Some Thoughts on Autonomy and Equality in Relation to Roe v. Wade by Ruth Bader Ginsburg

“The questions were pressed by black men. The suggestion, not thinly
veiled, was that legislative reform and litigation regarding abortion might
have less to do with individual autonomy or discrimination against women
than with restricting population growth among oppressed minorities. The strong word “genocide” was uttered more than once. It is a notable irony that,
as constitutional law in this domain has unfolded, women who are not poor
have achieved access to abortion with relative ease; for poor women, however,
a group in which minorities are disproportionately represented, access to abortion is not markedly different from what it was in pre-Roe days” (Ginsburg 376).

“Some observers speculated that the seven-two judgment in Roe was motivated at least in part by pragmatic considerations-population control concerns, the specter of coat hanger abortions, and concerns about unwanted children born to impoverished women.” (Ginsburg 384).

“In a set of 1977 decisions, however, the Court upheld state denial of
medical expense reimbursement or hospital facilities for abortions sought by
indigent women. 69 Moreover, in a 1980 decision, Harris v. McRae,70 the
Court found no constitutional infirmity in the Hyde Amendment, which excluded even medically necessary abortions from Medicaid coverage. After
these decisions, the Court was accused of sensitivity only to the Justices’ own
social milieu–“of creating a middle-class right to abortion.” (Ginsburg 385).

Argument for public funding:

“As long as the government paid for childbirth, the
argument proceeded, public funding could not be denied for abortion, often a
safer and always a far less expensive course, short and long run. By paying for
childbirth but not abortion, the complainants maintained, government increased spending and intruded upon or steered a choice Roe had ranked as a
woman’s “fundamental” right” (Ginsburg 386).

“Generally, constitutional claims to government benefits on behalf of the poor have prevailed only when tied to another bark-a right to travel
interstate, discrimination because of out-of-wedlock birth, or gender-based
discrimination. If the Court had acknowledged a woman’s equality aspect,
not simply a patient-physician autonomy constitutional dimension to the abortion issue, a majority perhaps might have seen the public assistance cases as
instances in which, borrowing a phrase from Justice Stevens, the sovereign had
violated its “duty to govern impartially.”(Ginsburg 385).

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