Roe v Wade
What impact has Roe v Wade had on American Society?
Roe vs. Wade has proved over time to be the most devisive Supreme Court ruling of all time. Before 1973, abortion was illegal in all states because it was considered a crime by the federal government; individual states had no power to alter this ruling in any way. However, in 1973, the tides changed drastically. When one woman refused to accept the status quo, the Court decided that women's rights under the he Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution including their right to an abortion. This decision caused controvery to sweep the nation. Adding to this heated debate, the Court said that the right to have an abortion had to be balanced against the state's two legitimate interests for regulating abortions, protecting prenatal life and protecting the woman's health. Saying that these state interests become stronger over the course of a pregnancy, the Court advised states to construct their own constitutions on the subject of abortion with much forthought to the age of the fetus and the health of the mother. These guidelines left much for interpretation and thus much room for debate which is often heated given the passionate feelings that most people have about this subject. Thus arose the prolife and the prochoice movements. Over the past four decades, these conflicting beliefs about when life truly begins and whether or not abortion is murder have devided the nation politically, emotionally and spiritually.
One indirect effect that is profound in the extreme is that the backlash against Roe, engendered by religious detractors of abortion, has influenced lower class teens who are poorly educated to go through with pregnancies and even seek pregnancies they are ill-equipped to honor as mothers and equally ill-equipped to afford as they cite "Right to Life" platitudes that they ill-understand. If this is doubted, a ride on any large city bus that picks up these teenage mothers with poorly fed, poorly groomed, unwanted and unloved infants, toddlers, and children will prove the point as they openly discuss these issues, feelings, and ideas among themselves, sometimes in the most surprising and direct terms.
It has also enshrined (or, more accurately, strengthened) the idea that the Bill of Rights protects privacy. I completely agree with those who have pointed out that it only gave constitutional sanction to an activity that was already occurring. There is evidence of abortions occurring by a variety of methods throughout human history, and Roe in essence mandated a degree of constitutional protection for the practice in the US, thus removing it from the more dangerous black market sphere and to professional medicine. As for its political impact, reproductive rights in general are major flashpoints in our society, as even debates over stem cell research have demonstrated.
This important court decision has had massive political ramifications in terms of the way in which abortion has been seized upon as a massive issue by the religious right and the Republicans. It has now become a defining issue that seems to split America along party lines, as it is almost assumed that if you are in favour of abortion you must be a Democrat and if you are against you are a Republican.
In accord with Post #2 Roe v. Wade has become a greater political tool that one would ever have imagined, and has, absolutely, fostered the Religious Right that believes in legislating morality. Incidentally, there are more abortions per capita in Italy, a Catholic country which forbids abortion, than in any other country. So, perhaps, the ruling of the Supreme Court may have had little effect other than taking abortions out of the back alleyways and creating a new political forum.
I think we have to be realistic and understand that Roe vs. Wade only made abortions legal; it did not open a flood gate. Abortions were already happening, often under dangerous and unsanitary conditions as Post #4 indicates. I also am no fan of abortion; however there are times when we must deal with reality, not ideals. Roe vs. Wade simply stated that a woman had a right to the privacy of her body and terminate a pregnancy within that body if she so chooses, within certain limitations; it did not encourage abortions, nor did it bless them. It is hard to quantify the number of lives that have been saved by taking abortions out of the alleys and backrooms into the light of sanitation and hygiene.
It has saved countless lives. Sorry, but the adult woman's life is far more important than the fetus. Now, I'm not a fan of abortion, but I also think it's none of my business. Before the legalization of abortion, women would go to doctors who provided them in secret, often in non-sterile environments, and without the proper attention from nurses and other medical workers. Many, many women died of infection, blood loss, botched surgery, or just incorrect knowledge from the doctor. They were even provided by people with no medical knowledge at all -- remember the infamous image of the coat-hanger in the alley. Women who want abortions are going to get them, and I'd rather they be provided safely and legally rather than secretly and dangerously.
(Just food for thought; in Jewish law, if a woman has complications in pregnancy or delivery, the attending doctors are obligated to save the woman first, even if that means letting the baby die.)
It has taken abortions out of the dark alleys and back rooms where they used to be performed illegally, and allowed them in safe clinics with licensed doctors and antiseptic conditions. It has restored privacy to at least some medical choices that individuals make in the United States, and maintained separation of church and state in that one particular religious morality was not imposed on the entire population.
Roe v. Wade also gave a woman the right to make her own personal decision about whether or not to abort her unborn child, eliminating the right of states to declare her action illegal. The "viability" issue was included in the decision, making it unlawful to abort a child after a certain period (24 to 28 weeks), but it still leaves the option up to the individual--not to bureaucratic standards that differed in various states.
To me, the biggest impact it's had (other than, if you see it this way, on the lives of the fetuses aborted) on American society is that it has changed our politics in a big way. This decision was a major factor in making the "culture wars" part of the American political scene. If it were not for abortion, it is highly unlikely that the Religious Right would have emerged as an important player in electoral politics. Because of Roe, the Religious Right did emerge and has become a huge player in the Republican Party as we can see in the things that GOP candidates say when they are campaigning in Iowa where the caucuses are dominated by evangelical "values voters."