Thu Jan 24, 2013, 01:19 AM
elleng (56,497 posts)
Misconceptions by Linda Greenhouse
(Roe v. Wade)
'Many of the articles have focused on how strategic and successful the anti-abortion side has been in erecting obstacles to women seeking abortions and doctors willing to perform them. Last year alone, 19 state legislatures enacted a total of 43 new restrictions on access to abortion (six states accounted for more than half the new restrictions, with the ever-reliable Arizona leading the pack with seven).
I don’t mean to minimize this gloomy picture by not dwelling on it here, but I want to make a different point. Clearly, in the intervening 40 years, Roe v. Wade has morphed from Supreme Court decision to symbol – but of what? “Roe v. Wade About Much More Than Abortion” was the headline on an op-ed in Tuesday’s USA Today. True enough, but I think one lesson of Frank Lorson’s story is that to the justices who decided the case, Roe v. Wade really was about abortion, nothing more or less. To read the actual opinion, as almost no one ever does, is to understand that the seven middle-aged to elderly men in the majority certainly didn’t think they were making a statement about women’s rights: women and their voices are nearly absent from the opinion.
It’s a case about the rights of doctors – fellow professionals, after all – who faced criminal prosecution in states across the country for acting in what they considered to be the best interests of their patients. In “Before Roe v. Wade: Voices That Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court’s Ruling,” a book collecting pre-Roe documents that Reva B. Siegel and I published, we reprint an account by Dr. Jane E. Hodgson, a Mayo Clinic-trained obstetrician/gynecologist, of her arrest in St. Paul in 1970 for performing a first-trimester abortion for a patient who had contracted German measles in the fourth week of pregnancy. (In those days before immunization eradicated the threat posed to pregnant women by German measles, the disease commonly caused serious birth defects.) Justice Harry A. Blackmun, formerly the Mayo Clinic’s lawyer, knew Dr. Hodgson’s story; I had found her account, published in the clinic’s alumni magazine, in the justice’s files at the Library of Congress. . . .
Republican strategists throughout the 1970s and well into ’80s carefully cultivated the abortion issue in the service of party realignment, with the aim of peeling away urban ethnic Catholic voters from their traditional home in the Democratic Party. It was a Northern version of the successful “Southern strategy,” one that took longer to achieve – 20 years, by some measures – but that eventually resulted in today’s upside-down world where the once pro-choice Republican majority has disappeared and the Democratic base embraces abortion rights. . .
And what will be Roe’s fate at 50? Until recently, I shared the sense of doom that pervades the abortion-rights community. But as the history of the last 40 years shows, elections matter, and the 2012 election matters a great deal. Those looking for signs of “regime change,” as my colleague Jack Balkin at Yale Law School puts it, can find them in unexpected places. The decision last week by Arizona’s governor, Jan Brewer, to accept the Medicaid expansion that she and other Republican governors had fought as part of their lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act was, I believe, an underappreciated portent of shifting tectonic plates. And as was widely reported this week, more Americans than ever before – 70 percent – told a national poll that they didn’t want to see Roe v. Wade overturned.'
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