Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 7. 11th April 1973
U.S. Decision — Women's Rights Respected
Women's Rights Respected
The Jan 22 US Supreme Court decision declaring abortion legal is a historic victory for women and for the women's liberation movement. It is the most significant legal step forward in the fight for women's emancipation since women won the right to vote.
With this 7 to 2 decision, the highest court in the United States has in effect declared that abortion is a woman's constitutional right through the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. All the state laws that restrict the right to abortion under medically safe conditions before the 24th week are now unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court's decision is based on the constitutional guarantee of a right to privacy. The constitution does not explicitly mention this right, but the court has ruled that such a right does exist under the Fourteenth Amendment's concept of personal liberty.
According to the ruling, abortion is only illegal after the first 24 weeks of pregnancy, when the foetus could be viable. The court limited restrictions on abortion between the 12th and 24th weeks to those that concern the safety of the conditions under which abortions are performed. For the first 12 weeks no restrictions on abortion are allowed whatsoever.
In recognising the right of women to choose to terminate pregnancy — even though it qualified that right after 24 weeks — the court decision reflected the impact of the women's liberation movement. The feminist movement, in spearheading the abortion rights struggle, took the abortion issue out of the realm of population control and made it a question of women's right to control their own reproductive lives. By declaring illegal laws that compromise this right, for example, laws that say women can have abortions only if their health is in danger, or that require women to get the approval of a hospital board before getting an abortion, the court concurred with the concept of the woman's right to choose.
The court denied the anti-abortion argument that the foetus has a "right to life", saying that "the word 'person' as used in the fourteenth Amendment, of the U.S. constitution does not include the unborn".
It further declared: "We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer. . . There has always been strong support for the view that life does not begin until live birth".
While the Supreme Court did, in large part, rule in accordance with the demands put forward by the women's liberation movement, it did not call for the complete abolition of all abortion laws. In every State where reactionary laws now exist, the question will be raised of whether to replace these with new laws.
The abortion rights movement should clearly put forward the concept that no laws concerning abortion are needed. Abortion is basically a medical procedure — no different in this respect from an appendectomy — and should not be regulated by the laws.