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Roe v. Wade still the right decision 40 years later

Staff Columnist

Published: Friday, February 1, 2013

Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 16:08

Roe vs. Wade, the still-controversial Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal nation wide, turned 40 just over a week ago. Many people from each side found it an occasion to raise their voices, and I’d like to add mine. I want to affirm that the decision made 40 years ago was the right one. Abortion should be legal in this country, no matter what argument is brought against it.

I’m aware that this is a contentious issue, and there are strong feelings on both sides and strong arguments as well. Whether or not abortion is morally right is an extremely difficult question, and I don’t think we’ll come to a peaceful agreement on it any time soon. But those who say that the Supreme Court’s ruling in 1973 was unconstitutional and on those grounds should be overturned are not only wrong, they’re missing the point.

There have been innumerable challenges to Roe v Wade over the years, but the one I’m going to address here is that it violates the 10th amendment by setting federal rules about something that is not addressed directly in the Constitution. If you want to overturn Roe vs. Wade on the basis that it’s unconstitutional, then you will also be obligated to undo, overturn, dismantle or end an enormous number of laws, rulings and policies that enjoy the support of large majorities of the population and have become integral parts of the way we run this country. The Departments of Education, Labor, Commerce, Homeland Security, Energy, Health and Transportation, among others, are technically unconstitutional. The FBI, interstate highways and most of the policies that were enacted under the New Deal could be in a grey area. While there are certainly people who oppose many of these laws, the public has, for the most part, embraced them. The 10th amendment in this particular interpretation doesn’t seem to apply to much that is done on the federal level, why should it apply solely to abortion?
The legality of abortions also wasn’t pulled out of thin air to accommodate changing attitudes, as some opponents might lead you to believe. The decision was based on the 14th amendment, which guarantees that no citizen will be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Since that amendment was adopted in 1868, the due process clause has been cited numerous times to guarantee privacy, which is not explicitly stated under the constitution. It is considered to extend or derive from existing rights established by the 1st, 4th and 9th amendments. Under the Supreme Court’s interpretation, the right to privacy prevents the government from interfering in a woman’s pregnancy.

Due process of law and privacy as interpreted under Roe vs. Wade have been cited in cases for over 100 years. While the ruling may not be in line with a very traditional interpretation of the constitution, this country has established a precedent of governance that Roe vs. Wade absolutely does follow. Just as social security and medicare exist for the betterment of the county, legal abortion exists because it’s the best thing for us overall. If it were deferred to the states, a number of them would ban abortion. This would create problems including excessive demand in states where it was legal, which would affect the quality of care and leave illegal and unlicensed clinics to poorly and dangerously fill the gaps left in the absence of legitimate care. There’s a practical reason abortion needs to be legal nationwide.

The practical good that legislation may enact should trump arbitrary ideological boundaries. I’m aware this is a very dangerous policy to operate under, but I believe in the ability of this country to make reasoned judgments about how we interpret the rules. I don’t believe that anything, including state’s rights, should come before the right of every citizen in this country to privacy and basic individual liberty.

Furthermore, this is the judgment that the US Supreme Court has made. For those who say that legal abortion doesn’t “play by the rules,” consider that the referees in this game, some of the best legal minds in the country, ruled that it does. We have the Supreme Court because we acknowledge that there can be multiple interpretations of our highest laws, and we’ve given them the power to decide which interpretations we will use. The court has stuck by the decision it made.

There have been nearly constant challenges to Roe vs. Wade over the past 40 years, and none of them have managed to overturn the ruling. I believe, and I think American history confirms that the Constitution fosters this kind of debate. Even if I don’t think the other side is right, I’m glad that the country does have the opportunity to constantly reassess its values the way it does, or at least tries to. We’ve made countless decisions that the founding fathers might not have been on board with. But they don’t run the country anymore. I believe that it’s up to the current generation to set the course for the United States. 

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