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The Future of the Roe Decision

Implications of Roe v. Wade

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Updated September 04, 2013

The Future of the Roe Decision

Roe Decision

Photo Courtesy of Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Roe decision (stemming from a 1973 Supreme Court case) protects the right to privacy and legalized abortion. The past three decades since Roe v. Wade have brought their fair share of political and cultural turmoil, yet it seems that the next 30+ years may promise even more. To many women, the right to an abortion represents more than just a right to privacy as protected by our constitution. This ruling has provided women with the ability to take control over their future, family formation, careers and destiny.

The Supreme Court has yet to retreat from its ruling in Roe v. Wade despite being presented with many opportunities over the past years. In fact, the legal precedent of the Roe decision has been threatened by various actions in the courts and legislatures and presented numerous chances for the Court to consider overturning Roe v. Wade. The Bush Administration had been charged with leading serious efforts to undermine reproductive rights. In 2003, President George W. Bush signed the first federal ban on abortion, which prohibits the procedure of an Intact Dilation and Extraction (D&X) abortion. Although this ban is officially named the "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003," it is important to point out that the procedure is more accurately acknowledged in the medical community as Intact D&X. "Partial birth abortion" is a political term, not a medical one. Then, in 2004, the House of Representatives passed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which for first time, established in federal law, a fetus as a legal person with individual rights separate from those of the pregnant woman.

Though the future of Roe v. Wade may be unclear, it appears that the decision, as a whole, will most likely not be overturned. Whether or not the current Supreme Court justices support the Roe decision, history has shown that pro-life politicians have the tendency to chip away at Roe v. Wade, rather than challenge it outright.

History has also shown us that the Supreme Court will rarely make a sudden break with its past rulings. It could be argued that the controversy and debate sustained over the years since the Roe decision will further discourage the Court from delivering such a stunning ruling against those concerned about women's rights. Even though the Roe decision came as an unexpected and striking jolt to those who expected the law to protect fetal life, it seems unlikely that the Court will render another bold decision on this issue.

If anything, historians and scholars predict that rather than overruling the Roe decision, the justices may only expand the category of abortion-related issues -- which will then be played out in the give-and-take characteristic of the legislative process. If this were to occur, additional legislative and court actions may focus on trying to achieve a better balance between the rights of pregnant women and the protection of the fetus. Thus, we could possibly see more permissible state regulation of abortion especially if state legislatures are given the ability to produce their own abortion statutes. That being said, even if the Court eventually widens its ruling on abortion, there appears to be agreement on the notion that any statute that only permits abortion to preserve the life of the pregnant woman would remain unconstitutional.

Roe v. Wade was, and continues to be, the most influential court case that affects laws pertaining to abortion. This Supreme Court landmark case is one of the most controversial court cases of all time. More than thirty years after Roe was argued and decided, people all over the U.S. are striving to overturn the decision as well as fighting to keep it intact. Since the Roe decision, we have been witness to a debate that equates reproductive rights solely with abortion rights and preventing unintended pregnancy. Despite numerous efforts by activists to expand the discussion, political debates over reproductive rights habitually focus on abortion, contraception and sex education, yet neglect other important reproductive rights issues, such as the needs of women who want to continue their pregnancies (and raise their children), embryo selection or women dealing infertility.

For example, multiple pregnancy has become more common as more couples turn to in vitro-fertilization as a way to overcome infertility. Research shows that multiple pregnancy substantially raises the health risks to both the mother and the babies. Plus, raising multiples can cause higher amounts of emotional stress, fatigue and financial pressures that could have serious consequences for families and/or society. Yet, under the Roe decision, women are allowed to make their own decisions about what happens with their bodies. What happens, then, if a woman decides to proceed with an embyo transfer that consists of transferring five or more embryos during IVF (even after she is fully informed about the benefits and risks of multiple pregnancy)? Should she have the right to make this decision (under Roe v. Wade, she does), or should the doctor be concerned over the very real possibility of health risks to the babies should all the embryos take and develop (thus, not allowing the transfer)?

Issues like this need to be included in the debate over reproductive rights. With the advancements in IVF, embryos can be tested for potential genetic or chromosomal disorders. Embryos can also be screened for gender. Should certain embryos be discarded (and not implanted) just because they test positive for a disorder or because they are of a particular gender? If abortion is allowed under any circumstance during the first two trimesters of pregnancy, should women also be able to decide to discard certain embryos (for any reason) and not have them transferred

Next Page: The Right to Choose

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