feel that if a person is incapable of supporting the new baby, an abortion is a good alternative. One opinion that is often ignored is that of the unborn baby’s father. Is it purely the mother’s choice since her body will be affected, or should the baby’s father have a say in an abortion?
Roles of the Government and Other Organizations
The role of the government is another important thing to think about. Is it the government’s place to tell someone if they can or cannot get an abortion? Both pro-life and pro-choice people have a hard time with this question because they feel the government should not be involved in their personal lives. Should religious entities have a say in abortion? Should pro-life supporters have to pay taxes to pay for other people’s abortions?
Embryonic stem cells have the potential to cure several diseases, although further research needs to be conducted. Some people oppose stem cell research because they fear it would increase the number of abortions. Others support abortions if the embryo is used to further stem cell research and possibly help cure diseases.
Please share your thoughts and opinions on the topic of abortion by commenting on this blog post. Also, don’t forget to come to Pizza and Politics this Wednesday, January 30th, at noon for a great debate on the issue!
Join the Discussion
According to USA Today, significantly more Americans want the Supreme Court’s decision to remain in place, 53% to 29% (a surprising 18% of Americans have no opinion). Even more surprising is that 57% of adults under the age of 30 do not even know what the Roe v. Wade case is about! With so much to think about and so many differing views, one thing is for sure: the abortion debate will continue in the years to come. It has been 40 years since Roe v. Wade, where will we be in the next 40 years?
The floor is now yours…
Courtney Brinkerhoff is a Sophomore Political Science Major at Southern Utah University. Courtney is also as an Executive Council member at the Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service.