Mr. Doggett began his presentation on Roe vs. Wade by asking us to introduce ourselves and share why we chose to take Women’s Studies. Many people responded that they pursued this course to gain more knowledge of women in history to connect to their lives today. It was interesting because in Mr. Doggett’s presentation he did this exactly for us by explaining the historical events regarding abortion and then the current politics around it and how it affects us. Abortion is a very controversial topic today and it was very interesting to learn about it’s history and the arguments behind the court's final rulings.
We learned that abortion started to be controlled in the 1860’s when states started to pass Comstalk laws that criminalized abortions. Prior to this, doctors rarely performed abortions because of the dangers of childbirth already there was no need to do much with abortion. There were a couple of supposed theories as to how the Comstalk laws came into place. I was most intrigued and inclined to believe that it was the backlash against the womens suffrage movement and the efforts of the birth control movement. Men were starting to feel the loss of control from these efforts so the states decided to gain the control back by not allowing women to get abortions. From 1860’s to the 1960’s the Comstalk laws were in place. In the 1960’s, the same time as the civil rights movement, first wave of feminism, and the sexual revolution, the states were allowed to moderate abortions. Some states allowed women to have them, while others made it completely illegal.
We learned about a woman named Sherri Finkbinder who, in the 1960’s, wanted an abortion when she found out that her child was going to have major birth defects because of her use of thalidomide to aid her morning sickness. She was a on a tv show and when the media found out she was going to be receiving an abortion, hospitals decided that it would be best for their reputation to no longer give her one. Her story is very important because with all of the media attention, abortion was now something more people talked about.
Jack Skinner’s court case in 1942 also gave abortion some attention. Skinner was considered a habitual criminal because he stole chickens, robbed a gas station, and was involved in an armed robbery. Under the sterilization act, habitual criminals had to get a vasectomy, however Skinner thought that was very absurd since his crimes were not worthy of that big of punishment. He went to court and it was ruled that “a man has a right to procreate” under the constitution. Abortion ideas stemmed from this because if a man has a right to procreate, than a women should have the right to not procreate under the same constitutional protections.
The law was challenged again in 1965 in a case regarding Estelle Griswold who was distributing condoms to married couples at planned parenthood. She was given a fine and arrested because it was illegal to use instruments to prevent conception. She took this to the supreme court and it was deemed that people have the right to privacy under the constitution, meaning that it is your own business, not the states, to decide when to use contraceptives or not.
Roe vs Wade was the next court case that dealt with abortion and the 14th amendment. This case involved Norma Macourty, a 21 year old and 3 months pregnant with her third child. She was looking for an abortion because she was raped and also she could not support the child. All of the other events regarding abortion in history played a large role in the decision for this case. With a 7-2 ruling, it became legal to have an abortion under the 14 amendment. However, a trimester system was then created that made a compromise between states and individuals that gave women the opportunity to get an abortion in the first trimester with no questions, the state would have some limits in the second trimester, and then no abortions permitted in the third trimester. This solution did not truly solve many issues because with modern medicine this trimester system is unequal for all women. The ruling was still to vague to really bring much change because the second trimester is very subjective. It also brings into question when does the life of the fetus begin, which to everyone is very different, but according to the trimester system is after 3 months which isn’t true to everyone. Abortion is a very two sided argument and it is not very possible to construct laws that are better that have previously been put in place in order to please both sides.Mr. Doggett gave us an article to read that was written not very long ago discussing Mike Pence’s tie breaking vote to let states defund planned parenthood. The bill passed allows states to decide if they want to divert money from going to planned parenthood. they now can chose for it the money to go to different health centers that do not usually do abortions. One quotation in the reading that really caught my attention was a statement from Dawn Laguens who is the executive vice president of planned parenthood that stated, “Mike Pence went from yesterday’s forum on empowering women to today leading a group of male politicians in a vote to take away access to birth control and cancer screenings”. After hearing about the Comstalk laws and this decision I started to wonder if the same phenomenon is occurring today where men in power feel threatened and feel the need to take away the women’s access to abortions to help them to maintain control. There are many other factors that go into people’s decisions to be pro-choice and pro-life, however sometimes it feels like the voices of a lot of women are not being heard, even though they are in the mothers of the child and at the end of the day should have a big role in deciding what happens to them and their body.