Beyond Abortion: Roe v. Wade and the Right to Privacy

January 22, 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wadedecision. All month, we’ll be running posts examining various aspects of this landmark ruling. If you’d like to contribute, let us know!

Today’s guest post is by Emily Martin, Vice-President and General Counsel, National Women’s Law Center; and Cortelyou Kenney, a Fellow at the Center.

What most people know about Roe v. Wade is that it is the landmark decision establishing a woman’s right to end a pregnancy. What is less well known is that the decision strengthened the legal foundation on which other protections are based as well. In Roe, the Supreme Court solidified the “right to privacy” as part of the liberty protections under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. This protection of liberty and privacy is responsible for certain fundamental guarantees—including the rights to obtain birth control and to procreate, to marry, to develop family relationships, to rear one’s children, and to create intimate relationships. While the concept of a constitutional “right to privacy” predates Roe, Roe is an important affirmation of and foundation for these rights—rights that could be threatened if it were overturned.

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When Wombs Speak Louder Than Words

Next week, anti-choice activists bring the latest assault on reproductive rights to Washington, D.C. On October  13, the “Voices from the Womb” tour will set up shop at the Capitol Visitor’s Center, offering both the public and members of Congress the chance to stop by and watch ultrasounds being performed on women in their first, second, or third trimester of pregnancy. The purpose of this  The purpose of this fetal theater is allegedly to show the truth about abortion. What is that truth, you ask? Oh, just that an ultrasound image is so powerful, it erases all doubt that life begins at conception, establishes the personhood and humanity of a fetus, thereby giving the fetus protection under the 14th Amendment, and calls the very legality of Roe v. Wade into question.

This isn’t exactly a new strategy, but it’s still worth taking a closer look at. In a nutshell, the 14th Amendment was established after the Civil War to give ex-slaves full rights; it establishes the citizenship of any person born or naturalized in the U.S., guarantees that U.S. citizens have procedural and substantive due process, and grants citizens equal protection of the laws. Arguably the most single important part of the Constitution, this amendment has been essential for safe-guarding individual rights.

If fetuses are established as people from the moment of conception, the anti-choice argument goes, then they are granted the same rights and protections as any other citizen, and the validity of Roe would be called into question. Of course, this push to grant fetuses equal personhood ignores the multitude of difficult legal and ethical issues that would also arise – in particular, in regards to stem cell research, in-vitro fertilization, and contraceptive use. While it’s no great surprise that such issues don’t seem to trouble anti-choicers, these considerations are just some of the reasons that stunts like Voices from the Womb should concern anyone that values their right to make their own decisions about birth control, to say nothing of their reproductive freedom.  [Read more...]