In a recent article, Megan McArdle, a onetime Ralph Nader supporter now turned Libertarian, argues the time has come to throw out Row v. Wade, the High Court decision that made abortion legal in the United States. (Click) To support her position, she points to Ruth Bader Ginsberg who espoused a similar opinion in a 2014 interview. Both women felt the Warren Burger Court’s ruling moved the country too far, too fast. That decision should have been left to public discourse rather than left the hands of nine, unelected men. The consequence, McArdle concludes, leaves Roe v. Wade at the center of a never-ending battle between abortion rights advocates and their opponents. (Click)
Again, like Ginsberg, McArdle believes abortion should be decided by each state. Though it may be upsetting to some to envision a patchwork quilt of differing laws from Alabama to New York, she argues, it would be better than the status quo. Roe v. Wade, she observes, “has given the most religious developed country in the world one of the world’s most permissive abortion laws.” The decision, “is out of step with what the majority of the population wants.”
McArdle’s last point, about popular opinion, is unsupported. A woman’s right to a safe, legal abortion has enjoyed general support since Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun wrote the majority opinion. (Click) What’s more, public support has continued to grow over the years. A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll shows 2/3rds of the public believe abortion is a woman’s right. (Click) Whether the Burger Court moved too fast or too slow to accommodate a smooth transition is for history to decide.
While I tend to favor gradualism in most cases, abortion rights are the exception. Gradualism on a state-by-state basis supports discrimination. Its burden would fall not upon the wealthy or the middle class who could afford to travel elsewhere, but upon the poor, largely minorities, who could not. (Click) In addition, can anyone reasonably argue that a women in New York should be entitled to greater freedom than a woman in Alabama? McArdle, nonetheless, seems to feel that for the sake of peace, we should concede to geography.
We made no similar concession for slavery. Why, then, should a woman’s personal freedom be any different? And let us be clear on one point. When laws deny a woman control over her body either in large or small measures, when she is required to bear children against her will, that woman lives in bondage.
McArdle’s first point is well-taken. We are a civil society saddled with religious prejudice. The dogma of many faiths teaches that a woman’s rights are those her husband grants. That intolerable shackle keeps her a chattel. Such prejudice has no place in civil law. (Click) Nonetheless, these restrictions have long endured. Not until the mid1970s in this country, did a woman gain the right to own a credit card without her husband’s permission. (Click)
Both McArdle and Ginsberg are wrong to support gradualism on the question of abortion. No compromise is possible. Freeing a woman from her biblical chains has been a slow and arduous labor. If we compromise, one day all women may awake to find themselves living in The Handmaid’s Tale.