Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Supreme Court: not the most important protector of civil rights, including reproductive rights

From that brilliant attorney, Heidi Li Feldmen, an excellent anaylsis of those arguments from Obama supporters about taking away your civil rights and overturning Roe v. Wade if you don't vote Democratic. Read it all Here

Now, let us turn to the issue of some civil rights key to women's liberty: reproductive rights, including the right to be free from state interference with access to birth control and abortion. Congress has the power to pass statutes along the lines of section 1983 to give much stronger protection to reproductive rights than current Supreme Court jurisprudence does. A Congress serious about individual liberty for both men and women (regardless of their color) would do just that. Meanwhile in the years since Roe v. Wade was decided, the Supreme Court has decided case after case cramping its scope and impact. (Two examples: the Supreme Court has upheld state created waiting period requirements and state laws requiring double parental notification).

Other things equal, I would prefer Roe v. Wade not be overturned. But the reality of abortion and access to birth control in this country is that in most places neither are readily available, particularly to young people. Of course, one may think this a good thing if one has views different than mine about the centrality of reproductive rights to human rights. But if you believe that control over one's procreational activities is about as fundamental a human right as there is, then you need to realize that to the extent the federal government can protect the individual it would be by enacting comprehensive legislation to do just that. Even more effective would be for each state to also enact its own legislation to do it.

At the level of Presidential politics Roe v. Wade has become something of a rhetorical football thrown back and forth a way of inciting passions among pro-choice and anti-abortion factions in the major political parties. But Roe v. Wade really does not have that much to do with making sure that this country treats women's rights as human rights and reproductive rights as human rights. For that dream to be fulfilled we need the federal legislature and state governments to act to secure these rights.

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