Thursday, January 22, 2015

Time to Revisit Roe v Wade

Women's Rights issues will always be at the forefront of public policy debate in the U.S. In the State of the Union Address  Obama once again raised the issue of "equal pay for equal work" among the items on his desk for 2015.

The issue of pay equity will always be contentious, but nowhere near the level reached when the issue of abortion is raised. Abortion continues to be the issue that seems to define the scope of women's rights and the scope of autonomy for a woman in society. Yesterday was in fact the 42nd anniversary of the Roe decision, and Republicans tried " celebrating" the date by passing legislation that would permanently deny women the use of Federal funds for the procedure, and would make abortion illegal after the 20th week.

Instituting limits on when and if woman can receive the procedure strikes at the heart of the debate over government's ability to restrict what people can or can't do to their own bodies,  much like debates over assisted suicide, and even the right to restrict medical treatment to children  if it violates there religious tenets. The ability to bear children leads to debate over individual autonomy in a way that men can never fully appreciate. Society seems to have much less interest in men and what they decide to do with their body, so this debate becomes not just an issue of individualism but of equality as well.

The Roe v. Wade decision established a trimester system for determining the extent of a woman's control over her own body; as a fetus becomes closer to term, a woman's ability to terminate a pregnancy becomes more nuanced as the rights of the "unborn" arise. The trimester system has become the gospel and the law when debating abortion rights, with strict limits going in place after 24 weeks. It is now time to revisit that timetable.

As medical science, and our knowledge of what "happens" in the womb improves, the reality that a fetus can now exist outside the womb earlier than the third trimester has given rise to voices insisting that the trimester system is outdated. I share this concern, and although I agree with a woman's right to choose, I think it is time for the Supreme Court to once again venture into this debate and consider redefining the time at which a woman's complete right to end a pregnancy ends, and the right of the unborn to experience the dignity of birth becomes legitimate.

Having said this,  I would also like to add my thoughts to the debate of "when life begins," for as much as I believe we should reassess Roe v. Wade, it is also time that we lay to rest the belief that life begins at conception. This belief is at its core a religious one, with mainly Christians expressing this position. But it is a fact that by far the largest number of "lost pregnancies" occurs naturally, as the fertilized egg fails to attach to the uterine wall and is passed out by the woman. What this means for those that believe G-d is part of this "process of life," is that G-d is actually performing more abortions than any doctor ever would, because this failure of a fertilized egg to attach essentially means that these eggs, these lives, are aborted.

So let us have the debate on Roe, but let us also reexamine the argument that life begins at conception. Abortion is, and will always be the most contentious of women's rights issues, but if we are to have the debate, then all beliefs must be reexamined.

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