Happy Birthday Roe

Forty years ago today, the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade. American women of child bearing age today have never known a time when abortion was illegal. Jill from Feministe.com wrote a good piece in the Guardian about it. In the comments, someone accuses the pro-choice crowd of avoiding “the really difficult questions such as : when does life begin?”

No, we don’t. It’s really quite simple. Life begins at birth. Pregnant women don’t get a deduction on their tax returns, can’t drive in the carpool lane alone, and they can’t eat for free at restaurants saying “kids eat free.” Fetal homicide laws are in place because the laws as they were didn’t recognize the termination of a pregnancy (even by violent means) as a homicide. Our society does not recognize life as beginning before a birthday.

The case of Roe v. Wade was argued before the Court on December 13, 1971 and October 11, 1972. At some point before then, the case began in the Court with a petition for certiorari. And even before that there were issues before the trial court and appellate court. We don’t recognize the day Norma McCorvey filed suit as the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. We recognize today.

Just as the Court mulled over the issues for over a year, so must an egg and a sperm grow in the uterus to become life. At the risk of sounding all over the top or like Sarah Connor from the second Terminator movie ranting about how men like Miles Dyson only know how to destroy and don’t know what it means to create, life is not made when the sperm deposits in the uterus–the woman* creates it. Pretending it doesn’t happen the way it does means that society just lets literally countless children die because they failed to make it to term for some unknown reason. As pointed out in Jill’s piece, if some disease were killing that many born people, we’d want to know why.

So happy birthday, Roe! And thanks!

*Please, I hope no one views this post as anti-trans. I’m not sure what term to use that succinctly describe a person with a uterus.

About emmawolf

I'm a freelance writer living in Baltimore with my husband, son, and two cats. I'm working on editing my first novel. I love reading, traveling, and the cello.
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7 Responses to Happy Birthday Roe

  1. Muriel says:

    So, do you personally think that birth is what should make the difference between a human being with all rights that come with that status, and an object without any rights at all?
    Because, while I’m in favour of a woman’s right to choose, that always struck me as an unjustifiable distinction.

    • emmawolf says:

      Humans aren’t the only things with rights. Animals have rights. Corporations have rights. I’m sure there are other non-humans that have rights that I just can’t think of now.

      I can’t think of any other reasonable and non-arbitrary line to divide between legal and illegal abortions.

      • Muriel says:

        I did not mean to imply that only human beings have rights. I just meant to ask if you would really like to draw a strict line that say: This child over here that has just been born a second ago is a complete person, and if you kill it, you go to jail, and his twin there that would have been born a minute later has no rights at all yet, and if you kill it, it’s nothing.
        I would call that a pretty arbitrary distinction. What has changed in the child in the process of birth that has made it from an object into a person? Nothing.
        To make a meaningful and a reasonable distinction, I think we need to understand why we grant rights to certain things, and none to others, and decide which of those apply to whom, and I think “It is no longer within a womb” is not one of those reasons.
        I think (This is, of course, the abbreviated version.) we grant rights to beings because we understand that we’re all in this together, and that we cannot ignore the needs and interest of other beings because we do not want our own needs and interests to be disregarded, so we try to make rules that accommodate all those needs and interests as fairly as possible. And from there, morality.
        So we do not grant any rights to things that have no needs or interests (like rocks and doors and clumps of cells or dead persons), and some rights to things with limited needs and interests (like animals, although I readily agree that this is a difficult idea, and that we are not even close to handling this part reasonably) and full rights to things with needs and interests akin to our own, like human beings and hypothetical aliens or artificial intelligences.
        I hope you don’t feel I’m pestering you. I know this is a rather long-winded comment, but I thought it would be a good idea to explain my own position on the matter if I’m going to criticise yours.

        • emmawolf says:

          It seems to me that there are two questions: legally when should we assign a group of cells rights? And morally when should we assign a group of cells rights?

          While I might not think it’s moral to abort a fetus that has been gestating for 9+ months, I think that it should be legal. Because life is messy. Laws need to be fair and practical. I think it’s not right to force a woman to give birth to a child that will die once it’s no longer inside her (late term abortions are rarely because the woman just changed her mind. There is usually a sound medical reason for them). I think it is too much of a government intrusion to require the woman or doctor to prove that she would die or the fetus would die if the fetus was carried to term and delivered or to have the woman or doctor face some sort of legal challenge if they are unable to so prove after the fact. So I think the only non-arbitrary and reasonable line (from a legal standpoint) to draw that protects these women is birth. I believe that the rights of all involved (including the fetus, assuming it has rights. Because the woman still has to find a doctor to perform the abortion, and [from my understanding] even Dr. Tiller wouldn’t do a late term abortion unless there was a medical reason) can be better protected by the individuals and their health care providers than law makers.

          Law and morality don’t always go hand in hand.

          • Muriel says:

            I completely agree with your last sentense, of course, and I understand your line of reasoning in that way, although I do not agree that the line you’re drawing is not arbitrary because I do not agree with your reasons to draw it there at all.
            For example, I do not agree that granting rights to the fetus would require the mother to prove that she would die if the fetus was carried to term because we do not recognize a person’s right to the use of another person’s organs, and we do not require people to lend their own bodies to support others. If a pregnant woman decides to withdraw her support for the child, there is no crime in my book, and I do not think that this is only because I’m a libertarian nutcase, although it sometimes gets hard to tell, because in this case, our legal system agrees with me, and yours as well, if I’m not mistaken.
            Now you might say, wait a minute, wouldn’t that mean that you couldn’t force a mother to care for her child after birth, either? And I’d have to say that, yes, you are completely right, and I don’t think it should be otherwise.

        • emmawolf says:

          So, how would a woman be able to stop a fetus from using her organs without an abortion? I think I’m a little confused.

          • Muriel says:

            My fault. I tend to get a little confusing, ahem, sometimes.
            That’s my point. She can’t.
            That’s why I think there’s no great practical problem with not having a clear legal distinction between an unborn child, and one after birth. Abortion should be legal anyway, because it’s her choice.

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