At last, the rest of the world is learning what the pro-Choice community
has known for years.
The Supreme Court (and all other courts) may appear to be be judicial, but the judges are
motivated by politics. A NARAL campaign button this year said, "It's the Supreme Court, Stupid!"
because we believe the Court to be the most crucial issue this election year.
Unfortunately, Al Gore is just finding this out, to his disappointment.
The Supreme Coup!
The current flap over the presidential election has writ large the political
divisions within the Supremes.
Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas are the hard-core conservatives who are proponents of "states' rights,"
a code word for turning the clock back 50 years or more. Where would we be if we had left it up to
the states to dismantle unfair laws on segregation, voting, or abortion without the interference of the
Federal government? It's ironic that the Florida case is a classic "states' rights" case, but suddenly these
three have done a 180, and are now questioning that a state does have the "right" to settle its own problems.
Ooops. Cover blown!
The pro-Choice folks have literally been screaming for years that Roe
v. Wade hangs by a thread,
and we have been called paranoid and fear mongers. As the executive director of Oklahoma NARAL,
I've heard hundreds of people say (particularly younger women who have always had legal abortion),
"They wouldn't dare. There would be a revolution."
If the Supremes can dare to elect our next president, you can bet getting
rid of legal abortion
will be a piece of cake. And The Terrible Three are itching to do just that.
Americans do not believe we could lose the right to abortion, yet it
does hang by a thread.
In the Supreme's latest decision on Choice, which overturned the Nebraska ban on the so-called
"partial birth abortion," we barely won 5-4, with O'Connor sticking with us. However, our fear is
that with a direct challenge to the protections of Roe v. Wade, we will lose O'Connor and the
right to Choose. She has said that abortion is on a collision course with technology, hinting that she
would support late-term bans, if not a complete ban. The Supremes have already chipped away at
an unfettered right in the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision (1992) by permitting the states to
pass laws requiring parental notification and waiting periods. (Thankfully, they didn't let the spousal
permission requirement stand.) Now there are only a handful of states that don't have these requirements.
Some parental notification/permission laws have "judicial bypass," where
a judge may give permission
for the young woman to obtain the procedure if it is difficult or dangerous for her to notify her parent(s).
But that, again, is highly political. In some states, anti-Choice judges have never given permission even
under the most dire circumstances, whereas a pro-Choice judge in the next chamber will always give
permission. How would a young woman fare before that Southern judge who insisted on posting the
10 commandments in his courtroom, which brings up a whole new can of worms -- judicial decisions
on separation of church and state.
These two issues -- abortion and church/state -- are joined
at the hip.
The most shrill voices against abortion (and the greatest pressure to make it illegal) come from the
conservative religious community -- the Catholic hierarchy, the Southern Baptists, Pentecostal and
other fundamentalist protestant sects, etc. These same religions also do not believe that males and
females are equal in God's eyes. It is expressed by not permitting women to be priests, requiring
women to be "submissive" to their husbands, and so forth, so their stance on abortion flows
naturally from that discriminatory attitude.
Sarah Weddington, who argued the 1973 Roe case before the Supreme Court,
based her argument
on the right to privacy guaranteed by the 14th amendment. Now she says if she had it to do again,
she would argue the 1st Amendment, Freedom of Religion. If anyone doubts this is a religious
freedom issue all they need do is look at the anti-Choice propaganda. It is filled with Christian
references and analogies. If you don't agree with their brand of Christianity or if you aren't a
Christian, why should you be forced to obey laws based on one extreme religious point of view?
Yet with the politicalization of the current Supreme Court, I doubt that even this argument would
win today should Roe be re-examined. The Terrible Three want abortion outlawed, regardless of
the rationale. They will make up one, if necessary.
You must look not only at the Supreme's political alignments, you must
also look at their religious
backgrounds, something we've never felt we had to do before. Their religious training forms their
opinions on many, many issues that come before them -- prayer in schools, displaying the 10
Commandments in schoolrooms or courtrooms, using public funds for school vouchers for religious
schools, permitting religious charities to use taxpayers' money to run their social programs, ad infinitum.
It would be naive to believe these justices come to the highest court in the land as clean slates on politics,
religion, attitudes toward women (remember Anita Hill?), or other deeply held beliefs.
If the law doesn't fit their preconceived notions, they will twist it
so that it will.
This Supreme Court decision is a perfect example of that. The majority opinion is
a shining example of legal gymnastics and hypocrisy, the cynicism of which will
be hard to surpass. But we may not have to wait too long. The next president
will have the opportunity to appoint 72 new federal judges the day he enters the
office, appointments held up by a Republican majority in the DC to deprive Clinton
of the right to do that. You can bet, under Bush, these 72 new federal judges will be
clones of Scalia, Rhenquist and Thomas. And they will be with us for the next 50 years.
They will be the ones to become the new Supreme Court justices.
We have basically lost the federal court system to the rabid right-wing extremists!
This election has pulled back the curtain, showing us an ugliness we
didn't want to know
about our court system. Judges are not "impartial guardians of the rule of law." They are
humans motivated by things that even they may not be aware of. They are not necessarily
impartial, honest or fair. You don't get justice in a courtroom. You get decisions interpreted
by human beings with human flaws -- often motivated by self-interest, greed, power and politics.
A scary thought when your life may hang in the balance, as it does for women when these
same judges make decisions on abortion.
I will always remember December 12th, the year 2000.
It was the day Democracy died.
*Dr. Santee is the executive director of the Oklahoma
affiliate of NARAL
(National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League), PO Box 702503, Tulsa, OK 74170.