Our new Constitution is now established, everything seems to promise it will be durable; but, in this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes. – Benjamin Franklin
While most of us are familiar with Franklin’s quip about death and taxes, the rest of the quote is less widely used. But in wake of recent events, many Americans are contemplating both the durability of the Constitution and conflicting interpretations by the branches of government sworn to uphold the document. Indeed, nothing seems certain.
A little over a week before celebrating American independence, a full half of Americans learned they had one fewer federally protected freedom. In Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the U.S. Supreme Court found that a woman’s right to obtain an abortion is not guaranteed by the Constitution and that states can determine whether to restrict or prohibit abortions. In overturning Roe v. Wade, the court upended 49 years of legal precedent and imperiled bodily autonomy. “Whatever the exact scope of the coming laws, one result of today’s decision is certain: the curtailment of women’s rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens,” wrote the three dissenting justices. While it takes two to procreate, only someone with a uterus can be forced to gestate and give birth.
That a woman might seek to end or prevent a pregnancy was common knowledge in Franklin’s time and long before. The founding father’s printing house published a manual called “The American Instructor or Young Man’s Best Companion,” offering guidance on math, grammar and home medicine. The medical advice included instruction on the “suppression of the courses” among unmarried women facing “misfortune.” The prescribed treatment includes known abortifacients of the time. We shudder to think what remedies women will turn to today in those areas of the country where they can no longer legally obtain an abortion.
Maine women continue to have the right to safe and legal abortion services. The Act to Protect Reproductive Privacy in Maine passed in 1993 and ensures “the State not restrict a woman’s exercise of her private decision to terminate a pregnancy before viability.” But laws can change and the continuance of that right now rests on who we elect to state office. Suddenly an issue considered settled law for longer than the lifetime of many voters is at the forefront once again. Women with the fewest resources stand to lose the most.
Most Americans – 61 percent – say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to Pew Research Center. Meanwhile, a recent Gallup poll found only 25 percent of U.S. adults surveyed have high confidence in the high court. Justices are supposed to be above popularity contests and politics, but that’s in question now. Also in question: Where do we go from here?
Authority over one’s own body is the most basic of freedoms. Without it, the promise of American freedom rings hollow.