I had learned about Roe v Wade in my U.S. history class last year, but I only knew the basics of how it legalized abortion in America, and not all of the details of how the case came to be and what the ruling of the court actually stated. The reading we did before Mr. Doggett’s presentation was very helpful in clarifying the legal framework of the case and Blackmun’s three tiers, divided by the trimesters of a pregnancy. It stated that in her first trimester of pregnancy, a woman could get an abortion for whatever reason she wanted to. In her second trimester, the state can impose some limits on abortion, such as only permitting the procedure if the mother’s life or health is at risk. Finally, Blackmun stated that abortion in the third trimester of pregnancy for any reason was illegal because at this point in the pregnancy, the fetus is viable. One of the problems with Blackmun’s tiers is that he determined when life for a fetus began, but today, people disagree on the point at which life begins, and many who are pro-life believe that life begins at conception.
Both the reading and Mr. Doggett’s presentation provided more details about what specifically resulted from the case, but I found Mr. Doggett’s explanation about Norma McCorvey, better known for her pseudonym “Roe,” the most fascinating. Her life story was so unique that it almost seemed made up. After dropping out of high school when she was 16 in 1965, she began working as a car hop where she met a man nine years older than her. They were married and had their first child together after only six months, and she ultimately ended up having two kids with him. However, because her husband was so abusive, she moved back to Texas and began working in a lesbian bar, and her mother took custody of her two children because she did not approve of Norma’s lifestyle. In 1967, she had another affair which resulted in a pregnancy with a different man, whom she gave custody of the child. She then joined the travelling circus where she got pregnant for the fourth time, but decided she did not want to go through with this one, so she took her case for an abortion to court, claiming that she was gang-raped while travelling with the circus. The story behind how the case of Roe v Wade came to the court is much more offbeat than I knew, and it was very intriguing to learn the history of the case more thoroughly. In addition to Norma’s personal history, it was very interesting to learn about Skinner v Oklahoma and Griswold v Connecticut and how the outcomes of these cases (equal protection and right to privacy) were used to help Norma win her case.
It is crazy to think how before Roe v Wade, women were, as Mr. Doggett said, “willing to endure pain, infection, imprisonment, shame, and death, all to control their bodies.” They would do things such as throwing themselves down stairs, probing themselves with knitting needles or spending the night in the snow. This is the main reason why it so concerning that as of March 30th, states can decide to defund Planned Parenthood, as we read about in one of the articles before Mr. Doggett’s presentation. It is frightening to imagine that if women do not have access to a legal abortion, they may have to revert back to such unsafe methods or get it done illegally. Although Planned Parenthood does perform abortions, “most of the money is for providing services like contraceptives, family planning counseling, breast and cervical cancer screening and sexually transmitted disease prevention.” It almost seems counter-productive to defund Planned Parenthood in order to decrease abortions. One of the best ways to decrease the number of abortions is to provide better contraceptives, but by defunding Planned Parenthood, access to these contraceptives is greatly diminished for many people. While the issue of abortion is currently disputed in our country, it seems impractical to defund a program simply because abortions are a minute fraction of the services provided for the health and safety of many people.