Women’s Rights on the Cutting Board

The shot over the bow created by the leak of a draft decision of the US Supreme Court eroding the rights conferred in Row v. Wade is alarming on several levels. It has grabbed the attention of media sources throughout the country, both conservative and liberal, not only because of the content of the draft decision by Justice Samuel Alito but also because leaks of any kind have no place at the US Supreme Court.

As for me, it is the content of the draft opinion that concerns me most. The reverence for the Court and individual justices has been called into question on numerous occasions recently, and this is just another issue supporting the view that a review of policies and procedures at the Court is overdue.

The content of the draft decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization gets murky for women. I understand that some of them have religious reasons to object to abortion, and some of them may have cultural or deep experiential reasons as well. And still others cannot find a constitutional basis for the right.

But those, who base their objections to abortion rights solely on partisan politics, are in a separate category. Their reliance on political and party affiliations can interfere with objective evaluations of the facts, the law, and the consequences of their decisions.

The erosion of abortion rights has the potential to affect the fate of so many other rights that women rely on and need if they are to be fully equal in our society and have full access, as men do, to economic opportunities. Think about birth control/contraception rights. Think about access to good, affordable medical care, childcare, affordable housing, and time-off from work after childbirth or adoption. Think about the right to marry who you love.

Women rely on these rights and accompanying statutory privileges to satisfy the needs of their personal lives and to participate in businesses and government in meaningful and satisfying ways and to be competitive for top jobs. Eroding any one of those guarantees, is a very slippery slope.

When I think of this, I put it in the context of history when Roe v. Wade was decided, almost fifty years ago. That decision was handed down only a year before a married woman in the United States needed her husband’s permission to get a credit card, something that did not change until 1974. I wrote a law review article about it (Ohio State Law Journal, Vol. 40, Number 3, 1979) and shocked an audience when I reported it out as a speaker at a joint conference of the DC Women’s Bar Association and Georgetown Law during that same time frame. The gasps in the audience were audible as women lawyers and law students realized that a right so fundamental to their economic well-being had nearly escaped them without notice.

Think about that and how easy it has been to take women’s rights for granted recently as our society has evolved on gender issues. Develop an educated background and objective analyses for your positions and opinions on the weighty issues still facing women today. The women of the future — our daughters and our granddaughters — are depending on it. The process of honing informed positions and opinions is true to our training as lawyers, and we should use that process to arrive at conclusions that truly reflect our concerns and are not emotional and political in nature.

Politics come and go. They shift with changing times and the changing faces of leadership. They can be ephemeral.

That ephemeral nature, however, is not true of women’s rights. As was stated so many years ago at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, “Women’s right are human rights.” And human rights are lasting rights.

Women need to hold these rights dear. They need to protect the future of women, minorities, and marginalized communities. So much is at stake for all of them.


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