Law in the Internet Society

Roe v. Wade "Trumped?"

-- By ElizabethBrandt - 20 Feb 2017


In 2013, there were over 660,000 abortions in the United States despite substantial legislation curtailing such an act. While this number has been declining for years, it is still a substantial number by any account. Although severely restricted in many areas, the Constitutionally-protected right of a woman to rid her body of an unwanted fetus has existed for over 40 years, since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. Despite this broad grant, efforts to protect such a right have been often thwarted under jurisprudence such as McRae, which held that withholding funds for the supposedly protected right did not constitute a violation of that right.

Donald Trump’s Proposal

Trump’s personal opinion on abortion is somewhat unclear. In his book, The America We Deserve, he was generally pro-choice. He echoed the same sentiments on NBC’s Meet the Press. During the election, Trump was suddenly anti-abortion and advocated to defund Planned Parenthood. Upon election, Trump gave a muddled interview on 60 Minutes in which he said that he would appoint “pro-life” judges to the Supreme Court and that the issue of abortion would returned to the States. He seemed unconcerned with the prospect of women needing to cross state lines in order to receive the procedure, advocating to further curtail the already extremely limited right. Regardless of Trump's true stance on abortion, it's clear that his administration is firmly anti-abortion.

Legal Responses and Criticisms

The level of concern from the legal community over the future of Roe is mixed. Since Trump currently has only the authority to appoint one justice, to replace the late Justice Scalia, the immediate composition of the court will remain virtually unchanged. Further, the 40-year precedent of Roe is very difficult politically for a new court to overturn. Indeed, conservative justices such as O'Connor ultimately found themselves upholding abortion in cases such as Casey because of the jurisprudential strength of a right that has existed and become relied upon, even if severely abridged. Finally, Roe is not particularly relevant today given that the trimester framework announced in it was overturned and the “viability” discussion is no longer the line of jurisprudence given Casey and Whole Women’s Health. Nevertheless, the tagline “overturn Roe v. Wade” likely has little to do with the jurisprudence announced in that particular case.

Other legal scholars worry over the advancing ages of Ginsburg, Kennedy, and Breyer. Many point to Pence’s zealous anti-abortion stance and worry that the new administration’s stance leaves little room for any disagreement. Even many conservatives have spoken out against Trump’s flippant statements regarding abortion. Conservative legal reasoning has long criticized the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe as a reflection of the personal beliefs of the justices rather than a studied announcement of law. Trump’s views seem to reflect this same mindset back to them, stripping Republicans of their rights to claim a higher discipline in Constitutional interpretation.

Likelihood of Abortion Becoming a State Issue

The best legal argument for Roe is its 40-year precedential history. The Supreme Court is inarguably a political institution highly dependent upon our political systems. However, the Supreme Court and the Justices are deeply concerned with the judicial ermine and with their reputation as an institution of justice above the fray of ordinary political battles. Almost immediately upon the decision in Roe, the Court undermined the rights of women announced under the case. It seems unlikely given the current political climate that this trend will slow or reverse within the next four years. However, for the Court to completely disregard a right that has existed for nearly half a century and that women have come to rely upon, even in limited circumstances, would stress the distinction of the Supreme Court as a non-political institution in ways perhaps not yet witnessed.

Beyond the strong precedential value of Roe’s line of jurisprudence, there is a strong argument that the right to privacy that underpins the leading case has long served as an important Constitutional right that helps protect people from potential governmental tyrannies against which conservatives rail. Despite the damage already done to the right acknowledged in Roe, the dissolution of the remainder of this federal protection would provide a nearly unparalleled abridgement of a right in the history of the Court. In all, even if Trump were to appoint a second or even third Justice to the Court, it seems suspect that such a stark change in jurisprudential reasoning would result.

Worst-Case Scenario Response

Even if Roe is relatively safe, the Court is likely to continue stripping the underlying privacy rights and the right of a woman to seek an abortion. Just in 2016, there were 87 different bills related to abortion rights, many of which sought to further curtail the right, introduced in Congress. This number does not include the hundreds of such laws introduced and passed by the states. Even in the current circumstances, funding is needed to support organizations working to protect and administer this right to women.

Given the vast amount of misleading and incorrect information that is produced regarding abortion, we need to maintain efforts to create and disseminate scientifically backed literature about the reality of abortion. We need a grassroots effort to reach the many communities that do not have access to information or safe, affordable procedures. Perhaps lessons Democrats are learning from the recent election can serve to better support grassroots efforts of education and support, as many of the areas hardest hit by a lack of access to abortion are deeply red, rural areas.

Finally, should the worst scenario come to pass and Trump’s administration successfully transform abortion into a state issue, additional funding and infrastructure to support women unable to otherwise afford or find an abortion will be essential. Perhaps health and employment laws such as FMLA can be flexed to help broaden the net supporting women who will need time off from work to travel for an abortion. Trump may not show any respect for women or women’s health issues, but women ultimately won’t be trumped in this battle.

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

Note: TWiki has strict formatting rules for preference declarations. Make sure you preserve the three spaces, asterisk, and extra space at the beginning of these lines. If you wish to give access to any other users simply add them to the comma separated ALLOWTOPICVIEW list.


Webs Webs

r5 - 21 Feb 2017 - 04:26:41 - ElizabethBrandt
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM