Think Roe v. Wade Is Safe? Think Again.

Those who aren’t old enough to remember how scary it was to be a woman in the pre-Roe United States are wont to take reproductive rights for granted. Legal abortion has long been seen as a guarantee to a younger generation; tales of coat hangers and back-alley operations are just nightmarish visions in history books.

But history repeats itself when we aren’t vigilant. The Supreme Court victory women heralded in 1973 could be in danger in the coming years. In the final push of this close presidential election, there has been a wide-reaching disinformation campaign to convince women voters that a president does not have the power to reverse Roe v. Wade; that the right is untouchable and unalienable, regardless of who is in the White House.

It’s important to understand this is a fallacy. A president can impact Roe v. Wade, not directly by fiat but by his or her judicial appointments.

Four of the nine Supreme Court justices are over age 70, so it’s very likely the next president will have the chance to appoint one or more replacements. If Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg retires–she’s the oldest member and has battled pancreatic cancer–the court would be losing a strong proponent of reproductive rights. If a conservative justice took her place, Roe v. Wade could be on the chopping block. Then, abortion rights would be thrown back to the states, where 30 of them are likely to ban abortion. The federal right women have enjoyed for 40 years would be snuffed out.

This War on Women is not political propaganda. It is not fear mongering. It is real and tangible. If what is past is prologue, the 1,100 state bills introduced in the past year to curb reproductive rights are only the start of moving women backwards. It can be difficult, especially for younger women like myself, to imagine what times were like before 1973; we have to remember that the world didn’t start when we were born. I try not to be a single-issue voter, but this issue does it for me. If anything pushes you to the polls on Tuesday, let it be this.

Photo courtesy of abynorml29 via Creative Commons 2.0


  1. I’s true President only has an effect on Roe indirectly, but I don’t think that it’s seriously at issue. Roberts has shown himself to not want to cause a political firestorm (regardless of whether he truly believes the decision is the correct Constitutional interpretation). I think that’s evident by his ACA vote. So I don’t think he’d vote to overrule, nor do I think Alito would either. Alito and Roberts both had opportunities to direclty contradict the essential holding of Roe in the federal Partial Birth Abortion law case. They didn’t. Thus, I think even looking at the “younger” justices (Kagan, Roberts, Alito, and Sotomayor), that’s four votes not to overturn. Roberts and Alito may vote to not to continuously extend those rights or other liberal cases, but I think that’s drastically different than voting to overturn Roe.

  2. I’m not sure “enjoyed” is the word I’d use when speaking in terms of abortion rights.

  3. Dianne Leonard says:

    I am 60 years old, and I remember the years pre-Roe. From June 1972 to September 1973, I worked as a clerk in a doctors’ office. Just up the block (this was in probably the most liberal city in the U.S., Berkeley, California) there was a hospital. In that hospital, as in all hospitals in those days, there was a ward for women who were suffering, and dying, from the effects of septic abortions. This was even though California had one of the most liberal abortion laws in the country. Pre-Roe, the leading cause of death for women of childbearing age was complications of septic abortions. Some of those women were dying at the hospital just up the block from the office where I worked. One of my jobs was to move files from the “active” section to the “deceased” section. Over and over, these files were of women who had died in that ward. By early February 1973, the hospital began to close down that ward, and the only files I remember moving for the last 7 or 8 months I worked there were of elderly people, not of young mothers, students, and teenagers. I don’t want those days to return. I don’t want another 20-year-old clerk to see the carnage I did as I moved those files. I will never forget those women who died just a few doors away from my office.

    • Thank you for sharing your story, which is the story of many women, I think. We younger women need to hear these truths, and own them, lest we forget that our rights as women should not be taken for granted.

  4. By choosing to have sex, as an adult woman, you are clearly aware of the risk of pregnancy. To end a life in an abortion isn’t right. Sorry, but I only agree with it in times of rape or if the mother’s life is at risk.

    • Dark pixie says:

      You cannot agree with a right to abortion only when it confirms when you think it’s right – either women have the right to abortion or they don’t. To say they have the right to abortion only in certain circumstances is misogynist as you it someone else is taking control not only of her reproductive organs but also of her moral and subjective experience of her world, spirituality, sexuality and sense of purpose.

  5. “By choosing to have sex, as an adult woman, you are clearly aware of the risk of pregnancy. To end a life in an abortion isn’t right. Sorry, but I only agree with it in times of rape or if the mother’s life is at risk. ” – Lindsay (11/3/2012)

    This kind of ideology, that it “isn’t right” for a woman to end a pregnancy for her own reasons, is exactly why the Roe v. Wade decision is so important for women. It gives each woman, as an individual, the right to decide for herself whether or not to continue carrying a pregnancy to term. I think that’s why the case was argued so strongly in the first place, and it would be a tragedy for all women if that right was taken away.

    Whether others agree with abortion or not isn’t relevant, in my opinion anyway. Those who feel abortion “isn’t right” should not be allowed to interfere with a woman’s private medical decisions, whatever they may be.

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