On the 31st Anniversary of Roe v Wade

Roundup: Media's Take

Joanne Mariner, writing in findlaw.com (Jan. 21, 2004):

Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court opinion whose thirty-first anniversary falls on January 22, was not yet a decade old when I became pregnant. I was seventeen, living on my own, and the pregnancy was unwanted....

Even though, as the Supreme Court said in 1992, "an entire generation has come of age free to assume Roe's concept of liberty," the right to a safe and legal abortion remains under threat. According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, 335 anti-choice measures have been enacted since 1995. President George Bush has openly endorsed the goal of banning abortion, and some of his federal judicial picks have been anti-abortion zealots, a worrying indicator for his possible future nominees to the Supreme Court.

Publicly-funded abortion is not available in most states, except in narrow cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Since 1977, federal law has prohibited Medicaid from paying for the abortions of low-income women in most circumstances. Because fewer than half of all states offer supplemental funding that goes beyond these federal limitations, the possibility of abortion is foreclosed to many poor women.

Mandatory parental consent or notification rules, which exist in more than thirty states, deter many teenagers from exercising their constitutional right to a legal abortion. Minors with abusive parents may risk physical or emotional harm if required to disclose their pregnancy. Judicial bypass procedures, which the Supreme Court has ruled must be included in parental consent and notice laws, may be ineffective when the reviewing judge is hostile to abortion.

Numerous procedural restrictions continue to impede women's access to abortion. Now, in twenty states, women seeking abortion face mandatory delays in obtaining the procedure, a requirement that is often paired with the obligation of receiving state-dictated informational materials designed to discourage abortion. Such rules particularly burden women who live long distances from abortion providers, or whose transportation arrangements are difficult. Other state laws target doctors who perform abortions, imposing complicated regulatory schemes.

The latest effort to hobble reproductive rights has been to redefine what constitutes an abortion, via legislation like the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Although the Supreme Court struck down the most restrictive of these laws, adopted in Nebraska, others have passed lower court scrutiny. Although they are supposed to cover only late-term abortions, the imprecise and unscientific language of such laws means that their scope threatens to extend far beyond the situations cited by their supporters.


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