Woman’s right to choose is now at stake

by Jim Longworth

For the life of me (pardon the expression) I do not know why abortion is a public policy issue. In fact, nothing could be more private and personal than a woman deciding whether or not to continue a pregnancy. Yet ever since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, abortion has been a political flash point in nearly every election and at nearly every level, from county commissioner to president. The 2008 race for the White House is no exception, and may turn out to be the most significant in the history of this fiery debate.

In 1970 a suit was filed on behalf of “Jane Roe” (real name Norma McCorvey) who claimed her pregnancy was the result of rape. The defendant was Dallas District Attorney Henry Wade, who held that abortion was illegal in the Lone Star State.

The case eventually made its way to the US Supreme Court in December 1971, and was subsequently re-argued in October 1972. Then, on Jan. 22, 1973, the high court ruled that most laws against abortion violated a woman’s rights under the 14th Amendment, specifically her right to privacy under the due process clause. The court decided that abortions are legal for any reason a woman chooses, so long as they are performed up until the point at which the fetus becomes viable (usually no more than 28 weeks).

Suddenly, after centuries of being relegated to back-alley butchers and botched home remedies, women wanting to terminate their pregnancies could step out of the shadows and seek safe, medical procedures without being tried as criminals.

Immediately following the ruling, a Lou Harris poll showed that 56 percent of Americans were in agreement with the court. However, in the ensuing decades since, many conservatives have argued that life begins at conception, and that has spawned heated rhetoric as well as several attempts to undo the progress made in 1973. But if the next president is a Republican, it is possible, likely even, that the landmark ruling upholding a woman’s right to choose will finally be overturned. That’s because whoever occupies the Oval Office next January will likely appoint three Supreme Court judges in his or her first term, and all three leading GOP candidates have gone on record pledging to overturn Roe.

John McCain and Mike Huckabee are very specific. Huckabee even tells his web readers that abortion is the reason he entered politics. And McCain masks his misogynist leanings by purporting that the issue of abortion should be a question for each individual state. I suppose if John had been alive in 1860, he would have argued that the federal government had no right to take a stand on slavery, and that we should leave it up to the plantation owners in each state to decide the issue.

Meanwhile, the two leading Democrats, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, support a woman’s right to choose, but it is the former first lady who has taken the most active stand. According to her website, Clinton believes that having an abortion is a private decision, and she has championed women’s rights in that regard. At the same time, Hillary helped to pass the Prevention First Act which expands access to family planning for low-income women, promotes sex education and requires health insurers to cover contraception. As a mom, she also championed the Family and Medical Leave Act, and has worked to prevent teen pregnancies.

I am not yet endorsing any candidate for president (I am still holding out hope that Ron Paul will announce as an Independent, and choose Dennis Kucinich as his running mate), but my advice to women is to vote early and often for Hillary. If not, you run the risk of abdicating your right to privacy when it comes to terminating a pregnancy. And, you’ll be putting your body in the hands of uptight old white men, again.

The issue of abortion does not belong in the political arena, nor should it be the central plank of a political party. We simply do not need government in our bedrooms or at our doctor’s offices.

The good news is that the Bush era of spying and lying is coming to an end. The bad news is that, given his court appointments, Bush has set the stage for a GOP successor to undo decades of progress. It’s just too bad that we carried Bush’s administration to full term.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” which can be seen. on ABC 45 (channel 7) and WMYV 48 (channel 15).