Today is the anniversary of the landmark court decision Roe V. Wade. On January 22, 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court decided in a 7 -2 decision in favor of Norma McCorvey who was Roe at the time. The decision said that abortion was a fundamental right under the United States Constitution and therefore any law restricting abortion had to have special scrutiny. The majority opinion was written by Justice Henry Blackmun and asserted that there was a fundamental “right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether to terminate her pregnancy.”
Judaism always understood that abortion was possible and the Talmud makes reference to the procedure. Judaism believes that the fetus is not a person until the greater part of the head is birthed. The fetus is life but not fully human. Judaism differs from Catholicism as well because our texts clearly state that you save the life of the mother.
In subsequent decades the force of Roe v Wade has been dealt setbacks as anti-abortion protesters and the fundamentalist Christians and Catholics have often violently tried to changed the law. They have had success in trimming back this fundamental right. They have influenced public policy and federal funding. So much so that in the proposed health care reform bills abortion services may not be provided!
But Roe v Wade is about so much more than the right to terminate a pregnancy–or abortion rights. This court case determined that individuals have control over their own bodies. This court case determined that women could assert themselves over their own choices. They didn’t have to be ground down or attached to their husbands or fathers. Women could think and decide for themselves. That was one of the strong messages of this case.
This court case determined that privacy was part of the American legal realm as found in our Constitution. This is critical idea and changed the way we all think about ourselves. This notion of privacy extended way beyond the idea of whether one should or could have a legal abortion. This structure of privacy has become a basic building block of daily life and an important legal concept that has implications for everyone.
So whether you would ever have an abortion, whether or not you believe life begins at conception or life begins at birth, the Roe v Wade anniversary should be observed because of the important legal ideas that it gave birth to and still informs us today.