A recent Op-ed in the Washington Post was titled, “Democrats are the real abortion extremists.” Let’s examine the assertion in that title. Since Roe v. Wade was decided by the Supreme Court in 1973, anti-abortionists have tried every trick in the book to limit women’s access to abortion, especially poor women. The author of the Op-ed put it a bit differently: “The Supreme Court seized custody of the issue in 1973 (and) damaged political civility.”
I think we need a little history review.
To reach its decision in Roe, the Supreme Court drew on decades of case law that established that the government cannot interfere with certain personal decisions about procreation, marriage, and other aspects of family life. In Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), an appeal of the criminal conviction of the executive director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut for providing contraceptives to married couples, the Supreme Court found that a state statute making it a crime to use birth control violated married couples’ right to privacy. Seven years later, the justices found that this right also applied to single people (Eisenstadt v. Baird, 1972). Together, these cases set the stage for Roe.
Roe was also a reflection of the changing times. By the late 1960s, a nationwide effort was underway to reform the criminal abortion laws in effect in nearly every state. Health care providers, women’s rights advocates, clergy members, and the legal community lobbied state legislatures and went to court to overturn statutes that had been in place since before the turn of the century. Many of these laws dated back to the mid-1800s, when state legislatures moved to ban abortion despite this nation’s history since colonial times of allowing abortion prior to “quickening.” Between 1967 and 1973, four states — Alaska, Hawaii, New York, and Washington — repealed their abortion bans, while 13 others enacted limited reforms (Gold, 1990). Even before Roe was decided, lawsuits challenging criminal abortion laws had begun to work their way through the courts in more than a dozen states.
In Roe, the Supreme Court found that a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her pregnancy deserves the highest level of constitutional protection. The court also recognized that the right to privacy is not absolute and that a state has valid interests in safeguarding maternal health and protecting potential life. A state may — but is not required to — prohibit abortion after viability, except when it is necessary to protect a woman’s life or health.
The Supreme Court noted in 1992 that “the ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives” (Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 1992). Justice Harry Blackmun, the author of Roe, called the decision “a step that had to be taken as we go down the road toward the full emancipation of women” (Greenhouse, 1994).[i]
Needless to say, this did not deter the anti-abortionists.
Immediately after Roe was decided, opponents of safe and legal abortion urged state and federal lawmakers to pass laws stripping away at or banning abortion. Over the next three decades, the Supreme Court was repeatedly called upon to decide whether a wide range of abortion statutes violated a woman’s right to privacy. While many of these restrictions were found unconstitutional, the court opened the door to limits on the ability of low-income women and young women to make the decision to end a regnancy in a series of cases beginning in the mid-1970s. State and federal bans on funding for abortions were upheld as were requirements that young women obtain the consent of or notify their parents prior to an abortion. Two examples of these restrictive decisions are Harris v. McRae (1980) and Hodgson v. Minnesota (1990).[ii]
This piece is about abortion, but the author tries to cast the Democratic intransigence in a more general light: “Democracy, which properly is government by persuasion rather than majority bullying or executive or judicial policy fiats, is a search for splittable differences.”
Thus suggesting that Democrats are the bullies, unwilling to compromise. Let’s consider another example of “majority bullying.” The House Republican majority voted more than 50 times to repeal Obamacare, knowing that the Senate would not pass it, and even if they did, Obama would veto it. Did they offer to work with Democrats to improve Obamacare? Did they even suggest improvements? No. They did not want compromise. They wasted their time and a lot of money passing useless legislation for what purpose? To pander to the Obama haters in their party. It has to be one of the most outrageously extremist partisan performances of any Congress in the history of this country.
Did the author of this piece mention it? Of course not. He tries to wrap his articles in a cloak of journalistic objectivity, but anyone who reads his screeds knows what the cloak is hiding. I will not identify him. I don’t even want to write his name. You can look it up if you are curious.
Bert Bigelow graduated from the University of Michigan engineering school, and then pursued a career in software design. He has always enjoyed writing, and since retirement, has produced short essays on many subjects. His main interests are in the areas of politics and religion, and the intersection of the two. Many of his writings are posted on his web site, bigelowbert.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.