Why Can't Women Be Both Pro-Choice AND Pro-Life? It's Possible With Common-Sense Limitations on Abortions
On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court handed down one of the most controversial opinions in its history. It issued its opinion regarding the constitutionality of state laws banning and even criminalizing abortion. In striking down those laws, it identified a new fundamental right - the right of a woman to have an abortion, at essentially any time during her pregnancy and for whatever reason. It decided the case of Roe v. Wade.
States are allowed to regulate a wide variety of actions in the interest of protecting the people within its borders. These are the laws that are pursuant to its vast "police powers" - the power to regulate for the health, safety, welfare,, and morality of its citizens. These are the powers reserved to the states under the 10th Amendment, and the powers intended to remain with each state. Aside from these police powers (the 10th Amendment), the Constitution puts certain limits the states' authority to regulate. One of those limits is when there is an individual liberty right at stake. (And not just any "liberty right" at that; the right at stake must have been a recognized liberty right at the time the 14th Amendment was adopted, which was 1868. For any other asserted liberty right, the Constitution would need to be amended per Article V's amendment process. See the Appendix at the end of the article). In Roe v. Wade, Norma McCorvey (aka, petitioner Roe) argued that the Constitution protected her liberty to choose to have an abortion, and that that right was paramount to the state's right to regulate abortion. Disregarding the Court's established jurisprudence regarding the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment, the Supreme Court agreed with McCorvey.
In a 7-2 opinion written by Justice Harry Blackmun, he Supreme Court declared the right to an abortion is a fundamental liberty right that the state can only limit thru regulation if that regulation furthers a very strong state interest (a "compelling state interest") and is narrowly-tailored to achieve that interest. That is, it cannot be overbroad. The Court then went on to conclude that a woman's liberty right in controlling whether or not she is pregnant (hence, her right to choose to have an abortion) is stronger than the state's interest in banning abortions outright.
Justice Blackmun wrote: "[Although] the Constitution does not explicitly mention any right of privacy ... the Court has recognized that a right of personal privacy, or a guarantee of certain areas or zones of privacy, does exist under the Constitution. ... This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the 14th Amendment's concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the 9th Amendment's reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. ... We, therefore, conclude that the right of personal privacy includes the abortion decision, but that this right is not unqualified and must be considered against important state interests in regulation."
Blackmun also addressed the very controversial issue of whether a fetus is a "person" within the meaning of that word in the 14th Amendment. He continued:
"The Constitution does not define 'person' in so many words. ... The use of the word is such that it has application only postnatally.... This persuades us that the word 'person,' as used in the 14th Amendment, does not include the unborn. ... In areas other than criminal abortion, the law has been reluctant to endorse any theory that life, as we recognize it, begins before live birth or to accord legal rights to the unborn except in narrowly defined situations and except when the rights are contingent upon live birth. ... In short, the unborn have never been recognized in the law as persons in the whole sense."
Blackmun then summarized the "balancing of competing interests" at stake in the issue of pregnancy and abortion in what has become known as "the Trimester Test":
"A state criminal abortion statute of the current Texas type, that excepts from criminality only a life-saving procedure on behalf of the mother without regard to pregnancy stage and without recognition of the other interests involved, is violative of the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. a) For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman's attending physician. b) For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health. c) For the stage subsequent to viability, the State in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life may, if it chooses, regulate and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother."
The opinion would go on to explain that the "health of the mother" does not necessarily only mean physical health. An abortion in the third trimester can be justified for any reason related to physical health, mental health, psychological well-being, age (being too young), familial (meaning the family wants the baby aborted), or even financial well-being. Even if the woman feels stressed from the pregnancy, she would be within her right to abort her later-term baby for "health" reasons. In other words, the opinion basically established the rule that a woman's right to an abortion always outweighs the right to life for the unborn. Since 1973, Roe v. Wade has stood for the legal principle that a woman can have an abortion at any point in her pregnancy for any reason whatsoever, and neither the federal government nor any state can place any pre-conditions or restrictions on a woman's right to that abortion. In other words, Roe assures women the right to an abortion on demand.
The infamous Roe decision (and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton) was the opinion of 7 out of 9 members of the court. Two justices dissented - Justice Byron White and Justice William Rehnquist. Justice White believed the Court created a new right not envisioned by the Constitution and both he and Justice Rehnquist believed the question of abortion was a state matter covered by the 10th Amendment.
Justice White wrote, in his dissenting opinion:
At the heart of the controversy in these cases are those recurring pregnancies that pose no danger whatsoever to the life or health of the mother but are, nevertheless, unwanted for any one or more of a variety of reasons - convenience, family planning, economics, dislike of children, the embarrassment of illegitimacy, etc. The common claim before us is that, for any one of such reasons, or for no reason at all, and without asserting or claiming any threat to life or health, any woman is entitled to an abortion at her request if she is able to find a medical advisor willing to undertake the procedure.
The Court, for the most part, sustains this position: During the period prior to the time the fetus becomes viable, the Constitution of the United States values the convenience, whim, or caprice of the putative mother more than the life or potential life of the fetus; the Constitution, therefore, guarantees the right to an abortion as against any state law or policy seeking to protect the fetus from an abortion not prompted by more compelling reasons of the mother.
With all due respect, I dissent. I find nothing in the language or history of the Constitution to support the Court's judgment. The Court simply fashions and announces a new constitutional right for pregnant mothers and, with scarcely any reason or authority for its action, invests that right with sufficient substance to override most existing state abortion statutes. he Court apparently values the convenience of the pregnant mother more than the continued existence and development of the life or potential life that she carries. Whether or not I might agree with that marshaling of values, I can in no event join the Court's judgment because I find no constitutional warrant for imposing such an order of priorities on the people and legislatures of the States. I cannot accept the Court's exercise of its clear power of choice by interposing a constitutional barrier to state efforts to protect human life and by investing mothers and doctors with the constitutionally protected right to exterminate it. This issue, for the most part, should be left with the people and to the political processes the people have devised to govern their affairs.
It is my view, therefore, that the Texas statute is not constitutionally infirm because it denies abortions to those who seek to serve only their convenience, rather than to protect their life or health. Nor is this plaintiff, who claims no threat to her mental or physical health, entitled to assert the possible rights of those women [410 U.S. 223] whose pregnancy assertedly implicates their health. This, together with United States v. Vuitch, 402 U.S. 62 (1971), dictates reversal of the judgment of the District Court.
Justice Rehnquist dissented with these views:
I have difficulty in concluding, as the Court does, that the right of "privacy" is involved in this case. Texas, by the statute here challenged, bars the performance of a medical abortion by a licensed physician on a plaintiff such as Roe. A transaction resulting in an operation such as this is not "private" in the ordinary usage of that word. Nor is the "privacy" that the Court finds here even a distant relative of the freedom from searches and seizures protected by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which the Court has referred to as embodying a right to privacy. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967).
If the Court means by the term "privacy" no more than that the claim of a person to be free from unwanted state regulation of consensual transactions may be a form of "liberty" protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, there is no doubt that similar claims have been upheld in our earlier decisions on the basis of that liberty. I agree with the statement of Mr. Justice Stewart in his concurring opinion that the "liberty," against deprivation of which without due process the Fourteenth Amendment protects, embraces more than the rights found in the Bill of Rights. But that liberty is not guaranteed absolutely against deprivation, only against deprivation without due process of law. The test traditionally applied in the area of social and economic legislation is whether or not a law such as that challenged has a rational relation to a valid state objective. Williamson v. Lee Optical Co., 348 U.S. 483, 491 (1955). The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment undoubtedly does place a limit, albeit a broad one, on legislative power to enact laws such as this. If the Texas statute were to prohibit an abortion even where the mother's life is in jeopardy, I have little doubt that such a statute would lack a rational relation to a valid state objective under the test stated in Williamson, supra. But the Court's sweeping invalidation of any restrictions on abortion during the first trimester is impossible to justify under that standard, and the conscious weighing of competing factors that the Court's opinion apparently substitutes for the established test is far more appropriate to a legislative judgment than to a judicial one.
The fact that a majority of the States reflecting, after all, the majority sentiment in those States, have had restrictions on abortions for at least a century is a strong indication, it seems to me, that the asserted right to an abortion is not "so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental," Snyder v. Massachusetts, 291 U.S. 97, 105 (1934). Even today, when society's views on abortion are changing, the very existence of the debate is evidence that the "right" to an abortion is not so universally accepted as the appellant would have us believe.
To reach its result, the Court necessarily has had to find within the scope of the Fourteenth Amendment a right that was apparently completely unknown to the drafters of the Amendment. As early as 1821, the first state law dealing directly with abortion was enacted by the Connecticut Legislature. Conn. Stat., Tit. 22, 14, 16. By the time of the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, there were at least 36 laws enacted by state or territorial legislatures limiting abortion. While many States have amended or updated their laws, 21 of the laws on the books in 1868 remain in effect today. Indeed, the Texas statute struck down today was, as the majority notes, first enacted in 1857 and "has remained substantially unchanged to the present time."
There apparently was no question concerning the validity of this provision or of any of the other state statutes when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted. The only conclusion possible from this history is that the drafters did not intend to have the Fourteenth Amendment withdraw from the States the power to legislate with respect to this matter.
And, as the 10th Amendment states so clearly, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." The power to regulate for the safety, health, welfare, and morality of its people are the so-called "Police Powers" reserved by each state under the 10th Amendment. Because the power to regulate abortions was not prohibited to the States under the Constitution or by the 14th Amendment, the power continues to reside with the state. [We are, of course, referring to abortions that aren't absolutely medically necessary on account of rape or incest or to preserve the life or physical health of the mother; we are referring to the types of abortions that Roe and Doe filed suit for, and the types of abortions that our sexually-active and adventurous progressive/liberal population, which are merely and essentially for convenience].
The Roe v. Wade decision has resulted in the deaths of an estimated 60 million children since that infamous January 1973 date.. Even before this new law, over a third of all unborn children in New York City were aborted. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in 2015, there were 544 abortions for every 1,000 live births in NYC.
Fast forward to 2019. On the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the New York state legislature passed the Reproductive Health Act, a "late-term abortion" bill that now allows women to freely have abortions in the state at practically any time up until the birth of the child and for almost any reason. It essentially minimizes any state interest in the well-being or life of the unborn child. The New York State Senate passed the Reproductive Health Act late in the evening on January 22, and Governor Andrew Cuomo quickly signed it into law.
The new law in NY states that abortions are now legal when:
(i) "The patient is within twenty-four weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, OR;
(ii) There is absence of fetal viability, OR;
(iii) The abortion is necessary to protect the patient's life or health."
While the law appears to put conditions on a woman's right to abort her unborn baby after 24 weeks (after "viability"), those conditions are essentially meaningless. We read the phrase "to protect the patient's life or health" to understand that an abortion would be permitted post 24 weeks if the woman is in danger of dying or suffering some permanent damage. But we would be wrong. According to the Supreme Court's decision in Doe v. Bolton, the companion case to Roe v. Wade, "health" includes "all factors-physical, emotional, psychological, familial, financial situation, and the woman's age-relevant to the wellbeing of the patient." The Roe decision mentioned stress on the mother as a health concern justifying an abortion in the third trimester. So, the law essentially removes any restrictions on a woman having an abortion up until the baby's birth.
This law shows just how broad, and how cruel and insidious the Roe decision was. It wasn't until Democrats finally achieved a solid majority in both chambers of the New York Legislature that they finally passed this bill. For the past 12 years, Democrats have tried to get it passed by Republicans were able to block it each time.