The Future of Roe vs. Wade

Roe Decision. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Roe decision (stemming from a 1973 Supreme Court case) protects the right to privacy and legalized abortion. The past three decades since Roe v. Wade have brought their fair share of political and cultural turmoil, yet it seems that the next 30+ years may promise even more. To many women, the right to an abortion represents more than just a right to privacy as protected by our constitution. This ruling has provided women with the ability to take control over their future, family formation, careers, and destiny.

The Supreme Court has yet to retreat from its ruling in Roe v. Wade despite being presented with many opportunities over the past years. In fact, the legal precedent of the Roe decision has been threatened by various actions in the courts and legislatures and presented numerous chances for the Court to consider overturning Roe v. Wade. The Bush Administration had been charged with leading serious efforts to undermine reproductive rights. In 2003, President George W. Bush signed the first federal ban on abortion, which prohibits the procedure of an Intact Dilation and Extraction (D&X) abortion. Although this ban is officially named the "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003," it is important to point out that the procedure is more accurately acknowledged in the medical community as Intact D&X. "Partial birth abortion" is a political term, not a medical one. Then, in 2004, the House of Representatives passed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which for the first time, established in federal law, a fetus as a legal person with individual rights separate from those of the pregnant woman.

Though the future of Roe v. Wade may be unclear, it appears that the decision, as a whole, will most likely not be overturned. Whether or not the current Supreme Court justices support the Roe decision, history has shown that pro-life politicians have the tendency to chip away at Roe v. Wade, rather than challenge it outright.

History has also shown us that the Supreme Court will rarely make a sudden break with its past rulings. It could be argued that the controversy and debate sustained over the years since the Roe decision will further discourage the Court from delivering such a stunning ruling against those concerned about women's rights. Even though the Roe decision came as an unexpected and striking jolt to those who expected the law to protect fetal life, it seems unlikely that the Court will render another bold decision on this issue.

If anything, historians and scholars predict that rather than overruling the Roe decision, the justices may only expand the category of abortion-related issues -- which will then be played out in the give-and-take characteristic of the legislative process. If this were to occur, additional legislative and court actions may focus on trying to achieve a better balance between the rights of pregnant women and the protection of the fetus. Thus, we could possibly see more permissible state regulation of abortion especially if state legislatures are given the ability to produce their own abortion statutes. That being said, even if the Court eventually widens its ruling on abortion, there appears to be agreement on the notion that any statute that only permits abortion to preserve the life of the pregnant woman would remain unconstitutional.

Roe v. Wade was, and continues to be, the most influential court case that affects laws pertaining to abortion. This Supreme Court landmark case is one of the most controversial court cases of all time. More than thirty years after Roe was argued and decided, people all over the U.S. are striving to overturn the decision as well as fighting to keep it intact. Since the Roe decision, we have been witness to a debate that equates reproductive rights solely with abortion rights and preventing unintended pregnancy. Despite numerous efforts by activists to expand the discussion, political debates over reproductive rights habitually focus on abortion, contraception, and sex education, yet neglect other important reproductive rights issues, such as the needs of women who want to continue their pregnancies (and raise their children), embryo selection or women dealing infertility.

For example, multiple pregnancies have become more common as more couples turn to in vitro-fertilization as a way to overcome infertility. Research shows that multiple pregnancies substantially raises the health risks to both the mother and the babies. Plus, raising multiples can cause higher amounts of emotional stress, fatigue and financial pressures that could have serious consequences for families and/or society. Yet, under the Roe decision, women are allowed to make their own decisions about what happens with their bodies. What happens, then, if a woman decides to proceed with an embyo transfer that consists of transferring five or more embryos during IVF (even after she is fully informed about the benefits and risks of multiple pregnancies)? Should she have the right to make this decision (under Roe v. Wade, she does), or should the doctor be concerned over the very real possibility of health risks to the babies should all the embryos take and develop (thus, not allowing the transfer)?

Issues like this need to be included in the debate over reproductive rights. With the advancements in IVF, embryos can be tested for potential genetic or chromosomal disorders. Embryos can also be screened for gender. Should certain embryos be discarded (and not implanted) just because they test positive for a disorder or because they are of a particular gender? If abortion is allowed under any circumstance during the first two trimesters of pregnancy, should women also be able to decide to discard certain embryos (for any reason) and not have them transferred

As we enter into a new decade, the Roe decision, securing women the freedom of choice when it comes to their bodies, may need to be further clarified. Where is the line to be drawn when it comes to a woman's right to choose, or should no such line exist? The debate that has stemmed from Roe v. Wade is much deeper than abortion. Why has our culture equated the notion of "choice" as synonymous with abortion? Perhaps, we all need to remember that choice actually means the right or power to CHOOSE - as women, we can choose to get married, get a job, have sex and become mothers. Part of that choice may be to delay motherhood, through the use of contraception or abortion. Life is full of choices to be made.

Since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, there have been over 45 million women in the US who have chosen to have safe, legal abortions. Over three decades later, this landmark decision remains to be one of the most debated of all time. Would it not be logical to assume that this whole pro-choice/pro-life debate may actually be two heads of the same coin? For those who want to make this debate solely be about abortion, contraception, and unplanned pregnancy, regardless of one's belief in the morality of abortion, it would be irresponsible to ignore the reality. There are 3 million unplanned pregnancies in the US every year. Respected research consistently shows that the rise of contraceptive use results in reduced abortion rates. In fact, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, half of all women seeking a first-time abortion were not using any type of contraception when they conceived. Though the national number of abortions is down, teen pregnancies are up.

We have both pro-choice and pro-life groups advocating their positions, protesting and rallying for support every day. Is it that difficult to drop the agendas and REALIZE that we all basically agree on the same goal - to lower the number of abortions. It can't be denied that birth control and abortion both represent alternative means of achieving the same goal: the prevention of unwanted babies. Instead of arguing about the immorality of abortion, efforts should be made to advocate solutions to the prevention of unintended pregnancy.

There's a saying that goes "Against Abortion? Don't Have One." It seems to me that, when it comes down to it, all Roe v. Wade has done is provided women with a choice. What we each do with that choice is personal and private. Until further clarifications are determined as to what is actually comprised under a woman's right to choose, the Roe decision stands. And even though, in a perfect world, we could all work together to reach the same goal, Roe v. Wade will continue to drum up controversy where people will remain divided and determined to spread their agenda in any possible way.

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