I would be remiss to let January slide into oblivion without noting that it marks the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision stating that a woman had a constitutional right to an abortion that has withstood the test of time despite my view that it was a well intentioned but lousy decision.
The court, in a 7-2 ruling, held that abortions are permissible for any reason a woman chooses up until the point at which the fetus becomes "viable," that is, potentially able to live outside the mother's womb, typically about seven months. Viability is usually placed at about seven months, but Roe allowed for a mother to have an abortion later if her health was in peril.
Roe divided Americans into two camps – pro-choice and anti-choice, which are my terms of choice. It jumpstarted a national debate that continues to this day and has become the third rail of Republican Party politics as the GOP has fallen into the thrall of right-wing scolds who believe the Constitution is a Republican document which empowers them to oppose big government but support that government telling people what they cannot do with their bodies.
Opponents of Roe say that it lacks a valid Constitutional foundation.
The Constitution is, in fact, silent on the issue, and while I support Roe in principle the issue should have been left to state legislatures and voter referenda. This, of course, exposes women who decide to abort a fetus at the mercy of anti-choicers with political clout and indeed in the wake of Roe most states enacted or attempted to enact laws limiting or regulating abortion, often through parental and spousal consent provisions.
In 1976, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which barred federal funding of abortions for poor women through the Medicaid program. The Supreme Court struck down several state restrictions, but upheld restrictions on funding, including the Hyde Amendment, in Harris v. McRae in 1980.
The last attempt of consequence to scuttle Roe came in 1992 when former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor brilliantly led a stealth majority coalition of justices to defeat an overturn effort led by Chief Justice William Rehnquist.