Jessie Roos and Andrea Lind, acquaintances and co-workers for two years, stood outside Coffman Union on Wednesday afternoon watching an abortion opponents rally.
Roos is against abortion and Lind supports abortion rights.
This scene may be hard for some to believe, and with good reason. Twenty-five years ago today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade and legalized abortion. But America is as divided as ever on the issue of abortion.
The decision gave women the right to an abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy and with a doctor’s consent during the second.
The abortion issue has raged on campus over the past 25 years. From medical students pledging to perform abortions in 1978 to a failed referendum in 1992 requesting that Boynton Health Service perform abortions, the University has served as a microcosm of the national debate.
“When abortion was legalized in America, it was a pretty controversial thing and it still is; it hasn’t disappeared,” said Bruce Harpel, University Maranatha founder.
The issue of abortion remains tremendously controversial as one of the most prolific moral, political and social debates of the last three decades continues.
University groups like the University Choice Coalition and Students For New Life are active in abortion rights and reform. Even 25 years after the Roe v. Wade decision, the abortion issue is almost as hotly contested as it was in 1973.
Before Roe v. Wade
In February 1970, in a dilapidated Dallas pizza parlor, two young lawyers and an uneducated Texas cleaning woman lamented the state’s strict abortion laws. As in 44 other states — including Minnesota — abortion in Texas was illegal.
The lawyers, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, wanted to repeal Texas abortion law but needed a plaintiff for their lawsuit. The cleaning woman, Norma McCorvey, was two and a half months pregnant and wanted a safe abortion. McCorvey agreed to be the plaintiff in Weddington and Coffee’s lawsuit but wished to remain anonymous.
She chose the alias “Jane Roe” and became Roe of the landmark trial Roe v. Wade.
Toni McNaron, professor of English and women’s studies, recalls initial campus reaction to the news that the U.S. Supreme Court was going to hear Roe v. Wade.
“All the demonstrations were very positive,” said McNaron. She said she remembers “a candlelight vigil to send good energy to the justices in hopes that they would make a wise decision.”
The Wade of Roe v. Wade was Henry Wade, the Dallas County district attorney who defended Texas’ law against Weddington and Coffee’s claim that it was unconstitutional.
The initial case was argued on Dec. 13, 1971. Roe won, but Wade appealed and announced that he would continue to prosecute Texas doctors who performed abortions until all of his appeals were exhausted.
The case was again argued and appealed on Oct. 11, 1972 before being decided by the Supreme Court on Jan. 22, 1973.
The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Roe.
McNaron said the University community reacted swiftly to the announcement of the ruling.
“Somebody made stick-um badges that were showing black coat hangers with red bars through them, like no-smoking signs,” she said. “Somebody painted one of those and put it on the Washington Avenue Bridge.”
Justice Harry Blackmun — from Minnesota — wrote the court majority opinion, saying a woman’s “right of privacy … is broad enough to encompass her decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”
However, women were not given total freedom to pursue an abortion. The decision stipulated that once the fetus is able to exist outside the womb, the state has a compelling interest in the fetus’s safety. This made abortions after the second trimester illegal, except when continuing the pregnancy would endanger the mother’s life.
“There’s no baby left in there.”
A former University student who got pregnant from a gang rape said that, had she not had the opportunity to have a legal abortion, she might have died from a self-inflicted “coat-hanger” abortion.
“I’ve tried to block (the abortion) out of my mind, but it’s still very vivid,” said the woman, who wished to remain anonymous. “I went there, they put me under, and when I woke up, there was (some) pain. And I got up and they told me that (the abortion) was successful, that there’s no baby left in there.”
However, the argument waged by those against abortion is that humans are dying everyday.
“In 25 years of Roe v. Wade, 35 million people have died,” Harpel said. “Nowadays we find ourselves having a hard time meeting social security needs and meeting employment needs. We’re beginning to see the effects of this now.”
But McNaron said that, directly after the decision, female students on campus felt elation and relief that an unwanted pregnancy no longer meant being subjected to bodily harm.
Feminists and women’s rights advocates saw the decision as a reversal of long-standing, presupposed rights of the government to control women.
“The issue isn’t about being pro-abortion, it’s about making sure that abortion is included as a normalized part of reproductive health care,” said Kara Korach, co-president of Health Students For Choice.
However, Catholic clergymen denounced the decision as horrifying and unspeakable. They saw fetuses as unborn children, abortion as murder and the abortion policy as blatantly criminal.
Within nine months of the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, 188 bills had been proposed in 41 states to change the abortion law; most did not become law.
According to the Women’s Studies Encyclopedia, in 1973, 19 percent of all pregnancies in the United States were ending in abortion. The number rose to 30 percent in 1979 before leveling off.
Roe v. Wade sparked the theological debate about the beginning of life, inspired studies on the changing role of motherhood and gave the taboo of abortion an unprecedented amount of press.
Abortion was no longer an issue to be ignored; Roe v. Wade forced Americans to think critically about the issue and divided them into two schools of thought. Both movements united as Americans began to rally behind either cause.
On Wednesday, bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace” accompanied the familiar sight of two sets of demonstrators — those against abortion and those who support a woman’s right to choose — outside Coffman Union.
Although individuals like Roos and Lind might be able to find common ground one on one, the groups remained separated by 30 yards of cement and 25 years of theoretical debate on one of the nation’s most complex issues.