In South Dakota, traditionally enemy territory for abortion, lawmakers are once again on the offensive against a woman’s right to choose. Last Tuesday, the state Legislature introduced the Women’s Health and Life Protection Act to make all abortions in the state illegal, except when the mother’s life is endangered. Although Republican Gov. Mike Rounds, who vetoed a similar bill in 2004, has expressed support for this measure, it is still unmerited – merely the latest in a line of unwarranted attempts to curb a women’s right to privacy. As new justices shake up the U.S. Supreme Court’s composition, the rights guaranteed by 1973’s Roe v. Wade decision will likely be questioned. Though this clearly unconstitutional law could present an opportunity to reaffirm the court’s precedent, such a challenge should present more legitimate arguments than this redundant and ill-advised law.
The latest proposal is, in fact, just a slightly altered version of the vetoed 2004 bill – another baseless challenge to women’s civil liberties. By limiting a right specifically granted by Roe, the bill is clearly unconstitutional. Furthermore, in a state already choked with abortion restrictions, the new bill is based in a familiar political agenda and presents no grounds for a fresh protest to existing case law. State Rep. Roger Hunt, a Republican, said in defense of this bill: “DNA testing now can establish the unborn child has a separate and distinct personality from the mother” – a claim that, besides lacking scientific merit, has nothing to do with Roe’s legal argumentation.
As unreasonable as this particular bill is, a more worthy challenge to Roe v. Wade is likely in the near future. The Court’s respect for precedent is not absolute, and past decisions can be subject to subsequent review. As Lawrence v. Texas – a 2003 ruling that overturned both Texas’s sodomy law and the Court’s 1986 precedent in Bowers v. Hardwick that there is no right to sexual privacy – recently showed, past decisions may be overruled as the ideologies and beliefs of society advance.
Any direct challenge to Roe that the court chooses to hear, however, must rely on compelling original evidence or legal argument. The proposed South Dakotan law doesn’t meet this standard. Indeed, the constitutional right to privacy upon which Roe relies has been upheld and expanded in recent cases such as Lawrence. The passage of such a politically driven, unconstitutional law seems less a legitimate candidate for judicial review than a waste of taxpayer dollars to repeal civil liberties.
With the possibility that a law banning abortion could make its way to the Supreme Court, however, Americans should consider the full scope of overturning Roe on women’s health and an individual’s right to privacy. As important as a women’s right to choose is, the right to privacy goes far beyond abortion, and its limitation would set a dangerous precedent. Rather than taking away a woman’s right to choose, a more constructive approach to abortions would be to reduce the need for abortions through better education and wider availability of contraceptives. A law that presents nothing new in its transparent attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade does not deserve a day in court.