LANDMARK: Despite All Appearances To The Contrary Roe V. Wade Is Still The Law Of The Land 40 Years Later

To read the headlines as of late  — trans-vaginal probes, Planned Parenthood defunded, ‘legitimate rape’ —  you would be forgiven for thinking that Roe lost to Wade back in 1973, but the fact is the Supreme Court rule 40 years ago today that abortion is a woman’s constitutionally protected right. To mark the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Cherry Bomb Books has just published GET OUT OF MY CROTCH a not-so-subtly titled and illustrated collection of essays marking the anniversary, including one by PW’s Tara Murtha on the infamous Gosnell abortion clinic house of horrors. Here’s an excerpt:


Just two months before the grand jury report, the 2010 mid-term elections ushered an unprecedented number of Republicans into office, including key state governorships. In Pennsylvania, anti-choice Republican Governor Tom Corbett—who’d later come under fire for advising women to just “close their eyes” as transvaginal ultrasound wands were pushed into their vaginas by order of the state—had just been voted into the Governor’s Mansion. The Gosnell report was released on Corbett’s first full day in office.

From an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “The grand jury report’s horrific account … cracked open the long-dormant abortion debate in Pennsylvania.”

But not just Pennsylvania. By the end of 2011, more than 1,100 provisions related to reproductive rights were introduced, and 135 provisions adopted, in all states, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The previous record was 34 abortion restrictions enacted in 2005.

Insiders who fought for reproductive rights before Roe say that the issue of abortion is more stigmatized today than ever.

Robert Livingston, a retired doctor who used to perform illegal abortions in the 1960s, recently told a New Jersey newspaper that he “would be afraid” to work today.

“The atmosphere is so ominous now,” he said. It is an atmosphere fueled by strategic steady stream of misinformation.

Examining the plight of the women whose bodies endured Gosnell’s macabre practices and filthy tools should have led to a broader discussion about how and why it happened. It should have led to calls for increased access to safe healthcare. But instead, right-wing politicians and anti-choice advocates used the case to try—often successfully—to shut real clinics down. They exploited the mutilated bodies of women and babies to gain ground in their culture war. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: This week, the Virginia state Legislature passed a bill that would require women to have an ultrasound before they may have an abortion. Because the great majority of abortions occur during the first 12 weeks, that means most women will be forced to have a transvaginal procedure, in which a probe is inserted into the vagina, and then moved around until an ultrasound image is produced. Since a proposed amendment to the bill—a provision that would have had the patient consent to this bodily intrusion or allowed the physician to opt not to do the vaginal ultrasound—failed on 64-34 vote, the law provides that women seeking an abortion in Virginia will be forcibly penetrated for no medical reason. I am not the first person to note that under any other set of facts, that would constitute rape under the federal definition.* What’s more, a provision of the law that has received almost no media attention would ensure that a certification by the doctor that the patient either did or didn’t “avail herself of the opportunity” to view the ultrasound or listen to the fetal heartbeat will go into the woman’s medical record. Whether she wants it there or not. I guess they were all out of scarlet letters in Richmond.

So the problem is not just that the woman and her physician (the core relationship protected in Roe) no longer matter at all in deciding whether an abortion is proper. It is that the physician is being commandeered by the state to perform a medically unnecessary procedure upon a woman, despite clear ethical directives to the contrary. (There is no evidence at all that the ultrasound is a medical necessity, and nobody attempted to defend it on those grounds.) As an editorial in the Virginian-Pilot put it recently, “Under any other circumstances, forcing an unwilling person to submit to a vaginal probing would be a violation beyond imagining. Requiring a doctor to commit such an act, especially when medically unnecessary, and to submit to an arbitrary waiting period, is to demand an abrogation of medical ethics, if not common decency.”* MORE

FRESH AIR: Tuesday marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. But in some states, access to facilities that perform abortions remains limited. In part, that stems from another Supreme Court ruling from 20 years ago that let states impose regulations that don’t cause an “undue burden” on a woman’s abortion rights. Texas, for instance, requires that a woman seeking an abortion receive a sonogram from the doctor who will be performing the procedure at least 24 hours before the abortion. During the sonogram, the doctor is required to display sonogram images and make the heartbeat audible to the patient. The law went into effect on Feb. 6, 2012; Carolyn Jones had an abortion two weeks later. It thrust her into the complicated world of abortion politics and led her to write an article in the Texas Observer titled “We Have No Choice: One Woman’s Ordeal with Texas’ New Sonogram Law.”