This week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson (MS) Women’s Health Organization, which, if upheld, would ban abortions after “the probable gestational age of the unborn human” or fifteen weeks. The statute is a calculated challenge to Roe v. Wade, and includes only narrow exceptions for medical emergencies or “a severe fetal abnormality.”
In addition to overturning almost a half century of precedent based on the 1973 decision in Roe, the Mississippi law would bring fundamental challenges to countless women in this country. As argued by Julie Rikelman, a lawyer for the abortion clinic challenging the Mississippi law, “For a state to take control of a woman’s body and demand that she go through pregnancy and childbirth, with all the physical risks and life-altering consequences that brings, is a fundamental deprivation of her liberty. Preserving a woman’s right to make this decision until viability protects her liberty while logically balancing the other interests at stake.”
Ironies abound. The Mississippi law and many similar statutes recently proposed in states with Republican-dominated legislatures, have been written by lawmakers who are overwhelmingly male. As we learned in high school, a central principle for which patriots fought and died in the American Revolution was “taxation without representation.” It has long been a sacred tenet of our democracy that we are a government of, by and for the people. Yet, these laws that propose to determine this most personal of decisions for women—control over one’s own body—have largely been designed by men.
This is perhaps most dramatically illustrated in the argument before the Court by Mississippi’s solicitor general Scott G. Stewart, Mississippi’s solicitor who—in arguing for the need to have a legislative and not a judicial solution to this issue. He said, in part, “abortion is a hard issue. It demands the best from all of us, not a judgment by just a few of us.” True enough. But by-passing the will of women in the process of creating the law, results in a judgment that reflects male perspectives, thereby relegating literally one half of the citizenry voiceless.
Further, the decision smacks of elitism. Its repercussions fall most heavily on poor women. It is expected that fully twenty states will follow the lead of Mississippi and Texas, significantly reducing or eliminating women’s access to abortion services. Only by traveling long distances will many women be able to avail themselves of this right, guaranteed in this country for so long. Travel expenses or taking time off from low paying jobs are often impossible, so the burden of the law’s implementation falls heaviest upon them.
The political implications of this upcoming court case cannot be overstated. Fully one-third of the current Court’s make-up were appointed during Donald Trump’s single term. The Supreme Court challenges made by Mississippi and Texas were clearly timed to appear before a Court heavily weighted toward conservative, anti-choice justices. Donald Trump and his supporters were open about this objective, an overtly political strategy that Justice Sonia Sotomayor cautioned about the long-term effects of this decision, “Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts? If people actually believe that it’s all political…how will the court survive?”
One might think the implications of all this are purely an esoteric exercise, but a reading of the harrowing and heartbreaking account by University of California, Irvine, law professor Michele Goodwin will quickly disabuse one of that notion. In her incredibly brave and deeply personal account entitled, “I Was Raped by My Father; An Abortion Saved My Life,” she recounts her traumatizing experience with incest that began as early as ten years old.
“At age 12, I was pregnant by my father, and I had an abortion. Before we got to the doctor’s office, I had no idea that I was pregnant. My father lied about my age and the circumstance of my pregnancy, informing the doctor that I was 15 and that I had been reckless with a boyfriend.”
She shatters stereotypes by noting that hers was not the plight of some illiterate, down-and-out upbringing. “My father’s predations were hidden behind wealth, social status and his acting the part of a committed and attentive parent. I attended elite schools in New York City, studied ballet at a renowned academy and took private violin and tennis lessons. My father never missed a parent-teacher conference. However, that veneer of normalcy belied intimate family violence that began years before with his physical abuse of my mother. At times he was so violent that she was hospitalized.”
The law leaves children like Michele vulnerable in a society of forced pregnancies and shadow procedures without guaranteed protection of their reproductive rights. Is this the kind of country we want to call home?