Wednesday, Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Scalia, Alito, and Roberts affirmed their places in history as the biggest tools ever when they redefined the extent to which women should be able to make decisions about their own health. Countering decades of precedent and reaffirmations of a woman’s right to choose, the Supreme Court ruled that there are limits to that right.
I’ll concede that partial-birth abortions are scary things. The procedure itself is gory, a fact that conservatives have made sure to graphically describe to everyone who will listen (and then for those who won’t listen, they just use pictures). But I’m not terribly interested in the aspect of the decision that makes it illegal for a doctor to perform this procedure. That wasn’t the controversial part of the law.
No, the part that would scare me if I were a woman (phew) is that the law makes no exception for the health of the woman. Now, I’m not one to champion women’s rights, or really rights in general, but I am generally not a fan of making it illegal for doctors to take the best course of action to protect a person’s life.
In response to this, the Court argued that when it comes to this specific procedure, doctors are likely to distort the truth (i.e., not explain the details of the procedure) because of the fragility of the woman’s emotional state and the “bonds of love the mother has for her child.” Essentially, the Court is saying that women just don’t know left from right when it comes to their unborn babies and that doctors can’t be trusted. Then, the logical solution to this problem is not to force doctors to explain the procedure to women (who knows if they’d even listen, as they are probably so overwhelmed by the bonds of love) or to have doctors lay out all the options to women, along with the associated risks.
No, obviously not. Because remember, we are dealing with women here, so we obviously need to forbid them to make their own decisions regardless of the risks this might impose on them.
But what makes this decision even scarier is the trend it establishes. No one under 45 has ever really known a world without the right to legal abortions, and the Supreme Court has never really given an indication of changing that.
Given that anti-choice extremists dominate the GOP, a party that until last year controlled every branch of our government, there is every reason to think that in the absence of Supreme Court protection, we’d all end up living in the equivalent of 19th-century Mississippi.
Of course, some make the argument that in the absence of Supreme Court protection, abortion rights would only be reaffirmed by voters and could end up being a huge net gain for Democrats. While this claim seems plausible, I don’t know if there is reason to place that much faith in our political system; I mean, it got George Bush elected president and somehow got us into a war in Iraq. (Also, there is good reason to expect judicial and political chaos in the absence of Roe, an argument that ex-Maroon columnist William Baude (A.B. ’04) laid out brilliantly in The New York Times last year.)
But regardless of the faith you place in the political system in the U.S., it isn’t perfect, and at the rate the Supreme Court is headed, we’ll all soon find that out.