In 1972, I was in Ron Boutwell’s speech class at Southwest Baptist College. I began my persuasive speech with the following: “In 1963 Mrs. Finkbine became pregnant.”
My topic was, “Why the United States should legalize abortion.” I recounted the story of a married woman, who became pregnant, and had taken the drug Thalidomide. This drug had been promoted as a treatment for morning sickness.
Not long afterward, there were widespread reports that Thalidomide caused severe birth defects. Like other women who were confronted with this news, Mrs. Finkbine, who did not want to bring a severely deformed child into the world, sought an abortion, but could not obtain one legally in the state where she lived.
I went on to make the case for legalized abortion. I did not realize abortion would become one of the most hotly debated issues of our time. I simply thought it was an interesting topic; it seemed to me that women who wanted to end a pregnancy should have access to legal abortions. Other students seemly did not know this was a controversial topic. No one applauded my speech, but neither were there boos or critical remarks. It was apparently viewed as one more boring speech from a fellow classmate. I received a grade of A. I am not sure that a student at Southwest or any Southern Baptist college today could give that speech.
In May, I graduated and that fall went on to graduate school. In 1973, I was taking “Philosophical Research.” The idea was to pose a question, one that could not be answered from empirical research. Students gathered information on both sides of the question, presented the arguments, and drew a conclusion based on the weight of the evidence.
I had found the work I had done for the undergrad abortion speech quite interesting, so I used the assignment in philosophical research as an opportunity to dig deeper on this topic. Not long before my paper/presentation was due, the Supreme Court rendered its decision in Roe v. Wade. My first thought was, “Well, they have certainly ruined my paper,” followed closely by, “This settles the issue. Abortion is legal; no more controversy.”
I was wrong on both counts. The paper I submitted and the presentation I gave went well; a grade of A on both. The Roe v. Wade decision also generated interest in my paper and a positive response among other students in class. Far from eliminating controversy, however, that decision galvanized anti-abortion activists.
In Roe v. Wade, Justice Blackman, indicated “The Constitution does not explicitly mention any right of privacy.” He noted, however, the Court has repeatedly “recognized that a right to personal privacy… does exist under the Constitution.” These decisions also make it clear that this right “has some extension to activities related to marriage, …procreation, …contraception, … and child rearing…’ He stated, “We (the Court) therefore conclude that the right of personal privacy includes the abortion decision.”
The 1989 Webster v. Reproductive Health Care decision confirmed states could regulate abortion care. In the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision the Court upheld the constitutional right to have an abortion, but changed the trimester framework of Roe to a viability analysis. Since then, nearly 50 years of precedent has confirmed the Constitutional right of women to choose to have an abortion.
In their confirmation hearings, the three recently confirmed Supreme Court Justices, nominated by then President Trump, were asked about abortion and respect for precedent. By their sworn testimony, one was led to believe the Constitutional right to an abortion was secure. For example, during confirmation hearings, Justice Kavanaugh indicated Roe v. Wade was settled law, stating it was an important precedent that has been reaffirmed many times over the past 45 years. In his confirmation hearings Justice Gorsuch acknowledged Roe v Wade “is a precedent of the United States Supreme Court” and stated “It has been reaffirmed many times….” Justice Comey-Barrett said Roe was not a super-precedent “…But that doesn’t mean that Roe should be overruled….”
Based on precedent and what these justices said in their confirmation hearings, it might have seemed reasonable to wager these justices would uphold Roe v Wade. That obviously did not happen. By a 6-3 vote the Court upheld a Mississippi law that outlawed abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The Court also took an additional giant step, and by a 5-4 vote, overturned Roe v Wade, with all three of the Trump nominees voting in the majority.
Since the Court’s decision, at least 13 states have implemented restrictive abortion bans, with other states set to follow. Texas has one of the most restrictive bans on abortions. It bans all abortions; not after so many weeks of pregnancy, but all abortions. The exceptions; to save the woman’s life or to avoid a “serious risk of substantial impairment of a major bodily function.” Removal of “a dead unborn child whose death was caused by spontaneous abortion” or removal of an ectopic pregnancy are also allowed. What about a 10-year-old girl, pregnant by her step-father or other relative? No exception for her. Even though there is a provision to save the life of the woman, make no mistake, women and girls will die.
Some people may believe this is pro-life legislation. It is not. It is Republican forced birth legislation. Instead of allowing women and their physicians to make abortion decisions, our Republican, mostly male legislators, and our male Republican Governor have made the decision for them. This is simple. If you think women should have no voice in a decision to have an abortion or carry a pregnancy to term, then vote for Republicans. If you think women should have a voice, to make decisions about their own health, to have some measure of control over their own bodies, then vote for Democrats. Also, let the candidates for whom you vote know you expect them to promote legislation that will undo the most restrictive abortion ban in the country.
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Rio Grande Valley resident Michael Young. Young received his Ph.D. from Texas A&M in Health Education. He served more than 40 years at the university level as a faculty member and administrator (research dean) before retiring from university employment in 2015. Much his work has been in adolescent health, including adolescent sexuality, sexuality education, and drug education. He is a co-author of award-winning curricula, including the Sex Can Wait curriculum series and the Keep A Clear Mind drug education program. Young currently serves as the CEO of the Center for Evidence-Based Programming. He and his wife Carol live on South Padre Island. Young can be reached by email via: [email protected].
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