Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton decisions wherein seven of nine U.S. Supreme Court justices found the concept of liberty embodied in the Constitution’s 14th Amendment protects from any government encroachment the right to privacy, including a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy. In reaching its historic decision, the Court eloquently placed the right and responsibility for reproductive choices with the woman — the one individual inextricably linked to the pregnancy and the growth and development of potential human life.
It was the fundamental biological connection between the woman, the fetus and the stages of pregnancy that established our current system of regulating abortion. The trimester system established in Roe vs. Wade strikes a balance between a woman’s interest in physical integrity and autonomy and the state’s interest in protecting potential human life. In the first trimester, the abortion decision remains with the woman and her physician. In the second trimester and until fetal viability, the state may impose regulations which must be related to maternal health and so long as those regulations present no undue burden for the woman. After viability, (the point at which the fetus is capable of survival independent of the woman), the state may regulate or proscribe the abortion procedure so long as any restrictions jeopardize neither the life or health of the woman.
For 25 years abortion has been a private medical decision made by a majority of the millions of women experiencing unplanned pregnancies each year.
Today, an ominous and chilly wind blows. In these past 25 years, abortion has moved from the privacy of a medical office to the halls of Congress. Political and religious extremists in Congress and at the State House seek to dictate medical procedures and limit physical, economic and geographic access to abortion. Abortion now has more to do with political might and special interests than a woman’s life, health, faith and future.
Society is at a crossroads, embroiled in what many see as a civil war, pitting those who oppose all abortion, much contraception and some sexuality education against those who support safe access to legal abortion, family planning and comprehensive sexuality education. For those who wear the pro-life badge on their sleeves, their placards and their megaphones, along with noxious gasses, bombs, harassment, intimidation, political manipulation and murder have become the tools of an increasingly violent war against women.
Personal matters of faith, health, family, economics and community have no place in their arsenal. Pregnant women struggling to make the best decision for themselves and their families have been demonized as vicious enemies, relegated to amoral, selfish abstractions from whom the community must be protected.
Because I have faith in the moral authority of women to make hard choices in private and in consultation with their families, their physicians and their God, I hope and believe that our communities will take the high road and support their sisters, colleagues, teachers and mother decisions. As we move toward the next century, it is imperative that we — as individuals and as a community — reject the tyranny of those few who would, with violence and intimidation, impose their beliefs on all. Like those involved in the uniquely successful Bangor’s CUReS Project, we must reject violence and endeavor to reach some form of detente, understanding and dialogue which honors and respects each individual.
Women facing unintended pregnancies have difficult choices to make — parenthood, adoption and abortion — and they are never easy. It is hard enough to decide for yourself. It is impossible for someone else to decide for you.
Susan L. Mansfield is director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and co-chair of the Maine Choice Coalition.