Supreme Court Abortion

Abortion right activists protest outside the Supreme Court in Washington on June 25. Columnist Ruth Bass writes that the Supreme Court has put a heavy thumb on women's rights, and that the decision over abortion should be left to the individual, and not be barred by the government.

It doesn’t matter to me when a woman somewhere in the United States decides she’s going to have a baby.

It does matter to me that she thinks it’s any of her business whether I’m having a baby. It does matter to me when five men and a woman decide that I must have that baby. And I don’t quite understand why that woman deciding to have her baby should have a say over my life.

It matters to me when those five men and a woman, looking so exalted in their black robes, decide that I’m going to have a baby even if I die doing it. It matters that they think it’s fine and dandy for me to get raped — either in a dark forest or at home in bed — and then carry that fetus to term.

It matters to me that they think a woman will be psychologically OK after she’s done the work — and believe me, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh and Roberts and Thomas and Alito, it’s work — of a nine-month pregnancy and then will bring up a child that daily, perhaps forever, is a reminder of the violence, fear, shame and revulsion of that rape experience and the creep who authored it. It’s PTSD, like war — posttraumatic stress disorder. Or that she’ll be psychologically undamaged when she signs that baby away to strangers.

It also matters to me — and is offensive — when the opponents of the pro-choice view label us as “pro-abortion.” We are not pro-abortion, we don’t think it’s a great thing, we just want the choice to be ours. It’s body autonomy, a major decision to be made medically and personally. Without constitutional discussion, it would appear that men have autonomy over their bodies, can decide whether to have a vasectomy, for instance, with no interference from the Supreme Court. Justice Clarence Thomas, confirmed to the Court despite being accused of sexual harassment, now has his eye on other rights, like contraception and same-sex marriage. Perhaps he’ll propose that women not take pills to end a pregnancy and not be allowed to “have their tubes tied.”

Five of those Supreme Court justices, one of them female, grabbed a case from Mississippi and expanded it beyond its intrinsic limits, deciding to devour the whole cake instead of the usual slice. And Roe v. Wade was gone. Women’s rights to an abortion would now be defined by their zip code. For thousands, that would either limit their choices or deny any choice. Fifty years of women’s right to autonomy over their bodies was gone, with the chief justice somehow dodging the issue and writing that he didn’t want to overturn Roe. But he voted with his pals.

Pregnancy is far less simple than the Court has made it this year. If all medical abortions are outlawed by states, that would cover fetuses that die in the uterus and must be carried to term, it would include ectopic pregnancies (possibly fatal to the mother, usually to the fetus as well), conception by rape or incest, and fetuses that amniocentesis has indicated cannot survive.

My sister, before science could reveal that a baby could not survive more than a few days, carried that baby to term. For most of us, coming out of anesthesia in the delivery room and meeting that skinny, slimy baby for the first time was an unbelievable high. My sister’s joy evaporated almost instantly when she saw a baby that obviously had any number of things physically wrong with him. She rarely talked about that, but she never got over it. He lived maybe three days. Science and a choice would have been less devastating to all.

With my first pregnancy, I had a devoutly Catholic obstetrician, and someone darkly cautioned me that it was a mistake, that I must get a different doctor. If there’s a problem, she said, he’ll let you die and save the baby to make sure it’s baptized. At my next visit, very hesitantly, I presented that information to my doctor. He snorted and said it wasn’t so, that I was the patient, and he wasn’t going to sacrifice me — and besides, he said with confidence, he didn’t plan on losing either of us. I didn’t change doctors.

The decision to dump Roe v. Wade as a constitutional right and leave the question of abortion or choice to the states may have opened several cartons of Pandora’s possessions. States are talking about criminal charges for doctors and for patients who cross a state line to get an abortion. Some extremists want to question women who have a miscarriage to see if it was an abortion in disguise. How insensitive can anyone get?

Abortions are still legal in Massachusetts, and our Republican governor, Charlie Baker did not wait for the state legislature to act on arresting women who come here from Oklahoma or Missouri or wherever to get an abortion. He issued an executive order that covered all the bases, and the legislature will undoubtedly turn much of the order into law. Women still have rights here.

It matters to me that six legal minds on the Supreme Court reversed a right that has served women, rich and poor, for half a century. No doubt some women use that right frivolously, but most of us do not. Roe won over Wade because it was the right thing to do. It matters to me that the Court’s seemingly decisive move has created a tangled mess, state to state. The daughters and granddaughters of those who marched 50-plus years ago better get their sneakers ready.

Ruth Bass is an award-winning journalist. Her website is www.ruthbass.com. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.