West Virginia is now poised to be one of the states that will criminalize abortion if the Supreme Court reverses the Roe v. Wade decision it issued 50 years ago, a decision which legalized abortion. Instead of establishing a national policy holding across all states, the court will allow each state to set its own abortion policy.
About half the states, including West Virginia, will almost certainly outlaw it. The other half will either not outlaw it or even expand women’s rights to abortion.
The Constitution declares in the Preamble its intent to “form a more perfect Union.” These words are not ambiguous. We know what “perfect” and “Union” mean, and they mean essentially the same in 1787 as they do today. If so, then exactly how does letting every state do its own thing promote any kind of union at all? It leads instead to fracture and polarization, which threaten the union, not make it better.
You only have to think of the divisiveness of the slavery issue between states in the 19th century to understand what a less than perfect Union looks like.
Roe v. Wade did establish a unifying principle, which, granted, a lot of people disagreed with and still do. But it was a ruling that was supported by a majority of the population and that majority has held strong for 50 years. By rescinding that national right and relinquishing it to individual states, the court faces a backlash from the majority and re-establishes women’s role in the union to be unequal under the law. And it will be more unequal in some states than in others.
It also curtails the conversation that we have been having for years about abortion and precludes any meeting of the minds about how to reduce the need for abortion, and by extension how to guarantee the welfare of unwanted children. There will be endless argument from those promoting access to abortion showing why it is needed, something that the Supreme Court of 50 years ago already knew.
With the improvement of contraceptive methods and possibly the inconveniences thrown up by the anti-abortion movement, the incidence of abortion has become appreciably rarer between the years 2011 and 2017. But, counter intuitively, the rate of live births has also come down at the same time, meaning that over this period there were fewer pregnancies overall. The data on these numbers have been summarized by the Guttmacher Institute and are available online.
Statisticians observed that this dual decline in both abortions and live births did not correlate with how much an individual state tried to suppress or extend the availability of abortion through registered clinics. That is, it happened within and across all the states. It’s possible that the anti-abortion movement by opposing, inconveniencing and outlawing abortions has brought on a feeling in some would-be parents that getting pregnant was going to get a lot of people yelling at you, from one side or the other. And it just wasn’t worth it.
You can predict that the yelling will get much worse if Roe v. Wade is reversed. So see you in court.
Of course, another more likely factor in the decline of pregnancies would be that having and raising babies is extremely expensive. If you’re a prospective parent in a low paying job, or facing oppressive student loan paybacks, or not being able to count on a partner or spouse, or you live in a state with crummy health insurance and limited medical care, you might have thought twice and three times about having a child. But if you did get an unwanted pregnancy (and this is typically because of the behavior of a man, not the woman), you had the possibility of terminating the pregnancy by pill or through a clinic.
Now by criminalizing abortion, your state will force you to complete the pregnancy. If it does not go to term, possibly even through a miscarriage, you will be put under suspicion of terminating it. So now also add the threat of going to jail as another reason for avoiding pregnancy.
If you do follow the law and choose to disrupt your life involuntarily for nine months and have the child, you’ll typically pay for the prenatal care and delivery yourself, even if you intend to pass the child along for adoption to the social services in your state. And, by the way, it’s exactly the same states that are restricting abortion access that have the worst statistics for child health care and infant mortality and where health care insurance is worst.
The Supreme Court is not just risking its credibility and commitment to upholding the spirit of the Constitution by reversing its own findings, it’s inciting dissent and risking more personal and societal distress. If its intent is to deliberately form a more imperfect Union, it’s doing a great job of it.