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The 37th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade: Reflections on the "Right to Privacy" and What the U.S. Supreme Court Can Learn from International Human Rights Law

Posted by Jenifer Rajkumar, Fellow | Posted on: January 22, 2010 at 07:55 pm

by Jenifer Rajkumar, Fellow,
National Women's Law Center

On this 37th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade, with health care reform uncertain, it is a wonderful time to leave Congress and the Executive behind for awhile, and turn hopefully to another branch of government—the Judiciary.

The story of the Roe v. Wade case is legendary and uplifting. In 1972, a young 26-year-old lawyer named Sarah Weddington went to the Supreme Court to challenge a Texas law criminalizing abortion. Justice Blackmun, who had thought of the abortion issue on a personal level through his conversations with his daughter penned the opinion establishing women’s abortion right. 

Weddington tried pleading the case on many grounds — including Fourteenth Amendment equal protection and the 9th Amendment, but in the end what she got was a decision upholding a woman's right to an abortion based on the 14th Amendment's "right to privacy". 

I would like to suggest that in order to fully secure women's abortion right, the U.S. Supreme Court should re-formulate the "right to privacy" it established in Roe, taking a cue from international human rights law. 

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Paying Tribute to Roe vs Wade Warriors: Reproductive Health is a Human Right

Posted by Grace Lesser, Program Assistant | Posted on: January 22, 2010 at 07:10 pm

by Grace Lesser, Program Assistant,
National Women's Law Center

Some things seem clear this week. Others, more murky. I am shocked as my fellow Massachusetts natives vote against a virulently pro-choice candidate for Senate. I wonder how in the world we will be able to reform our health care system now. My mood vacillates among depressiveness, frustration, confusion and muted optimism. And then in light of the 37th Anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, I stop for a moment. I remember the reason that we are doing this in the first place. I am reminded that we are working for health care reform, we are fighting on behalf of women’s needs, and we are standing up for abortion coverage because of a shared core belief. This core belief is in the essential human right to health. And this human right includes reproductive health.

Above the politics, beyond the games, past the shortcomings in any legislative agenda, I realize the reality that it is our family, our friends, and our neighbors who are affected by the work we do. It is the families who fight through gory pictures of fetuses to get into women’s clinics across the country who deserve more privacy and support. It is the women in the Wilmington, Delaware Planned Parenthood who will now have the relief from aggressive assaults on their personal choices.

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Women Behind Bars: Most Vulnerable to Attacks on Sexual and Reproductive Justice

Posted by Micole Allekotte, Fellow | Posted on: January 22, 2010 at 06:25 pm

by Micole Allekotte, Health Fellow
National Women's Law Center

Women’s ability to make our own choices regarding sex and pregnancy should be respected as central components of both equality and human rights. Incarcerated women, like all women, are entitled to protect their bodies from unwanted sexual contact, to end pregnancies they do not want to continue, and to prenatal care if they choose to carry a pregnancy to term. Unfortunately, incarcerated women are routinely denied the ability to refuse sexual contact and to control their reproductive organs. 

The Eighth amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. This amendment also gives rise to the right of prisoners to health care. When the State deprives a person of the ability to access healthcare on her own, the State becomes obligated to provide healthcare so that unnecessary medical suffering is not added to the sentence. However, incarcerated women are denied these human and constitutional rights on a regular basis.

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Roe v. Wade – What’s in a Name?

Posted by NWLC Intern, Intern | Posted on: January 22, 2010 at 05:40 pm

By Lauren Robbins, Intern for Health and Reproductive Rights
National Women’s Law Center

This past Halloween I saw a woman on the street carrying what looked like an oversized paddle and rowing her way down 14th Street, sans boat and, for that matter, water. She wore bright pink rain boots and a little black dress. I could see a toy doll’s glassy eyes staring out at me from over the edge of her purse. It took me a second but then it came to me:  she was Roe v. Wade. At first I laughed at the cleverness of the concept. After all, I like a pun as much as the next girl. But something about the woman’s costume struck an off-chord with me. 

The case name Roe v. Wade is so familiar today that it seems to have almost eclipsed the briefs, the oral arguments, and in some ways, even the Supreme Court opinion itself. It has taken on a life of its own.  Say it out loud:  Roe v. Wade. It’s almost one word. I sometimes wonder whether, as part of our national lexicon, it has become more a symbol of a movement than what it started out as: a suit brought by a pregnant woman in Texas who believed that her state’s criminal abortion statutes violated the U.S. Constitution. 

I celebrate Roe today and every day for how it changed - and continues to change – lives. I also celebrate the decision on the broader level for what it has done for women’s equality and our system of justice. For better or for worse, the case has become a symbol of reproductive freedom. Thirty-seven years might have had its wear and tear on the much-debated decision, but it is still standing. This feat deserves all the pro-choice pins, stickers, and posters in the world. 

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Too Early For a Lesson? Health Care Reform and the Right to Abortion

Posted by Bethany Sousa, Senior Counsel | Posted on: January 22, 2010 at 04:55 pm

By Bethany Sousa, Senior Counsel,
National Women’s Law Center

Since Tuesday night, all anyone can do is talk about the fate of health care reform. Will it happen? If it does pass, what will it look like? While these are important questions, let’s not let our devotion to health care reform allow us to forget about today’s date, January 22nd, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

You might wonder, should I care? Is this date worthy of forgetting about health care reform, even for a minute? Luckily, we don’t have to choose, since abortion rights have played a starring role in the health care debate since the beginning.

For those of us working on abortion coverage in health care reform, the past few months have produced a stomach-churning ride over a predictably bumpy road. Restrictions on abortion coverage, as many know, were inserted into both the House and Senate bills. Almost as troubling, the debate over abortion coverage has meant watching our administration, some of our congressmen and women, and members of the public discuss our nation’s supposed aversion to public funding for abortion. 

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The Onion’s Abortion Satire Brings Tears to The Eyes

Posted by Julia Kaye, Former Health Policy Associate | Posted on: January 22, 2010 at 04:10 pm

by Julia Kaye, Health Policy Associate, 
National Women's Law Center 

You know when a comedian presents a social commentary so fantastically apt that you turn, head shaking, eyes tearing with laughter, to the person beside you to heartily exclaim, “That’s soooo true!”? 

What about when a comedic website presents a social commentary so scarily plausible that you turn, head shaking, eyes tearing with frustration and anger, to the person beside you to bitterly observe, "That’s practically true"?

Last week, the headlines on The Onion News Network announced: "New Law Requires Women to Name Baby, Paint Nursery Before Getting Abortion." Commenting on the new law, one Onion analyst agreed, "It's just common sense that viewing an ultrasound image of a fetus and then painting a nursery either pink or blue helps give women the information they need to make sure they’re making the right decision!"

If only it were just a joke.

As we wrote about back in October, two new laws relating to abortion in Oklahoma are now being challenged in the courts. One would require women seeking an abortion to fill out a lengthy and invasive questionnaire about her reasons for seeking the procedure (as well as her marital status, education level, and more); the other would require the physician to conduct a sonogram of the pregnancy before performing the abortion and to describe the fetus in detail. This law would also mandate the use of a vaginal transducer (a probe for the ultrasound that’s inserted in the vagina) for certain women, if it would provide the clearest image. 

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