By Mira Postelnek and Atara Bachrach, Opinions Editor
The discussion surrounding abortion is a heated one, especially in light of recent events. This is especially relevant due to speculations that the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in the 1970s, may be overturned. There are many different aspects and nuances to each side of this debate, both with strong claims and opinions. In order for someone to form a truly enlightened opinion, however, it is our strong belief that an informed review of the history of abortion and its opposing positions is not only important, but imperative for one to undertake when contemplating this issue. This includes examining its legality in the past, current laws, potential changes to come and the ideology that accompanies this.
The controversy is primarily based on an age-old moral dispute: does ideology take precedence over science, or is it the other way around? In oversimplified terms, the pro-choice perspective is one which believes that, prior to fetal viability at twenty-three weeks, it is a woman’s right to have an abortion. Pro-life supporters, on the other hand, take a different stance, with the strictest of the movement holding that life begins at conception, and so abortion at any stage of fetus development is murder. This view correspondingly maintains that governments should not only have the right to ban abortion, but have a moral and legal obligation to do so, as it is viewed as an extension of murder.
Now, seemingly, this could be simple: why not just play it safe? If we just illegalize abortion, we might avoid the whole controversy altogether, and no one gets hurt. But, unfortunately, it’s significantly more complicated than that, for a copious amount of reasons. So why don’t we start with what we know? Let’s take a look at the facts.
Until the early 1970s, all of the United States were to address abortion “in accordance with the views of its citizens,” meaning that rulings would fall to the legislation of each individual state. In 1969, Roe v. Wade was brought to the Supreme Court, at a time when abortions in Texas were specifically prohibited excluding cases of rape and incest. In 1973, the Court concluded Roe vs. Wade, officially ruling that women have a fundamental “right to privacy,” and therefore, a pregnant woman has the liberty to choose if they have an abortion.
For a long time after Roe v. Wade, the matter seemed untouchable. At least, that is, until 4 years ago, when Mississippi changed its abortion laws, making most abortions illegal after only 15 weeks of pregnancy– around two months sooner than cases like Roe sanction. Despite its enactment in 2018, this law never actually went into effect, as a legal challenge ensued immediately, ultimately leading to the case going all the way to the Supreme court, where Mississippi asked the Court to overrule the verdicts of Roe vs. Wade and other similar cases which stated that US states can not impose “undue burden” on the right to abort prior to fetus viability.
Which brings us here, to May 2022, after the contentious draft opinion of Supreme Court Justice Alito was leaked to the public, an event which sparked a newly heated revival of the debate on abortion. The document discusses in great detail the pending overturn of Roe vs. Wade, as well as its rulings and bases, including any constitutional disparities with the law. It also contains potential rights that U.S. state legislations may gain should the case be overturned, such as the right to not only illegalize abortion, but criminalize it, the realities of which may vary depending on the state. This means that, in some states, any person caught performing an abortion could face up to a $1,000 fine and an entire year in county jail, while some states have even prepared trigger bans that threaten anyone who even attempts to perform an abortion with a $10,000 fine and a lifetime sentence in prison. These would be, and are, some of the most extreme abortion laws to be legislated in the past 70 years.
Justice Alito writes in the draft that “the Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision, including the one on which the defenders of Roe and Casey now chiefly rely.” This demonstrably contradicts the verdicts of Roe vs. Wade and Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, which were established on the premise that U.S. citizens do have an inherent right to privacy and autonomy, as inferred by the courts from the 14th amendment of the constitution. While earlier verdicts like Roe’s were among the first to expand this supposed right to privacy, many of the Justices understand these as critical misinterpretations of the 14th Amendment, one that should never have passed legislation to begin with.
In the interest of playing devil’s advocate, let’s run for a moment with the idea that autonomy and privacy are not understood as inherent rights (we don’t necessarily agree with this, just, bear with us). And, for argument’s sake, let’s just say that Roe v. Wade does get overturned (G-d forbid), a scenario in which abortion would essentially become a matter of state legislation, and nothing else. Even if all of this were to happen, the debate would not suddenly become irrelevant or moot. Perhaps, at this point, our concern should shift focus to the clash between ideology and science– two seemingly contradictory foundational values, whose significance may be key to unraveling this heated controversy.
The way we see it, the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Science can work to contribute to ideology, sometimes even aiding to explain it. While ideology, too, makes way for science. Ultimately, the point is, that even when something seems so apparently black and white, so objectively simple, if both parties are able to zoom out and take a look at the bigger picture, we may come to realize that the fundamentals of our beliefs don’t have to contradict each other.
What if there were a way to take a step back, and include science in our ideology? Maybe in viewing it from a more analytical standpoint, we may, and perhaps should, learn that our beliefs can be reconsidered with the incoming of new information. This does not mean throwing away your values at the prospect of something seemingly “easier” or “simpler.” It means recognizing the nuance and multifaceted nature of a complex topic such as this, and including parts of each viewpoint in our analysis when forming an opinion and using caution and diligence in our perspective.
Because, after all, it was the scientific understanding that fetus viability outside the womb begins at 24 weeks of gestation which led to our personal belief that the right for a woman to choose to have an abortion is necessary, although some may not approve. And this was not an opinion formed lightly; it was developed with a heavy combination of both science and ideology, specifically religion. These also aided into our personal belief that, even if the 14th amendment doesn’t provide us with the right to autonomy and privacy, something absolutely should. Autonomy and privacy are not privileges to be afforded; rather, they are essential human needs, things which should be our undeniable right as citizens. And after thorough research on all accounts we strongly assert that should Roe vs. Wade be overturned, the repercussions would be devastating. This would be an immense setback to our growth as a society and is a cause worth fighting for.