Magazine article National NOW Times

Not Just Semantics

Magazine article National NOW Times

Not Just Semantics

Article excerpt

As I'm writing this column, NOW is preparing to honor the 34th anniversary of the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion. So what happens if Roe v. Wade is reversed? Most people believe that the question of abortion will revert to individual state legislatures. Will that be devastating for countless women? Most assuredly. Is that as bad as it gets? Definitely not.

Reversing Roe is only one of several parallel long-term strategies of the anti-abortion movement. Their ultimate goal is to end abortion and contraceptive use entirely, by any woman in any state, and one of their strategies involves establishing that fetuses, even fertilized eggs, are "persons" under the protection of the U.S. Constitution.

Not sure why establishing "fetal personhood" would be so important to our opponents? Take a look at the Roe v. Wade decision language that still guides their patient strategy:

If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant's [Roe's] case, of course, collapses, for the fetus ' right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the [Fourteenth] Amendment.

In other words, if opponents can convince the Supreme Court that "times have changed" since Roe was decided and that a fetus should now be recognized as a "person" under the Constitution, then abortion would immediately become an act of murder in every state across the country. And once a fetus is considered a "person" under the U.S. Constitution, no legislation, no ballot measure, no court case, no vote will be able to keep abortion legal in this country.

They aren't just talking about this long term strategy - they've been carrying it out for years. They're laying the groundwork for the establishment of fetal personhood through legislation, regulation, and executive actions on a regular basis, and we take this threat lightly at our peril.

Our opponents know that when deciding whether a previous case should be overruled, the Supreme Court can and does consider changes in social and political norms. For example, in overturning the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which had found the doctrine of "separate but equal" to be constitutionally permissible, the Supreme Court (in Brown v. Board of Education) looked at the "separate but equal" doctrine "in the light of its full development and its present place in American life" and found that the situation had changed sufficiently to justify overruling their prior decision.

Although the subject is different, that example may help activists understand why the right-wing is so determined to change the social and political status of the fetus. Because they intend to use the changes they are now pushing to bolster future arguments for a reversal of Roe, and beyond that, for the constitutional elevation of fetal personhood - and we must oppose their efforts for the same reason.

Don't buy the argument that "it's just semantics." Words do matter, and in the case of fetal personhood, they matter a lot. Here's the progress they've made in just the past few years:

1) The Bush administration in 2002 classified a fertilized egg as an "unborn child" eligible for federal low-income health insurance. …

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