I am thinking about equality, especially for women in the “Equality State,” and how many must feel after the Supreme Court’s recent ruling stripping women of constitutional protections to control their reproductive health. The ruling does not jive with my take on equality and freedom for all. Nor does it jive with my life experience, having grown up among and worked with men and women who, usually for professional reasons, chose to have children later in life. To me, these words, “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union” and these words “promote the general welfare,” and these words, “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” protect women’s reproductive rights, including whether to terminate a pregnancy.
I don’t deny that those very same clauses also protect rights of a viable fetus. Yet for over five decades a tenuous balance protected both the rights of a mother and the rights of a fetus, granting an adult woman the right to protect her health and welfare up to a point when the rights of the fetus prevail. Granted, there is no bright line when that happens. But the Supreme Court could have carved out ground leaving the decision about whether to have an abortion during some period of a pregnancy, up to a woman and her closest family, friends, religious leaders and trained medical advisors. Instead we are left with a draconian interpretation of the constitution that essentially applies rights more strongly to men, who will never face the excruciating decision about whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, because the right to an abortion is not “deeply rooted in [our] history and tradition.”
We are now left with a political and legal morass that strips women in many states of their right to make choices about their health and well-being and puts health care professionals who provide care for pregnant women at legal risk. And if anyone wonders how that’s going to go, one glance at the map showing precinct level results in 2018 makes it clear—the bulk of the nation’s geographic area leans Republican, and the Republican Party has evolved to become almost monolithically opposed to abortion and by extension to male and female health equality. The structure of our electoral system, the structure of the senate, and gerrymandering shift laws and policies right of center, sometimes far right of center, across most of the nation, meaning a minority demographic would impose the will of the state on a women’s freedom to health throughout much of the nation, including Wyoming.
I have read comments such as this one in a retort to a blog post by Andrew Sullivan defending abortion as “a subject for democratic deliberation:” “No mention of the 63 million babies who were murdered in the last 49 years, but oh how well you stand up for women and their right to have as many one-night stands as they want without consequences, guilt, or their morality even being questioned.” This type of comment ignores the spectrum of pregnancies that range from intentional with all the hopes and dreams of carrying a fetus to term and raising a child to completely unwanted pregnancies due to rape or other circumstance out of a woman’s control. Granting the State the power to mandate that every pregnancy along that spectrum must be carried to term feels Orwellian. After all, we’ve moved away from the notion that the state should have the power to even require a vaccination during a global pandemic. Granting the State the power to dictate that a woman will bear a child, especially any and anyone’s child, while restraining it from mandating basic health precautions in my mind just doesn’t jive.
The Constitution at its core is empathic towards the individual. Striving for a more perfect union in 2022 can only mean that equality applies to all, men and women of all races and ethnic backgrounds. We shouldn’t stop striving to ensure that all men and women may equally participate in society and, importantly, the democratic process. The constitution, its authors, and those who amended it, sought to firmly establish equality among all citizens capable at the time of participating in the democratic process (“all men are created equal.”) We fundamentally understand that concept now to include men and women equally, of any race or creed. In its most minimal interpretation, it refers to all able to vote, or all qualified electors. It’s unfathomable to think that, if we wrote the same constitution today, we in any way would not apply the rights it enumerates equally to all men and women, including equal protections of health and reproductive rights. In this country, a woman, with her partner, her loved ones, her priest or minister, and her doctor, should have the final say over her own health for at least the early period of a pregnancy.