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Conscience. 1998 Winter;18(4):16-7.

Roe v. Wade. Revisiting the fundamentals.



The Roe vs. Wade ruling of the US Supreme Court recognized that the women could only participate freely and equally in society if they have the right to make autonomous decisions about pregnancy. Roe also impelled governmental neutrality in the abortion decision until the point of fetal viability. Since the 1973 decision, an entire generation of young women has grown up taking abortion rights for granted. During this period, however, abortion laws have become more restrictive because the anti-abortion lobby began to target vulnerable young and low-income women. In 1980, the Supreme Court upheld laws restricting Medicaid funding, allowing states to favor childbirth over abortion, and allowing states to mandate parental involvement in the abortion decision of a minor. By 1992, with the addition of two new anti-abortion judges, the court used the decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania vs. Casey to strip Roe of its requirement of governmental neutrality. By allowing Pennsylvania to force women seeking abortion to listen to a state-scripted anti-abortion lecture and face a 24-hour delay, the court sent the message that states have the right to try to dissuade women from abortion. In addition, legislation to ban "partial birth abortions" have been based on the blatant untruth that healthy women are aborting healthy fetuses late in pregnancy. Many of these bans have been successfully challenged in court, but the legal cost includes new credence given to the idea that states should increase the regulation of previability abortion. This dangerous shift imperils women's health, limits their choices, and elevates the status of nonviable fetuses. The pro-choice movement should redirect priorities back to the values underlying the historic Roe decision by emphasizing that women are capable of making moral decisions about their pregnancies and have the right to full constitutional protection to do so.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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