Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Decision That Changed Our World

35 years ago, on January 22, 1973, Justice Harry Blackmun, an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States authored a majority opinion that has ever since affected everyone in this country and influenced every political contest for the presidency. The decision was regarding a woman's right to privacy manifested in her right to have a legal abortion. The decision title was Roe v. Wade, and it changed the course of political history forever. Justice Blackmun was writing for a 7-2 majority that held a woman's right to privacy was the primary issue. Using a previous case, Griswold v. Connecticut, which held that recognized an inherent right to privacy, the majority opinion identified that the "liberty" protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution included "a women's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy," which decision was a fundamental interest that could be restricted only on a showing of a compelling state interest.

Unless one has been living on another planet or in a cave in the darkest regions of the Amazonian rain forests, everyone that has been to high school has heard of Roe-v-Wade at one time or another. Indeed, it is because of Roe-v-Wade, that we have abstinence only education regarding sex education in schools. It is because of Roe-v-Wade that we have had interest groups such as NARAL, Planned Parenthood and others on the side of abortion rights, and others such as NRL (National Right to Life), Operation Rescue, and religious organizations such as Focus on the Family, and Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority on the anti-abortion or pro-life side of the argument.

There have been subsequent opinions that have altered Roe v Wade by either affirming the general opinion (as in the case of Planned Parenthood v Casey, in which the court reaffirmed the opinion in Roe, but the dissenters, including Antonin Scalia who noted that abortion rights are of great importance to many women, but he found no constitutional guarantee of the right of an abortion), or that have restricted abortion rights as in the cases of Gonzales v Carhart where in April of 2007, the court in a 5-4 decision upheld the constitutionality of a Nebraska law outlawing Partial-Birth abortions. The court had earlier struck down the law because it lacked a provision for the health of the mother.

Suffice to say, this issue will be with us for some time. Since Roe v. Wade, there have been approximately 48 million abortions performed legally in the United States (Source: National Right to Life website) The number is dubious because of the bias of the organization conducting the count, who have decided the Centers for Disease Control have a significant under count in the number of abortions and have inflated it to the aforementioned number.

Regardless of the total numbers, abortions are declining in number and have been since 1990. There was a small spike in the number of abortions in 2002, but according to the CDC, the number has been falling since. This is encouraging news, as it seems that there is a leveling factor in the circumstances that occur when an abortion is sought. Indeed, the majority of the abortions that occur are among women lower than the age of 20. The highest amount of reported abortions are among those who are at the age of 15 or less. Comparatively speaking the ratio of abortions per 1000 live births is at it's highest among those 15 years of age or less, with a number of approximately 800 abortions for every 1000 live births. The numbers decline sharply between the ages of 15 and 34 where the ration drops to under 200 abortions per 1000 live births. At ages 35 through 40+ years, the numbers increase as the chart above indicates.
One can read many things into the data. One could say the declines in abortions are the result of the active and vigorous promotion of abstinence in schools. One could attribute this to the high-profile protests of groups such as Operation Rescue and other "Right to Life" groups. One could argue that people are smarter, and are using more contraception in order to avoid pregnancy, are abstaining from sex prior to marriage or the decision to have a child. It's almost impossible to determine the reason for the declines, because of the emotion around the organizations who track the data. There will be a bias in favor of one opinion or the other. However, it doesn't really matter why abortions are declining, only that they are.
OK, as anyone who has read this site knows, I'm a Liberal. I completely subscribe to the notion of the "Right To Choose". However, I also abhor abortion. I also believe that most people do. The myth that women use abortion as a means of birth-control is a specious and egregious lie. Abortion is a life-changing event. It is a termination of a life, no matter how one decides to argue it, and women who decide to have an abortion must make a decision that anyone not of their gender (guys such as me) have no conception of what they go through to make the decision. I've known several women who have had abortions and indeed when I was a young man, drove one of my best friends to the clinic to have her abortion. I can say without fail that these women were conflicted and did not make the decision lightly.
My opinion regarding abortions are as former President Clinton had said, "Abortions must be safe, legal and rare". I'll add to that the following: This is a woman's issue. Period. This is a democracy, and if the woman of this country through a super-majority (2/3rds of women of child-bearing age) decide to ban abortion, then I'll go along with it. Until then, the right to an abortion must remain.
Roe v. Wade or a variant thereof will be with us for some time. Supreme Court Justices will be selected (as they have been) on whether or not they will support Roe v. Wade. It is a tangled web of politicization that drives the opinion and perhaps it should be. The Court changes in accordance with general popular opinion, good or bad. It is one of the prices of liberty.
Tell me what you think,

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