Tired of the same old myths about Roe v. Wade

Let’s have a serious debate about abortion within this framework: one of choice, freedom, health, privacy and equality for all women.

Abby Bar-Lev

Whether it is in conversations, pamphlets, partisan pundits or e-mails to my Minnesota Daily account, I am tired of hearing the same myths and lies about Roe v. Wade. A clarification is in order.

Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case authored by Justice Harry Blackmun, legalized abortion in America. Although the case became a trademark of women’s rights, it was actually centered on medical reasoning. Doctors were advocating for the right to choose abortion because they were concerned for the health of women seeking illegal abortions. Doctors did not want the government to intrude on their medical judgment and certainly did not want government to be the middleman between the woman and her doctor. Before 1973 women were still having abortions, but instead of a safe procedure (first trimester abortions are actually safer than carrying a pregnancy to term) with professional doctors, women were often seeking back-alley or self-inflicted abortions with coat hangers and dying in frightening numbers.

Another myth about Roe is that it allows abortion at any time throughout the pregnancy. While in the first trimester it is completely the woman’s choice whether to obtain an abortion, the state has some interest in the second trimester in protecting the woman’s health, and in the third trimester the state has a dominant interest in regulating and even proscribing abortion, except when the woman’s health is at risk. Justice Blackmun ” who meticulously and extensively researched the issue and spent 10 years prior to the Supreme Court as a resident counsel for the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota ” distinguished viability to determine when a fetus attains protection under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution as a separate human being. Between the second and third trimesters when a fetus becomes viable, meaning it can survive outside the womb, it is seen by science as a living being rather than a part of the woman’s body.

There are also many people who agree that abortion should indeed be a legal choice, but argue it was not the place of the Supreme Court to make the decision and would rather have the issue left to state legislatures. If that were the situation, it would create substantial problems for women throughout the country. While there may be states that would decide to offer abortion as a legal option, it is easy to imagine conservative states outlawing abortion completely. That being the case, women across the country would be at dramatically unequal positions when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. We would undoubtedly see a rise of back-alley and self-inflicted abortions for women in parts of the country, and once again women would be dying for their choice.

Also, leaving the issue to the states would create a whole different question ” that is, would women be able to cross state borders to seek abortion? Even if so, this would once again leave the poorest women out of luck, arguably the women in greatest need, who cannot afford the transportation and other costs. Where in one state a woman may be able to seek abortion in a clean, professional medical facility, in another state, a doctor could be jailed for performing abortions and women would die seeking illegal abortions. Those who argue that our country would not be so deep in partisan trenches right now had Roe v. Wade been left to the states ignore the hotly contentious issues that would have inevitably arisen had abortion been left a state issue.

The indisputable truth is that abortion was prominent before it was legalized and would continue to be prominent were Roe to ever be overturned. In fact, right now there are fewer abortions being performed now than there were before Roe v. Wade. The difference is that where once women were dying by the thousands in back alleys with twisted, rusted coat hangers, women no longer have to die for their right to choose. Women can never be fully free when their bodies have a government stamp on them, and they are certainly not free if they are dying because of it.

The question of choice is not about being pro-abortion versus pro-life. No woman or organization would ever actively promote abortion as the only and best option for every woman, and every woman is pro-life. No one is marching around advocating mandatory abortions for any pregnant woman. Abortion is not even the issue ” choice is the issue. Freedom is the issue. Health is the issue. Privacy in making personal decisions regarding one’s own body is the issue. Equality is the issue. If we want to have a serious discussion about abortion in this country, let’s do it within that framework: the one of choice, freedom, health, privacy and equality for all women.

Abby Bar-Lev welcomes comments at [email protected]